Tuesday, March 31, 2009

a brand new poem -- "The Condor and Me"

Dear all --

this poem is not so much about the biology of the condor, but its cosmic ecology

The Condor and Me

by Stan Moore

I saw the condor
the condor saw me
I was more impressed than he

I asked the condor
what is eternity?
He told me to wait and see

I joined the condor
after I had ceased to breathe
Our tissues began co-mingling

I am the condor
the condor is me
We are real life family

a brand new poem -- "The Condor and Me"

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Owls and falcons and convergent evolution

If you compare owls with other owls and falcons with other falcons, you will find significant variations. Some owls are strictly nocturnal, while others are diurnal or crepusular in their habits. Some are buoyant and have light wing loading and others are powerful and have heavy wing loading. Some depend almost exclusively on hearing to hunt, while others make effective use of their eyes in low light. Some falcons hover, while others stoop at high speeds. Some falcons eat birds almost exclusively, while others will eat mammals and some eat insects. Some falcons are long distance migrants, and others are sedentary.
What gets interesting to me relates to the convergent evolution of owls and falcons as compared with hawks. Both owls and falcons tend to be cavity nesters. Some will use stick nests, but will never build or repair them; whereas most hawks will build and repair stick nests and rarely, if ever (to my knowledge) use cavities as nests. Both owls and falcons tend to cache food for future use, but rarely eat carrion, in contrast to hawks.
Both owls and falcons defecate by muting straight down in dribbles, whereas hawks slice and can project their waste several lateral feet. It is not unusual to find a mound of poo under favorite owl perches and spaghetti-like strands of whitewash (excrament) on the rocks below favorite falcon perches; whereas hawk excrement is projected over a wide area under roosts or nest sites.
Why would owls and falcons have not one, but several, common characteristics of this sort? Since life is a product of genes, which compress time, space and experience into the tissues of living creatures, are there specific genetic similarities between owls and falcons that could be traced and identified?
My observation is that a lot of genetic work is being done now on raptors, but much of it is management driven; that is, the genes of populations are compared as mechanisms for protections or management of isolated, fragmented, or endangered populations. That is where much of the funding in biology is these days, unfortunately.
I would love to see the results of new work by some emerging biologist/geneticist who has the wherewithal to initiate evolutionary studies of raptors that explore the genetic mechanisms of common behaviors and convergent evolution. Why do owls usurp and then abandon nests instead of constructing and maintaining them? Was it always that way in evolutionary terms?
What effect might global climate change have on the behaviors of these birds? Will birds that can cache food have a survival advantage over those that do not? Will carrion eating emerge as a new survival strategy?
These are interesting things to ponder and I hope that some inquisitive emerging scientist decides to make a career investigating these sort of questions.
Stan Moore

eye of a second year Cooper's hawk

Note: click on image to enlarge it.
If you are a varied thrush or a California quail and get a close look at an iris like this, you consider yourself lucky if you live to tell about it...
Stan Moore

The Center for Biological Diversity and its Repetitive Problems with Science

I would like to start this discussion with the admittal that I am sympathetic to many of the goals and actions of the Center for Biological Diversity. I have fully supported the Center when science is on their side, and I tend to oppose or reject the Center when they misuse or misunderstand or misappropriate science or take advice from weak scientists. It is important to remember that the Center for Biological Diversity is first and foremost a litigation specialist. They go to court with their attorneys and sue for this or that and they obtain money to staff their operations from the proceeds of lawsuits. I was told by one ornithologist that the Center had earned over $50 Million from such lawsuits in its history, which is amazing.

So, when the Center petitioned to list the California Burrowing Owl under the state Endangered Species Act, I fully supported the petition, as did most of the state's Burrowing Owl biologists. When the Center petitioned to list the Arizona Bald Eagle and then to keep it on the Federal Endangered Species list after the main continental population was delisted, I supported that petition publicly because I believed it was backed by the best available science and most of the best biologists of Arizona Bald Eagles.

