Central Section JC CBC Recap

With some of the usual participants having prior commitments and with the additions of some new members, we slightly shifted areas on the Johnson County Christmas Bird Count. This meant I birded about 2/3 of my usual territory. And with the weather I really don’t think it mattered much. As a group we ended up with 64 species, slightly above our average of 62. The difference this year was lack of waterfowl. So here is my Central Section JC CBC Recap.

As usual I was out listening for owls. I don’t have any problems hearing Great Horned or Eastern Screech-Owls but Barred Owls are problematic. And I missed them again this year. Luckily Mike heard one on the military base side of the count.

About an hour before sunrise I’m out listening for owls. The first time I exited the car I heard a pair of Great Horned Owls calling. And if that was all I heard or saw all day, it would have been enough.

Upon sunrise I saw the small ponds throughout Atterbury FWA had a layer of ice. So no waterfowl. I changed plans and decided to start at Driftwood since it had open water.

The daylight portion started with a Cooper’s Hawk about 15 feet from the car.
Driftwood SFA did have open water but very little waterfowl. A couple of Mallards and Pied-billed Grebes were it.
Several Dark-eyed Juncos perched up high in the early morning light. Trying to warm up?
For the second straight year I found a Field Sparrow mixed in with the Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows. Remember to always look through flocks of sparrows!

After spending the allocated time at Driftwood I headed to Atterbury to check the deeper woods. And yes, I donned my orange vest with the hunters around.

After the Field Sparrow my next best find was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Not a great photo but you can see the yellow on the belly.
The lunch recap showed we were missing Belted Kingfisher. So back to the river where I spotted one on my first stop. I would say I’m good but really just dumb luck.

I did notice on the day the numbers of the more numerous resident winter species like Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and Carolina Wren were higher. And I counted one or two Pileated Woodpecker at every stop.  Which was unusual.

I ended the day with 42 species in my territory which is about normal without the country roads of the 1/3 part I didn’t cover this year. My goal is always 40 which is a little less than the 85-90 I average on the May count for the same territory!

Central Section JC CBC Recap
The daylight potion of the count ended the way it started. With a hawk. This time a Red-shouldered Hawk, which flew in about 50 feet for good looks.

August 2017 Highlight

Though I encountered several surprises during my Marion County August 2017 List, one bird stands out as August 2017 Highlight.

But first a few of the surprises.

A Blue Grosbeak we encountered on both trips to Southwestway Park.
The Purple Martins flying over Eagle Creek Reservoir.
And the Summer Tanager at Southwestway Park.

August 2017 Highlight – Red-shouldered Hawk Bathing

But the biggest surprise was watching a Red-shouldered Hawk bathing at Eagle Creek.

I encountered the hawk on the trail north of the Handicapped Road. I just happened to catch a glimpse when it moved on a sunlit perch by a creek. At first I thought it was hunting but it jumped into the water and proceeded to take a bath. Then it flew back up on the sunlit perch and dried off. Then it jumped back in the water. I watched this behavior for 15 minutes while it repeated the cycle three times during the time I watched.

I first spotted the Red-shouldered Hawk sitting in the sun.
It wasn’t long before it headed down into the water. You can see it in the small pool of water in the photo’s center.
Then back onto the perch for sun.
And back down into the water.
August 2017 Highlight
And back up.

Checking a couple of sources on-line this seems to be the typical bathing habits of hawks. Deep in the woods, shallow stream, and low perch to dry. The reason I don’t think I have encountered this behavior before is hawk’s preference of bathing in a deep glade.

Eventually I moved on and made the loop around the trail. I checked on my way back but the hawk had moved on. But another one of those rare nature encounters which keeps you going out week after week.

Bird Baldness Follow-up

I need to follow-up on the red-tailed vulture post from early October. I knew people, including myself, enjoy something a little different or odd. Like Bird Baldness. That was proven as this was far and away my most viewed blog post. It was linked to a couple of different sites including Facebook and that brought in additional views.

