Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hawk encounters

On the way out to the wetlands adjacent to our south Florida home, at about 6:30 AM (15 minutes before sunrise) I saw a Cooper's Hawk fly from one tree to another along the path. It was too dark for photos. I recognized the species by its overall size and shape. A member of the genus  Accipiter or "true" hawks, it has a cylindrical body with a long tail and rather short wings, adaptations for pursuing small to medium-sized birds. About the size of a crow, it is bigger and a bit bulkier than the similar Sharp-shinned Hawk.

The skies brightened, and altocumulus clouds marched above the lake like a flock of sheep:

Morning light HDR 20150803

On the way back about 1 1/2 hour later, I heard Blue Jays mobbing up ahead. I finally saw not one, but two immature Cooper's Hawks almost hidden in the dense foliage of a Locust tree. (Look closely to see them both):

Two Cooper's Hawks in tree 20150802

I put the camera in AI (Automatic Intelligence) Servo mode, hoping for a flight shot. Sure enough, both hawks emerged and flew to a palm along the road:

Cooper's Hawk 02-20150802

Cooper's Hawk 04-20150802

When I approached they flew again,with the jays still pestering them every time they landed. They separated and I found one perched high in a tree.

Cooper's Hawk 05-20150802

Cooper's Hawk 01-20150802

Cooper's Hawk 07-20150802

  This time it flew far down the path behind me, out of sight:

 Cooper's Hawk 08-20150802

The next morning, at almost the same spot along the road, a Red-shouldered Hawk was roosting in its usual spot atop an abandoned utility pole. Its broad wings and short tail identify it as a smaller member of the Buteo or buzzard family. As often happens, Blue Jays and mockingbirds were harassing it. The hawk decided to relocate and flew over my head to a power line on the other side of the gravel path. 

Red-shouldered hawk 20150803

Red-shouldered hawk 2-20150803

A Northern Mockingbird kept making passes at it and a Loggerhead Shrike was scolding it. The hawk started calling and flew right past me, back to its original roost.

Mockingbird attacks hawk 2-20150803

Mockingbird attacks hawk 20150803

Loggerhead Shrike scolding hawk 20150803

Red-shouldered hawk 3-20150803

Red-shouldered hawk takes flight 20150803

While the Red-shouldered Hawk preys mostly on snakes and small mammals, the Cooper's Hawks could have easily dispatched the Blue Jays that were harassing them. Indeed, smaller birds usually fall silent when there is a Cooper's Hawk in the vicinity. These encounters brought to mind the time when, in New Mexico, I observed a Merlin being mobbed by a mixed flock which included Mountain Chickadees, nuthatches, Scrub Jays and Clark's Nutcrackers. They must derive some safety in numbers. 

Two days later, we once again got out before sunrise. Saharan dust blowing across the Atlantic from Africa added orange and then pink to the predawn sky. Color tones changed from minute to minute as the sun reached the upper cloud layers:

Pre-dawn sky to east 20150808

Pink Dawn HDR 20150808

Pink Saharan Dusty Dawn 20150808

 A slight rustling in the grass along the path alerted me to the presence of a Florida Box Turtle, which cautiously thrust out its head for my only macro photo of the day:

Florida Box Turtle 20150805

As I was photographing the turtle, a family of Raccoons scampered across the gravel road. The protective mother waited, watching me until her five youngsters disappeared safely into the roadside brush:

Young Raccoons 20150805

Mother Raccoon 20150805

Turning my attention back to the lake, I watched as herons were enjoying a feast. Decreasing water levels had trapped fish in a pond along the lake margin. A Great Egret saw a disturbance on the surface of the water and hurried over:

 Great Egret landing 20150802

It flew past another egret and a smaller white immature Little Blue Heron:

 Great Egrets and Little Blue 20150802

The egret's activism paid off, and it captured a medium-sized exotic Mayan Cichlid: 

 Great Egret with fish 20150802

A Great Blue Heron joined the competition:

Great Blue Heron 20150802

Great Blue Heron with Great Egret 20150802

A Pileated Woodpecker made an unexpected appearance. They are generally confined to the wooded north end of the patch. This female followed the power distribution poles nearly a mile south down the gravel road to the edge of the populated area:

Pileated Woodpecker female 20150805

It then flew to the abandoned power pole, the customary roost of the Red-shouldered Hawk, ascending to within a few feet of the raptor, which looked down at it, inquisitively:

Red-shouldered Hawk and Pileated WP 2-20150805

 Red-shouldered Hawk and Pileated WP 20150805

For the better part of a half hour, the woodpecker foraged all around the pole but never got any closer to the hawk. I tired of watching and resumed walking home.

The "civilized" side of the canal, bordered by the standard fences required by our homeowners association, seemed to hold a flock of ducks and geese, but the only living critter was an Anhinga:

SW 176th Ave Canal to south HDR 20150808

Look more closely, as the rest are decoys which function as floats for the intakes of yard irrigation systems:

 SW 176th Ave Canal 20150808

The Anhinga flew over to a small tree on the "wild" side of the canal, which defines the eastern border of the Water Conservation Area that we call our birding patch:

Anhinga 2-20150808


  1. Hello, awesome captures of the Hawks! Great variety of birds and lovely sky shots. Great post, enjoy your day!

  2. what a wonderful collection of really awesome images!!! i am loving all the nature and wildlife....and the exceptionally beautiful sky!!!