On the other hand, I continue to be dismayed at the Center's continual petitions to list Northern Goshawks under Federal ESA. I once spoke directly to Martin Taylor, who at the time was a biodiversity coordinator of the Center, and he tactily admitted that the Northern Goshawk was being treated as a proxy by the Center for certain habitats which the Center really wanted to protect. In order to protect the habitat, the Center wanted to list the species. The only problem is that the evidence that the species is in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future or likely to become endangered is at best controversial, and at worst, scientifically indefensible. There is one goshawk researcher who supported listing under the theory that the Northern Goshawk is an old-growth forest obligate and since old-growth forest is hugely diminished in the U.S in various areas within the range of the goshawk, the goshawk must be in danger of extinction and must be listed. But other biologists believe that the goshawk, while using old growth forest extensively when it is available, are also able to reproduce and survive in second growth and other habitats and thus is not in danger of extinction. To me, the biological basis for listing must be a preponderance of evidence based on the best available science, and there is no consensus amongst goshawk biologists that a preponderance of evidence for goshawk listing exists. And yet the Center for Biological Diversity presses the issue as if the survival of the species is at stake. This agenda-driven ignoring of sound science harms the cause of conservation, in my opinon, by creating controversy for its own sake and by obfuscating the need for clear and strong science as such a serious issue as whether a species is at risk and needs special governmental protections.

Another situation where the Center for Biological Diversity is out of whack relates to Calfornia Condor conservation at the Tejon Ranch in southern California. The Tejon Ranch contains valuable condor habitat and some of the ranch area has been Federally designated as "critical habitat", which is a declared geographic area that can be modified within the management needs of the species as which is routinely done with endangered species of all sorts. In fact, the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resource Defense Council and other organizations have negotiated with the Tejon Ranch with full knowledge and collaboration with the Federal Condor Recovery Team to exchange a relatively small portion of the designated "critical habitat" in exchange for a package of condor conservation measures that condor biologists feel would be a win-win situation for the condor and the ranch. The conservation organizations agreed, not to support development of the ranch, but they agreed not to sue to prevent development of that proposed area in exchange for the condor conservation package. Yet, somehow, the litigation-made Center for Biogical Diversity opposes the other conservation organizations and relies on the scientific guidance of former condor biologists who arte now clearly reversing their published views of condor welfare. It appears that the Center for Biological Diversity carefully screens their scientific advisors to match their agenda, which tends to be litigation-oriented and not necessarily directed towards the welfare of the species at stake.

This problem is especially acute in the Altamont Pass of California, where hundreds of raptors die in collisions with wind turbines each and every year. The Center for Biological Diversity has ignored the written opinions of some of the area's most experienced raptor biologists, including myself, in favor of a professional wildlifer/statistician who is the wildlife equivalent of a derivatives trader in the financial markets. Shawn Smallwood, PhD, entered the arena of Altamont Pass research with a mitigation agenda before he ever gathered his first sample of data. He proposed mitigation as "tried and proven" even though at best he could offer a hypothesis, and the Center for Biological Diversity bought his spiel, hook, line and sinker. As a result, the Center for Biological Diversity intitiated litigation against the County and the wind turbine companies that has led to mitigation that does not help raptors. Worse yet, the Center has fallen victim to a scientist whose methods are essentially unrepeatable and thus his baseline studies are unreliable and thus we cannot move forward with any confidence that the well-known problems are resolved or unresolved. We are left in a horrible limbo at the nexxus of weak science and weak conservation, and all because the Center for Biological Diversity saw a litigatioin opportunity in conjunction with their preferree scientist of choice.

For a person who loves raptors and cares deeply about their conservation, as I do, this is hugely disappointing. The blunders of the Center for Biological Diversity are consequential. They are unnecessary and they are repetitive. They diminish from the good that the Center for Biological Diversity has done and continues to do in other arenas.

Let's hope the Center gets its act together sooner rather than later, hires more competent people who know how to use real science to best conservation effect.