Species of Hawk

Since there were more views I received more responses. A couple which corrected me and clarified the species of hawk as a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk. In the field I original thought it was too small for a Red-tailed Hawk. But since it seemed to have problems I thought it was a smaller Red-tailed. I should have looked closer.

Raptors of North America has an excellent web page that shows the differences in the two hawks. After reading the webpage and looking at the photos, it was evident it was a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk.

rtha-head-4 Bird Baldness
The most evident field mark demonstrating it’s a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk are tail bands. Red-shouldered Hawks have fewer bands and the dark bands are wider than the light-colored bands. Red-tailed Hawks have more bands and the light-colored are wider.
Red-shouldered Hawks have brown streaks or spots on their chest as opposed to the Red-tailed Hawks belly bands. The spots are pretty evident once I looked.

Bird Baldness

Now onto possible problems with the head. I found a few websites that might have the answer. Most dealt with Blue Jays but I think the information applies to this hawk.

A couple of explanations:

  1. Juveniles undergoing their first prebasic molt.
  2. The baldness may result from feather mites, lice, or an environmental or nutritional factor.

On Cornell Lab’s Project Feeder Watch they have a good article describing unusual birds. Most of the bald birds reported are Blue Jays which “may be juveniles undergoing their first prebasic molt, which produces the first winter adult plumage.” Most of the birds grow their feathers back within a week.

The article goes on to state “If you notice a bald-headed bird of another species, it could be the result of an abnormal molt. Staggered feather replacement is the normal pattern for most birds.” That is what I think is going on with this hawk. I’ve been back a few times but haven’t encountered it. But I’ll keep checking and hopefully catch up to it.

If interested here are a few links concerning bird baldness. They each contain other links as well.

Nature Nut Lady

Tails of Birding

Bobolink Update

I was going to title this post “To the Mall” but that didn’t pan out, so I stuck with Bobolink Update.

And let me reiterate my position, even in the so-called “slow times”, there is always something going on if you get out the door.

I actually slept in until 4:30 this Saturday so I could be to the mall at 5:30. The first thing I noticed was the dawn chorus of robins was gone. I thought it was less last week but this week it was gone.

I picked the mall in hopes a COMMON NIGHTHAWK might have used its flat roof for nesting. Wikipedia states the mall was built in 1966 so I was hopeful the roof was still gravel as opposed to the modern rubber roof. The mall went in for a major change in 2003 so maybe it has a rubber roof. But it didn’t have any nighthawks around I could hear.

On to Franklin High School in hopes of photographing the continuing WILSON’S SNIPE. I was doing good on sneaking up to the spot I encountered one last week when a bee went down my shirt. It must have been comical watching me strip off layers in shoulder-high wet weeds. So much for getting a photo. Walking back to the car I flushed a snipe in a completely different part of the marsh. Did it move from the recent rains and ensuing high water?

On to a known VESPER SPARROW spot that was still needed for the IAS Summer Count. The spot is by a low spot which sometimes holds shorebirds. Upon arriving there was water, 55 MALLARDS, and a LESSER YELLOWLEGS. All flushed when I opened the car door and I wasn’t even close. A Spotted Sandpiper also flushed in the mass exit. The yellowlegs is the earliest fall shorebird I have ever had in the county. But it helps to have water in July for shorebirds. And I did hear two Vesper Sparrows calling in the distance.

Still no photos on the day.

On to Atterbury FWA were I saw a distant RINGED-NECKED PHEASANT heading to the brush.

Ring-necked Pheasant

A few photos of other locals from Atterbury.

Indigo Bunting
Orchard Orioles – there were three but I could never get them in the same photo.
Willow Flycatcher

Down at Pisgah Lake were I watched swallows harassing a Red-shouldered Hawk.

Tree Swallow(?) attacking a Red-shouldered Hawk.

Bobolink Update

The Bobolink are still at the now partially mowed field at Atterbury. I saw two on the day and heard Grasshopper Sparrows calling. What we could have if man wouldn’t intervene?

The mowing must have pushed the Bobolink closer allowing me to finally get some decent photos.

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Finally, a decent Bobolink photo!

