Saturday, October 26, 2013

Red-tailed Hawk Tactics for Eluding Observers

The Mill Race, off the Sugar River, WI 4:51PM 

The sound of scolding Crows, an alert so often used by Central Park Hawk Watchers to locate Red-tailed Hawks, works in the country too.

The cawing was from crows perched in tree tops.  This was the first.

4:52pm  And the second, both looking toward the same spot, a copse of trees, across the highway bridge which traverses the Mill Race.
 4:54pm I head for the other side of the road across the Race. I'm momentarily distracted...What are THOSE? 

Any ideas?

 Back to the Red-tail chase on the Race.

4:55pm  This seems to be where the Crows are looking but I don't see Mr. RT.  I start walking a curve around this group of trees.

4:56:01pm  Ah ha!  Got him.  Do you see him?  He's just left of center looking left to the West.
 See him now?  

Look for the shape of a Red-tail with his back turned. Just right of the pale barked tree.

 In this case brighter leaves obscure his head.  Got him?  You can just see a touch of his pale side. And he's perched with an open flyway available for flight into the sun.  

A rural Red-tailed Hawk maneuver to ditch unwanted attention. 
4:57:21pm He has turned his head to look at me. His eye is just left of a small branch.  We look at each other. He knows I know he's there. It won't be long now.

4:57:56pm  And into the sun he goes!  I wait until I and the camera are not completely blinded and hit rapid fire.  The next three frames are all taken in the same second.

4:57:57 This guy is doing some flying.  He goes into a glide for  the tree line where he will be obscured by foliage when the light falls on him again.
4:58:01pm  Crikey!  He's  going to cross the road in the opposite direction  I've just come from and at this point I think, well that's it.  He's going to keep on flying and I'll never catch up.  

4:58:02pm Unlike the Central Park Hawks who would just be heading in that direction to go about their day to day business, likely paying no attention to me whatsoever, this hawk is ditching me on purpose.  And he'll just keep going until I'm ditched.  DRAT!

 5:58:02pm WAIT!  He hovers briefly above the pole.
4:58:02pm  He's turning and looks ready to perch on the electric pole.  My, my, my, that's rather human habituated for a rural Red-tail.  
 (Never under estimate a Red-tail, remember?)
4:58:03pm  She looks at me and then turns back to look down the Race.  Why didn't she keep flying away from me?  

Its the Crows!  Or that's my current bet at any rate.

They're still over there and she doesn't want to be mobbed again!
4:58:19pm  Yes, I realize I've suddenly changed pronouns.  I was thinking the bird was male but now there is a niggle that perhaps the hawk may be female as she looks bigger on the post than most males though the hawk may just be fluffed up against the cool weather.

She also appears to have quite a light belly band which according to the hawk savvy John Blakeman, barring she is just a pale Red-tail, may mean she is an older experienced hawk.

 4:58:21pm  We hold, looking at each other.  She's monitoring  my eyes.  Which I know but...
...when a truck comes rumbling down the road, which with her eyesight, hearing, and vantage point she knew about far before I did,  my eye automatically flicks down at it and she's off with speed.  
Had I been a partial of a second slower I might well have lost her in the trees.  See what I mean?

(This is the reason hawking with a partner or a group can be very helpful even for the most experienced hawkwatchers.)

4:58:36pm  Normally she'd have zoomed straight off into the far tree line and I may not have seen her go.  But for whatever reason, I'm hypothesizing the Crows, she doesn't go that way.  She's heading East which exposes her against the sky.

4:58:36pm  She sticks to the cover she has, the power lines and the bare tree in the distance.
4:58:36pm  Still sticking to the wires.
4:58:36pm  Going for some altitude.
4:58:37pm And still higher.  Note that the previous 5 frames, before this one, encompass 1 second of time
4:58:39pm  In the last two seconds she has begun to gain more altitude and to circle round more toward my side of the road. 
4:58:40pm  She begins a soar.
4:58:41pm  About now is when I realize that she is going to use the tree to which I'm adjacent for her own purposes as she is about to disappear behind it.
4:58:41pm  I decide to duck around to the other side of my tree
which isn't as quick as it might be due to the understory.

4:58:46pm (She hasn't suddenly gotten this close, I've just cropped the photo for a closer look.)  5 seconds later, when I regain my view, she is in a bank.  

And it is a much brighter view of her due to her angle on the sun, the fact that she is crossing the road so she isn't in timber shade plus the exposure of her pale underside.  She limited that exposure to me by making her move when I had to go round the tree in order to keep my eye on her.
4:58:46pm  It took her only 1 second of obvious exposure to cross the road.
4:58:47pm  Then she is out of the bright light and nearly to the power lines on my side of the throughfare.  It doesn't appear that she has  taken the option of going East and into town. 
4:58:47pm Take a good look at where she is in relation to the power line.
4:58:48pm  She whips down and goes below the upper arm of the left electric pole.

4:58:49 And heads for the trees.
4:58:49pm This is a crop of the previous picture. Look at her focus.  And her wings are in a similar position to a downbeat of  wings while flying but she is holding that pose.  She doesn't bring them up.
4:58:49pm  She's into the tree and now the wings look bowed.
4:58:49pm  And a crop for clarity.
4:58:49pm  Her wings are now almost completely up.  Still hustling through the tree.
 4:58:49pm  Can you see where she is?
 4:58:49 pm  Crop.  Can you see her now?   I take the brown patch beneath the branch to be her left wing.  Up and right there are feather tips.  Her tail?

4:58:50 And she's out in the golden light.  Traversing through the tree took her less than a second as well.
      She appears to be looking down.

4:58:51pm She begins to bank right and down.

4:58:52pm And suddenly she is in the tree,  makes a quick turn, apparently goes out the back and well...she's gone.  

From the time she originally turned, looked down at me from her perch near the Mill Race, and I looked back up at her, 4:57:21 pm,  and 4:48:52pm when she just ditched me by zipping out the other side of a tree,  was all of 1 minute 31 seconds.  

She completely blew me off in less than 2 minutes. 

Look back at all the tactics she used against me in that 1 minute and 31 seconds.  This bird is savvy.   In fact she's rather a jewel.  


Well... being that back in the day,  the Sugar River and the Mill Race had so many mollusks living in them (they still do), that there was a thriving industry in the making of mother of pearl buttons, perhaps we'll just call the hawk, Pearl.

And if Pearl turns out to be a tiercel, which he may, I just looked at his skull shape in the "looking at each other" photo, we'll still call him Pearl.

Happy Hawking!

Donegal Browne

P.S.  Quicksilver the African Grey Parrot appears to have given up a small amount of his attachment for the chest of drawers and has taken a liking to the old dance, "The Bunny Hop". He's begun whistling it and bobbing his head in time.

Why?  So far he isn't saying.