Stan Moore
Fairfax Raptor Research
P.O. Box 341
San Geronimo, CA 94963

What is happening to red-shouldered hawks in California?

Last week I spoke with Pete Bloom by telephone, and he notified me that band recoveries were coming in from the Bird Banding Lab on birds I banded for him in the past couple of years in Southern California. Most of the reports are of fatalities, including road kills. Pete expressed concern that birds may be dying off faster than they are being replaced by natural reproduction, which could make population sinks an unfortunate reality for red-shouldered hawks. Today, I spoke with Pete again and he said that this year's field work seems to be revealing an unusually high percentage of subadult breeders, unoccupied territories, and presence of youngish adult breeders and absence of old breeders. Pete says that a decade ago he used to find a lot of red-shoulders over ten years of age in his study area, but now they seem nonexistent.

These conversations struck me as I cover my own study area, where over the past dozen years I have banded hundreds of red-shouldered hawks. I seem to continually find unbanded adults in areas where I banded one or both members of pairs as recently as one or two years ago. Clearly, there must be an explanation for the regular presence of unbanded birds on territories where conspecifics were banded in recent times.

Several possibilities will need to be considered and analyzed. Roadkills could be a limiting factor for the local population, which may be reflected, at least partially, in band recovery reports from the Bird Banding Lab. Pete thinks West Nile Virus may be playing a role; perhaps even in sublethal effects such as eye weakness that leads to starvation or road collisons.

Those persons who oppose raptor banding because they think that it harms birds are just plain wrong and their position harms the interests of the birds themselves. Banding is an inexpensive way of gathering reliable data and unbanded birds tell us very little about themselves.

Stan Moore
Fairfax Raptor Research
P.O. Box 342
San Geronimo, CA 94963

Friday, March 27, 2009

owl photos as educational tools

Deanne Lewis of Australia created the internet site "The Owl Pages" Recently that site has been taken over by the Center for Biological Diversity, which also sponsors the Global Owl Project. These are two major initiatives coordinated by the Center for Biological Diversity for which I can offer hearty support. My support for such matters is never unconditional, but CBD is to be commended for doing a great job with them, even as Jeff Miller and the local San Francisco branch has greviously screwed up Altamont Pass conservation initiatives and harmed the interests of burrowing owls in the Altamont Pass.
Several years ago Deanne Lewis happened to see some photos I took of a captive great horned owl with macro focus, and he asked if he could use them on the Owl Pages. I was more than happy to oblige. Since then, a steady stream of requests has reached me asking permission to publish the photos in various formats, including student essays, research presentations or educational presentations by professors, organizational newsletters, etc. I have always been happy to allow use of such photos for public or student education. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and an owl picture is probably worth at least fifteen hundred...
Stan Moore
Fairfax Raptor Research
P.O. Box 341
San Geronimo, CA 94963


Over the years, I have found myself involved in various controversies. A lot of this is because I am an issue-oriented person and a truth seeker and some have called me a "shit disturber". I cannot deny this accusation; I do not feel comfortable nodding agreeably in support of mediocrity or error, which is what the majority of people do most of the time, even in matters of science. When I see error, I am inclined to speak out and seek resolution, even if it makes me unpopular.

When I am in error, which happens occasionally, I welcome correction because I am a truth seeker. I cannot recall anyone ever being angry with me due to an error on my part and I always acknowledge and correct my errors when they are demonstrated to me.

But I have repeatedly seen people become hostile and remain so when they are in error and I am correct, or when they make assertions for which they have no support, but which I have refuted. There is ego involved in most of these cases, and sometimes status and even livelihoods and fund raising can be at stake.