On the way home I noticed the field in Greenwood that still has Bobolinks was getting mowed. It will be seen if they stay.

On the day I added three species for the IAS Summer Count – Vesper Sparrow, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Ring-necked Pheasant.

Plus, I saw three raptors getting assailed. The fore mentioned Red-shoulder Hawk, an American Kestrel stirred up 50 Barn Swallows when it attacked a barn, and an Eastern Kingbird pecking away while riding the back of a Red-tailed Hawk.

Eventually I’m going to remember I have a video function on the camera.

Trees are Gone, Now Observation Stand?

This post is directed to birders in Johnson County who might have observed birds from the observation stand at Honker Haven in Atterbury FWA. If you aren’t around Johnson County maybe it relates to something that’s happened in your local area.

Back in November I thanked the DNR for taking down the trees at Honker Haven in Atterbury FWA. It was a good thing since it opened up the pond to viewing from the observation platform.

Observation Stand - Atterbury
The wooden observation stand with a clear view overlooking Honker Haven at Atterbury FWA.

The stand was helpful in seeing and photographing birds in the pond, especially the far NW corner.

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A photo of a Common Loon Taken from the top of the observation deck. 3/25/16

Most Saturdays I would try to time it so I was at the observation deck around noon to scan for soaring raptors. That extra bit of elevation made a real difference.

RSHA Atterbury
A Red-shouldered Hawk soaring over the observation deck on a clear Saturday. 8/22/15

It was extremely helpful in the fall when the water level dropped and shorebirds would be on the small islands that formed on the pond.

A pair of Dunlin in the center of Honker Haven. 11/2/13

But after successfully removing the trees the stand has also been removed.

The Observing Stand is no more. From this angle you can see there is slight rise around the pond which should help from startling the birds.

Granted, the stand was getting a bit up in the years. I have seen people take one step on it and turn around. My guess is it was removed for safety reasons.

I can always observe from the top of my car which I have resorted to at other locations in the past.

But honestly most of the time I didn’t go up on the deck because it seemed to spook the birds. What I did like about the stand was using the bottom posts for a “blind”. The birds never seemed to fly when I used that strategy.

I guess I’ll have to use the adjacent trees as a “blind” now.

Mainly Celery Bog Sunday

I had to head back to Lafayette again this weekend. This time I had 4 hours to bird on Sunday. So just like last weekend I took the time to bird another spot that I hadn’t birded before, Celery Bog in West Lafayette.

But first a few words on Saturday. I tried for rails at a small wetland area in Shelby County just across the road from Johnson County. No luck. The habitat almost looks good for rails, but I’m thinking it is too overgrown. But I’ll try again.

I then checked the flooded fields south of Franklin. There were SOLITARY SANDPIPERS but not any other shorebirds.

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This is one of 3 Solitary Sandpipers hanging out in a flooded field south of Franklin. 3/16/16

The bulk of Saturday morning was spent at Laura Hare Preserve. I was searching for HERMIT THRUSH, WINTER WREN, and LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH. I ended up seeing one Hermit Thrush and 3 Louisiana Waterthrushes. But no photos.

And the reason for no photos was because I finally got a new camera. A Nikon Coolpix P900. Which I wasn’t having much luck with Saturday. So the time at Celery Bog was as much for birding as to take the time to learn the camera.

One could get use to birding Celery Bog on a regular basis. Nice habitat and access. I spent 2-1/2 hours walking the length of the area.

The most abundant bird after AMERICAN COOTS and TREE SWALLOWS were YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS. I had a minimum of 25.

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I had to try a waterfowl shot with my new camera, this American Coot was the subject. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16
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Tree Swallows were numerous in the dead trees along the water’s edge. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16
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A few photos of the numerous Yellow-rumped Warblers. I don’t remember ever hearing them call as much as they did Sunday. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16
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Yellow-rumped Warbler
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Yellow-rumped Warbler

There were also a fair assortment of waterfowl and my FOS GREAT EGRET.

