The plan was pretty basic. Early flight into Denver, bird Denver Airport Road, and then check out a few areas close to I-70 on the four-hour drive to Grand Junction. Most of these stops would be to see birds I probably wouldn’t see in Western Colorado.
The day’s first would be Airport Rd. at Denver International Airport. Number 1 on the map. Map “Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.”
The adventure started uneventfully out of Indianapolis. But 30 minutes in the plane took a big dip.
The kind similar to where your car hits a big bump and your stomach ends up in your chest.
Nothing flew to the ceiling but the seat belt sign came on quick and the flight attendants sat right down. And this was the way it was for an hour. Up and down and left and right. The pilot came on and regretfully reported all west bound flights were scrambling to find a smooth altitude. First time in a long time I saw flight attendants handing out barf bags. I kept my mind off of it by listening to bird calls!
Finally about a half hour out it leveled off and we made a smooth landing in the fog.
Fog?? What the @x$#??
You can see the fog behind the plane with the bluebird. I think I see orange on the throat so will list it as an Eastern Bluebird.
Fog had not been forecast and could put a damper on the beginning of the trip. So I took my time in the terminal and eventually headed out hoping as the sun rose it would burn off the fog. And the fog did slowly lift and by the time I arrived at the first stop it was pretty well gone.
The first stop like my last trip was the Airport Road around Denver International Airport. The target last time was Burrowing Owl and this time it was Ferruginous Hawk. I had spent quite a bit of time the last couple of months watching our local Red-tailed Hawks so I would hopefully be able to quickly tell the difference. From what I read this habitat, arid treeless grassland, would be good for Ferruginous Hawks. A quick check of eBird showed a few had been seen in the area.
On the way to Airport Road I kept seeing huge flocks of Canada Geese circling over. I didn’t pay much attention to them since hawks were my goal.
Luckily the main road was detoured a mile west and north. After making the jog west, then north, I was headed back east when I saw a hawk sitting on a piece of irrigation equipment. My first thought was Red-tailed Hawk since I had already seen one a little further back.
At this point the studying paid off.
I could tell the hawk was “larger” than a Red-tailed and the way it was sitting on the antenna was “different”. Pulling off the road and getting a better look, be it slightly into the sun, and I could see it was a Ferruginous Hawk.
A little bit larger, no belly band, and a white tail – Ferruginous Hawk. Denver Airport Rd.
The hawk let me look for a minute and flew back to additional equipment. The upper wing was a different shade of brown and when it swooped up the whitish tail was prominent. Definitely not a Red-tailed Hawk.
I might be imagining this but the Ferruginous Hawk seems “bigger”. Denver Airport Rd.
Getting back to the car I noticed the hawk had flown off. I proceed to get off the detour and on to the less traveled country roads slowly scouring the landscape. It wasn’t long before I see a large bird sitting in a field, another trait of Ferruginous Hawks.
Not the sharpest photo but I had read where unlike other hawks Ferruginous Hawks hunt by sitting in fields. I was glad to spot one. Denver Airport Rd.
I watched it preen for several minutes. It didn’t appear to be hunting, just preening. But it probably didn’t pick that spot at random and I just didn’t see it go after breakfast.
By watching it preen I could see the difference in the brown compared to a Red-tailed Hawk. And the tail was white. Denver Airport Rd.
A further down the road I spot Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, and American Kestrel all hunting the area, with most too far away for photos.
A Northern Harrier came close to the road hunting along a ditch. Denver Airport Road
I spoke to a couple of photographers that pointed out some additional distant raptors. One said there was a dead Rough-legged Hawk up the road though I didn’t go check it out.
While talking to the photographers a Ferruginous Hawk flew past. By the time I got the camera up it is almost past. The difference from a Red-tailed Hawk is becoming more noticeable.
The white tail and primary wing panel are distinctive even at this distance. Denver Airport Road
Same field marks can be seen on this long distance photo. Denver Airport Road
After spending much longer than my allotted hour it’s time to move on.
Even this close to a major city and airport the landscape is forlorn. Denver Airport Road
But what of the Canada Geese?
More on that in my next post.