I just learned that an ex-GGRO intern named Zach Smith is hostile towards me and wants to discredit me or at least scrupulously avoid favorable mention of me at all costs. Even worse, I found out that Zach has made lying accusations against me that are utterly without merit and which is never attempted to verify with me, even though the lines of communication from me have always been open and I have communicated to him many times over the years. But Zach has a chip on his shoulder. He was part of a team that went to Chile to put satellite tags on peregrine falcons. The team leader, Bud Anderson, of the Falcon Research Group personally asked me to publicize the program worldwide, which I did. But as I followed the Southern Cross Project and its communications to its funding supporters and the general public, I found flawed science and I commented publicly on it. I went to the published literature which should have been very familiar to the participants and quoted chapter and verse of why an important aspect of their project was flawed. And I have never heard directly from Bud or Zach again and probably never will. They became hostile, not because I was wrong or personally hostile to them, but because I was right and the truth I revealed hurt their pride and could have possibly influenced their prestige and maybe their fund raising if it became widespread.

Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity was very happy to receive my total support for his petition to list the California Burrowing Owl under the state Endangered Species Act. But Jeff got involved with the issue of bird mortality at the Altamont Pass and started down a mistaken course which has harmed the interests of raptors. I warned Jeff that his course was problematic and that I would oppose any policies of the Center that harmed the interests of raptors and I pointed out arguments by other raptor biologists, such as Pete Bloom, Robert Risebrough and Grainger Hunt that aligned with my own views regarding research and mitigation opportunities in the Altamont Pass. But Jeff ignored my advice and sided with Shawn Smallwood, who is a statistician posing as a wildlife ecologist and whose influence on science and mitigation in the Altamont Pass has proved to be a disaster for the birds. And Jeff does not speak with me any more, not because I was wrong, but because I was right, and I was "divisive". But the truth does divide and conservation is often about controversy.

Similarly, the Center for Biological Diversity has taken another poor position with regard to California Condor conservation in the Tejon Ranch. CBD supports the views of disgruntled ex-Condor Biologists whose current opinions on the Tejon Ranch actually contradict their own published views and who have resorted to lies, slander and misinformation in order to try to influence policy and regain some level of influence in the decision making regarding California Condors at this location. I entered the controversy in support of scientific truth and honest evaluation of mitigation planning and suddenly gained the wrath of the Snyders. Helen Snyder has attempted to discredit me and has followed me around the world to shadow me in my raptor communications by various listservers as she becomes aware of them. This has continued even into this week, with Helen joining the NeoTropicalRaptors listserver as soon as she became aware of my involvement there.

I have learned that if you are an issue-oriented person and do not shy away from controversy, it will follow you. My personality and communication style, which is of a matter-of-fact variety and not deferential to persons who make mistakes, even if I otherwise admire them. I let the facts sort themselves out and my batting average for accuracy in scientific and conservation matters is very, very high.

In some cases, I have become a hated man, not because of my errors, but because of my adherence to scientific truth and expert analysis. Other people avoid such controversies by simply blinding themselves or refusing to get involved. I am not like that and sometimes I think I may be the only person who is. But I have a clear conscience and a good reputation with the best people and that is very satisfying.

There is a saying that "where there is heat, there is light". I like to sit in a warm, well-lit room and feel uncomfortable lounging around in the darkness.

PS: I hear that North Bay Birds moderator Douglas Shaw claims that he banned me for life from the list for "verbally abusing" people and not playing by the rules. His vague wording is defamatory and deliberately misleading. The correct translation is that I complained tactfully about being treated unfairly and by him making up rules as he went along and applying them differently to me than to other people. The truth is that people like Maggie Rufo and Siobhan Ruck and bird tour leaders intensely disliked me out of jealousy and organizational "turf protection" and they and nagged the owner and moderator behind the scenes to silence me. People I would consider to be friends never once rallied to my support, and they all know who they are. And so I was banned for life from North Bay Birds despite being without doubt the most interesting contributor in the history of the listserver in terms of expert commentaries on birds, their habitats and their behaviors (specifically raptors). Such is the world of birding and birders and thus it is not surprising that listservers such as North Bay Birds have fallen far short of their potential. I might add that the owner of Cal Birds (and San Diego Birds) is a man named Douglas Aguillard who banned me for life from San Diego Birds for pointing out his ignorance publicly, while he sent me profanity-laden private communications. The same fellow, Doug Aguillard kicked me off Cal Birds recently as soon as he saw my first posting. He is one of those ex-Marines from San Diego County who is proud of his violent temperament and I have been told by various San Diego - area birders that he has banned any number of knowledgeable people who did not realize or agree with how special he feels he really is. And this is the world of bird listserver moderators in California, where clearly I do not fit in.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fran Hamerstrom's letter of referral and qualification issues