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A distant shot of a Great Egret to show the zoom capabilities. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16
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A zoomed shot of the egret, nowhere near the max zoom. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16

I heard a BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER calling in the woods which I hadn’t expected. It stuck to the tops of the trees but I did manage a few shots.

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A Black-throated Green Warbler got my attention doing his zee zee zoo zee call. Celery Bog 3/17/16

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The highlight of the day came at the end of the walk. There was a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK ahead on the path. I watched it eating something and then it seemed to carry it away. A mouse a maybe?

Here is the sequence of events.

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RSHA (12)
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RSHA (19) Celery Bog

And just so you know I wasn’t sold on the camera after Saturday. But the day at Celery Bog swayed my opinion. I think the improved photos show that.

I’ll blog about the new camera soon and keep reviewing it through migration.


The Start of the Year – Owling and Swans

Funny how your birding perspective changes on January 1.  Birds people haven’t really been interested in except on a superficial level are now important. Need to get them checked off the list so you won’t need to worry about them later in the year.  I’d like to say I’m immune to that feeling but I’m not.  I think keeping a list and targeting certain birds keeps one going out in the field on a regular basis.

So with that I was up early in the cold on January 1 listening for owls at Johnson County Park. And in pretty quick succession I heard an EASTERN SCREECH-OWL and a BARRED OWL at their usual locations. I started to worry about the GREAT HORNED OWLS but they finally start calling, albeit a little later than usual. With a little extra time I tried for NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL but to no avail. Since I have heard the 3 normally occurring owls for our area I will continue to try for a Northern Saw-whet.

I took a quick look at one of the local ponds before continuing on and mixed in the 400+ Mallards were 3 NORTHERN PINTAILS and 4 AMERICAN BLACK DUCKS. Those were the first Northern Pintails that I have seen in Johnson County in over a year. Otherwise it continues to be species sparse.

Driving on I noticed large white birds in a flooded field just north of Driftwood SWA. Luckily it was early and a holiday since this was a busy road.  How often do you get a break like that? Still thinking they were Snow Geese when I got out of the car I heard the call of a Swan. Not an expert at all but it sounded like the WHOOP of a TRUMPETER SWAN instead of the barking of the Tundra’s.  I watched them with cars buzzing by and then headed to Driftwood.  And while at Driftwood they went flying by headed south. So I was at the right place at the right time for once.

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These Trumpeter Swans were about a quarter-mile from the road. But they still stood out easily size-wise compared to the Canada Geese. Johnson County 1/1/16
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I can’t believe that I was disturbing them at this distance but they do appear to be looking right at me. Johnson County 1/1/16
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There were a total of seven adults and this one youngster. Johnson County 1/1/16
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I was thinking of calling a few people about the swans but it wasn’t long until they were heading south. Driftwood SWA 1/1/16

I can’t find any other records of Trumpeter’s in Johnson County so these could be the first recorded. And as always if I have these ID’d wrong let me know.

On to Driftwood which wasn’t birdy but the water level was very high from all the recent rains. AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS were the highlight with several flocks.

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A sign of the high water. The normal water level is left of the submerged tree line. And this is usually a large sandy beach that I use to scan the lake. Driftwood SWA 1/1/16
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An American Tree Sparrow was obliging on letting me take photos. Driftwood SWA 1/1/16

The rest of the day in southern Johnson County was uneventful except for a TURKEY VULTURE that was still present and the continuing migration of SANDHILL CRANES.

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A flock of the continuing migration of Sandhill Cranes flew over while I walked Johnson County Park. 1/1/16

In the slightly unusual sightings department I saw a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK fly into a tree at the local Meijer’s store on the way home. I would say it’s an odd location but I have seen both Cooper’s and Red-tailed Hawks in the same area.

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A Red-shouldered Hawk was somewhat of a surprise in the Meijer parking lot. South Indianapolis – 1/1/16


Mike called at 10:30 Sunday morning saying that Eric Ripma had reported on FaceBook  a PACIFIC LOON and EARED GREBE at 10:05 from Rick’s Cafe on Eagle Creek Reservoir.  I had planned on going out later that morning locally but figured I’d go along for the search.  So for the 4th time in my years of birding I was going to chase a bird(s).