  3. OH MY GOODNESS! Such an enchanting place for them to wander about, looking as beautiful as ever!

  4. enjoyed all of your encounters with nature. the raccoon family is too cute (but you can keep them there as they're too destructive in the barn and bird feeder areas). beautiful hawk feather patterns. love the egret and reflections! gorgeous skies - flock of sheep made me smile. :)

  5. Wow there was just so much great stuff here today.- I loved it all. The Hawks were awesome. I wonder why smaller birds tend to harrass them so much. - Your sky shots were so dreamy and pretty, Loved seeing those Raccoons, super cute although I chase them off here as they tend to eat the cat food I leave out for cats. The Egrets and Herons were wonderful, the turtle was cute and I also enjoy the shots of the Raptor and the Woodpecker. - Nicely fence housing as well. It looks very pretty.

  6. What a spectacular series of photos. The birds in flight are fascinating and even the bird on the telegraph wire has his own special enchantment.

  7. Wow! Amazing sky shots and your nature shots are all excellent! What a gift to see these and photograph them all!

    Happy Weekend to you,
    artmusedog and carol

  8. Like flipping thru the glossy pages of Nat Geo!

    Worth a Thousand Words

  9. I love those hawk shots! Your opening shot of the sky and reflections is a beauty as well!

  10. That is one heck of a great neighborhood/patch! Fantastic way to start the day .... Pretty fantastic just to visit it through your pictures. Interesting about the differences between the Hawks and of course the flight shots are amazing. But I'm equally astounded by that Pileated keeping so busy while being watched from above!

  11. Somehow couldn't find a way to comment on the post below ... Loved following you on that trip! I always wondered if passengers on that railway trip would see much wildlife ; I've known people who took that trip, but they weren't particularly interested in birds...amazing scenery though!

  12. Oh wow - your photos literally take my breath away!

  13. HI Kenneth I always wait untilI have planty of time to read and see your wonderful photographs. I love the way you take us with you on your birding outing and we are seeing, through your lens what is now in front of you. I feel I am here with you and appreicate all the great shots you take. the sunrise shots are magical and the Hawk shots brillaint. I also love ethe look on that Racoon's face as he watches you. Intrestingto see that Woodpecker even attempting to feed on that pole when the Hawk was above him. Happy Birding and have a lovely weekend.

  14. We have some red-shouldered hawks that hang out in our area and they occasionally grace us with photo ops. Love to see them!
    Good shots.
    I hope to see you at, and please join us each week for Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday)!

  15. Your skies are just stunning! LOVE the hawks in flight...catching a bird in flight is beyond my capabilities, and your shots are such a treat! Beautiful! All your photos are just wonderful. Love the herons and the raccoons!

  16. The hawk-in-flight shots are so great.

    I'm truly fascinated by the Pileated Woodpecker daring to look for food on the hawk's utility pole. I see both birds around here on the mountain, but the woodpeckers make sure to be scarce when a hawk is around.

  17. You got some excellent shots of the hawks in flight but my favourite photo is of the woodpecker looking up at the hawk.

  18. A wonderful post, with great captures.

  19. Hello Ken, just stopping back to say thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Have a happy weekend!

  20. You have left me nearly speechless with this post. Wow.

    And just recently I learned that the male pileated is streaked with red on its cheek! That, I will remember..........if I EVER see one in person.

    1. Again, Ken....this post is extraordinary. Not only all the birds and sky shots, but those rascally raccoons are adorable too.

      Thanks for adding your link to this incredible post at I'd Rather B Birdin' this weekend.

    2. So wonderful all of it and you just must know how much I enjoyed all of the raptors as well as all entries here~

  21. outstanding pictures where is this>??

  22. LOVE your shots of the flying hawks. Awesome!

  23. @sandyland: This is the West Broward Water Conservation Area, located at the western end of the City of Miramar (Florida), west of SW 196th Avenue and east of US-27,

  24. Extremely amazing photos and many beautiful reflection...I love the sunrise too...

  25. I'm back again, too! I have to say your raccoons are very cute. But they annoy the heck outta me, birdfeeder-wise.

  26. Oh wow! This is a very entertaining post and I love all the photos and birds. :)

  27. I'm a real bird fan, but I would really like to see the Racoons!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  28. Wonderful post and so interesting. Love the hawk photos. What camera are you using. Also loved the racoons and the herons and the egrets and.......... Thank you.

  29. @Liz-- Thanks!

    For my wildlife shots I used Canon EOS 60D 18 MP Digital SLR Camera
    420 MM lens system:
    Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM Telephoto Lens
    Canon EF 1.4X II Extender - Hand held

    For landscapes I used my pocket camera, Canon SX700 HS.

  30. I have trouble identifying hawks...these are beautiful. Such a wonderful place to go.

  31. Pretty amazing stuff here. Love the raccoons running all over the place:) Hawks and Northern Mockingbirds. It's universal across the country. The mockingbirds really go at 'em! That water looks so close to the homes!!! Scary stuff. I imagine there is flooding often at some of these places. But it looks like an easy way to bird from your backyard:)

  32. What a bunch of wonderful nature encounters you had! Love the Cooper's Hawk in flight!

  33. I had to visit this post again, and tell you again how amazing your wonderful photos are! Love the post so much!

  34. Beautiful series of photos! My favorites are the flight shots of the hawks.


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