When I was working for Fran Hamerstrom on her famous field study of Northern Harriers, it so happened that my high school sent me a notice of a reunion of my graduating class. Fran heard about it and asked me what I would declare my occupation to be. I said, "Oh, I'll probably make it plumber/raptor biologist" or something like that. Fran stated strongly that I should consider myself a raptor biologist first and foremost, and that it would be a great idea to support myself with a 40 hour per week job like plumbing and then pursue raptor research as an avocation. She would never have for a minute considered secular work and raptor research to be mutually contradictory. And, in fact, the history of ornithology is replete with old and current examples of serious amateurs who became experts in various fields of ornithology and even world-class authorities on species and related areas.
In contrast, I have encountered people who believe that one cannot be a biologist without a degree in biology. My experience has been that professional biologists with this sort of chip on their shoulder tend to be sensitive to being outshined in their professional field by non-professionals. In my own case, many people have incorrectly assumed that I do have a PhD in a related field because my path of self-education has made me very knowledgeable. I have had the privilege of being acknowledged in various publications for my contributions to their subject matter, which would never have happened if I was "just" a plumber and nothing more. I have been cited in dissertations and in published papers and I have had professional biologists submit their manuscripts to me for review and analysis prior to publication. Why? Because that happens to plumbers all the time? No -- it happens because I have the respect of a lot of intelligent people, and I tend to operate in raptor and conservation circles in an area of accomplished academics and sometimes world authorities.
Yes, I think there are professionals who are jealous of me. There are some who cannot acknowledge my knowledge and understanding of raptor biology, ecology, behaviors, or similar things, but can praise my photographs or my choice of items in a bibliography. There are those who cannot successfully debate me or correct their mistaken analyses, but who feel the need to try to discredit me, not by claiming that I don't know enough, but that they think I am not qualified to know enough.
Of course, right now the whole world is in an economic crisis driven by the "best and the brightest" with PhD's and high education, but no common sense and no willingness to regulate their personal greed. And in the field of wildlife conservation and research, we know more about wild nature than ever before and have continually expanded the use of high technology and computer-aided analysis and statistical inference, but we are not successfully saving habitat for spotted owls, sage grouse, or any number of other critters in the U.S. or worldwide.
Some of our professionals are so hung up on pride that they cannot see their own inadequacies and so they attack other professionals, as we saw in the case of the Tejon Ranch conservation effort recently. Condor biologists long booted out of the recovery program were still trying to influence decision making a decade or more after their relevance faded, and in so doing, they undermined their own credibility and public confidence in conservation science. What a shame!
Probably the greatest thing Fran Hamerstrom ever did for me was to put me through hell on a daily basis. She really tested me and my love for raptors and for field work. After enduring that, it has been relatively easy to put up with the foibles of lesser people and to keep my balance while always growing in knowledge and ability. I am not traditionally educated, but I am highly educated in a self-educated sense, and it is a lifetime program of improvement that I intend to pursue as long as I breathe. I consider it a part of being a Hamerstrom gabboon and I am not about to let small minded people, even small minded professional biologists, slow me down or take away from my love of raptors and joy they bring me each and every day.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fran Hamerstrom and Broadwing Hawks 40 years apart