Mike picked me up and we were off to Rick’s.  On the way we discussed the pertinent field marks of both species and how they differed from COMMON LOONS and HORNED GREBES.  Both which should be present in good numbers.

My only encounter with an Eared Grebe was one in Illinois that was in almost breeding plumage.  But I was almost certain I hadn’t seen a Pacific Loon. There was a question in my mind about our trip to Oregon a few years ago and trouble ID’ing a loon. And checking it appears I decided it was a Common Loon. So no Pacific Loon on my list.

We arrived around 11:30 and were told by Mike, Sarah, and Nick that others reported the loon had flown north. We all scanned the lake to the north and had a couple of possible candidates but the distance was too great.  But way out in front of a raft of LESSER SCAUP was a grebe that matched all the field marks of a non-breeding Eared Grebe. So we were 1 for 2.

We scanned a little longer and decided to go to the only other spots on the south end of the lake that has public access.  We scanned for 15-20 minutes with no luck. We then headed back to the public boat launch just north of Rick’s. We looked for another half hour when I found a loon on the far side of the lake that appeared to be smaller than a Common Loon. Too me it just didn’t “feel” right for a Common Loon.  It appeared overall smaller, darker, and with a smaller bill than a Common Loon. I was pretty certain it was the Pacific Loon but at that distance I wasn’t 100% sure.

By this time we had spent an hour and half scanning and it was getting cold, so we called it a day.

I’m not going to bore you with details but at home I saw on Facebook that Ryan Sanderson had posted a photo of the Pacific Loon in roughly the same area we had seen our candidate. (Check Facebook’s Indiana Rare Bird Alert page) And below are two “looong” distance photos that compare the Pacific Loon to a Common Loon.

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Check this photo of what I think is the Pacific Loon and of a Common Loon below. Both photos are at about the same distance. Notice the rounded head and thin bill of this loon compared to the flat head and bigger bill of the Common Loon. Would I have known this wasn’t a Common Loon if someone hadn’t reported it? Probably not. Eagle Creek 11/29/15

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So what did I think about chase #4?  Let’s just say I didn’t get time to check out the RED-SHOULDERED HAWK in the photo below.  And chase #5 won’t be anytime soon.

And I’ll let it go at that.

A nearby Red-shouldered Hawk I didn’t have time to check out. Eagle Creek 11/29/15


Can’t Get a Break

One never knows when the day begins how it is going to turn out.  Most days are the same. Uneventful.  We go through the day doing the same thing without much deviation.

The day begins like any other day for this Red-shouldered Hawk, with an uneventful flight over Eagle Creek Reservoir, Indianapolis. 9/26/15

You see the same neighbors fly by that you do most other days.

Double-crested Cormorants seen from Rick’s – Eagle Creek Reservoir. 9/26/15
And a lone Ring-billed Gull flies by on its daily routine. Rick’s – Eagle Creek Reservoir 9/26/15

But there are other days when you just can’t get a break.


The Red-shouldered Hawk headed east towards Eagle Creek Airport and then things started to get ugly.

A group of 20 American Crows were lounging around the airports hangers just looking for trouble like crows often do, when one spots the Red-shouldered Hawk  flying by slowly.

An American Crow spots the Red-shouldered Hawk and alerts the mob that there is someone in the area to harass. Eagle Creek Airport 9/26/15

The Crows not missing a chance to harass immediately jump into action.

The Red-shouldered Hawk is just gliding by when the American Crows decide to harass it. Eagle Creek Airport – 9/26/15
The first of several Crows after the Red-shouldered Hawk. Eagle Creek Airport – 9/26/15
A couple more Crows decide to join the “fun”. Eagle Creek Airport – 9/26/15

It takes some fast flying and some good maneuvers but the Red-shouldered finally shakes the Crows.

Looking for a safe haven the Red-shouldered Hawk ducks into a nearby tree. Eagle Creek Airport – 9/26/15
The Red-shouldered sits in a secure location and waits out the Crows to move on and bully someone else down the road. Eagle Creek Airport – 9/26/15

After a bit the Red-shouldered Hawk decides that it is safe to move on. So it flies low and east over a group of evergreen trees.

When out of no where a Red-tailed Hawk comes flying in fast and rams the Red-shouldered. 

(Sorry, no photo, it all happened fast and after the crows I wasn’t expecting more action.)

And just like a bouncer at a bar, after ramming the Red-shouldered Hawk a couple of times, the Red-tailed Hawk flew over to a fence and watches to make sure that the Red-shouldered left the premises. Eagle Creek Airport – 9/26/15
And I swear this American Kestrel, who was watching the whole action, was just waiting for its chance to make a pass at the Red-shouldered Hawk. But it restrained itself and stayed on the fence watching. Eagle Creek Airport – 9/26/15

So maybe this was a normal day for the Red-shouldered Hawk, but I’m betting it was one of those days that it wished it just had stayed in the nest a little while longer.

(I want to think Don Gorney for confirming the Red-shouldered Hawk ID. One of those cases the more I looked the less sure I was of the ID.)

Rules are Only So Good if You Follow Them

The Cooper’s Hawk that is always at Northwest Park. 9/12/15

In the previous post I set down 4 steps I use to ID large raptors. 

I’ll get back to the rules in a minute but first let’s back up a bit to earlier in the previous post BEFORE I saw the Osprey.

Mike and I were once again spending a Saturday morning at Northwest Park in Greenwood looking for migrants. We saw a few but all in all it was pretty slow. Slow enough that after an hour Mike opted to go get his tires rotated instead of looking at empty tree branches.  But I thought I’d give it a few more minutes before heading to the local shorebird site.

After a few minutes I heard the call of a raptor.  My urban mindset is such that in town hawks are either Cooper’s or occasionally Red-taileds. Now bear in mind that I have seen a Cooper’s Hawk every time I bird Northwest Park.  So I go a few minutes chasing some Red-eyed Vireos when it dawns on me it is a Red-shouldered Hawk calling. Not a Cooper’s Hawk.

I have now been birding in Indianapolis area for about a year.  In all that time I have yet to see a Red-shouldered Hawk within the city limits.  I assumed they’re here but I have never seen one. So I’m predisposed not to think about Red-shouldered Hawks in town.

The Blue Jays mobbing the Red-shouldered Hawk were doing a good job of stirring up songbirds giving good looks at warblers flying about.

Since no one was with me I could chalk up the experience to learning without having have a little egg on my face.

And don’t ask me how someone birding for more than a couple of years could mistake the call of the Red-shouldered Hawk from a Cooper’s Hawk.

First, the Cooper’s Hawk (Paul Marvin, XC177264. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/1772640).

Next the Red-shouldered Hawk (Steve Pelikan, XC44321. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/44321)

Then I proceeded to the shorebird spot and saw the Osprey.

Now let’s jump ahead to the next morning.

So now it’s the next day, Sunday morning, and I start at the shorebird spot before the shimmer of the water comes makes viewing the far side difficult.

Immediately after setting up a hawk flies across from one grove of trees to the other.  Maybe a 100 meters. Maybe 10 seconds.

It’s obviously not as big as a Red-tailed Hawk and I’m in town so it’s got to be a Cooper’s Hawk. Correct?

I put the binoculars on it to confirm the Cooper’s Hawk ID and I see the bright “windows” on the primaries.  A Red-shouldered Hawk. And the day after learning to add Red-shouldered Hawks to my thought process in town. 

The experience shows just how hard wired brains are. A Red-shouldered didn’t even cross my mind.

I know from field guides and personal observation that Red-shoulder Hawks show the bright primaries in flight in all lighting conditions.  And the “windows” were prominent. And it perched for a few minutes in the tree to confirm the ID.

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A Red-shouldered Hawk showing the bright “windows” on the primaries.


RSHA Atterbury A


Like all rules they are only good if you follow them.

Especially your own.

So I guess it will take a few more encounters before I change my bias of Red-shoulders in town. So EXPAND your mind and think through all the possibilities.