When I was Fran Hamerstrom's gabboon in the early 1990's, one morning Fran announced to me that "today is the best day of the year to trap a broadwinged hawk". She did not need to repeat herself, and I had mice and was ready to go trapping on a moment's notice. We jumped in her van and I drove the rural areas of her county on mostly dirt roads. As we went from road to road, Fran's memory kicked in and she would point out locations where she could recall trapping broadwing and other hawks over the decades. It was quite an interesting history lesson of Hamerstrom road trapping. But we saw no broadwings. Finally we saw one and dropped the bal-chatri trap. Fran told me to be patient. She said that broadwings are not "footy" hawks around bal-chatris, and even if one stepped on the trap it would take a while for it to get caught, so be patient. The broadwing did come down to the trap, but a truck came along and scared it and it flew back to the tree perch. But finally the hawk came back down and we watched (at least I did) with excruciating agony as the bird hem hawed around the trap until finally it was caught. Relief! I asked Fran to hold the hawk for a photo and she decided on an unconventional pose. I guess she wanted to highlight the dark subterminal wing bands of the species. Finally we let the bird go and returned to the Hamerstrom home and went about other things. It was one of many memorable days in the field with my mentor, the late Fran Hamerstrom of Plainfield, Wisconsin.
Years later Fran's daughter, Elva Hamerstrom Paulsen, sent me a photo taken of Fran with a broadwing hawk in the 1950's. Fran was in her prime and looking good and this is one of the best photos of Fran I ever saw.
Stan Moore

Field Notes from this week

This time of year most of my effort in the field is spent monitoring known nests, looking for new nests, and reading bands. I carry traps and band birds opportunistically, but am more focused on the seasonal monitoring associated with nesting season.

Yesterday I checked one nest that was originally built by a redtail hawk, then taken over for two years by great horned owls. I got out my scope yesterday and started looking at the nest, hoping to see a horned owl glaring back at me. A car drove past and stopped alongside me and asked what I was looking at. I told the guy that last year a great horned owl was on the nest, but this year I could not (yet) see a bird on the nest, but the nest looked in good repair and had some fresh vegetation in it, indicating that the owls may have moved on and the hawk returned. The man drove off and our voices must have stirred the occupant of the nest, which turned out to be a female redtail hawk, who had, indeed, resumed occupancy of the nest.

Also yesterday I saw a red-shouldered hawk on a wire across from a location where a pair used to nest, but the nest disappeared several years ago. I dropped a trap and caught the bird, an unbanded female, and I banded her. A man drove up and was excited to see the bird, and continued talking with me after I released it. Meanwhile, the mate (male red-shoulder) flew over and landed on the same wire. I continued talking to the man while I reset the nooses on my trap and walked about fifteen yards to place it in view of the hawk. We were far closer than normal to any hawk I would attempt to trap, but the bird saw the mice and came down and was caught as we watched, and so I banded both members of a new pair occupying an old territory. Fabulous!

Today I recaptured a red-shoulder that was already double banded. I checked my records and found that I had originally trapped him with the live great horned owl and dho-gaza set in April of 2004 at the same location, except in 2004 I trapped him in Bob Steiner's back yard and today I trapped him in Bob's front yard. California adult red-shouldered hawks stay put and do not move very far during their adult lives, and are non-migratory. It was good to meet that bird again!

Most of the local buteos are incubating eggs now, but a few are still copulating and probably laying eggs.

I saw a Cooper's hawk soaring today and also a merlin, which was way cool. Yesterday I checked a golden eagle territory and saw the female, who was probably taking a break from incubtation while being relieved on the nest by her mate. I hoped to watch her fly back to her new nest and reveal its location, but she moved while I was watching something else for a second and so I will have to find the nest another day. Last year's nest was vacant.

It is a nice time of year to be out watching hawks and enjoying the mild weather.

Stan Moore

Monday, March 23, 2009

lovely pair of white tailed kites perch in pine

White-tailed kites seem to be among the most gentle of all the local raptors; unless, of course, you are a vole! My friend, Andrea Erichsen enjoyed this recent photo. I first met Andrea when she was a grad student at UC Davis studying the roosting habits and habitat use by kites using radio telemetry; but now Andrea is far away working in a different kind of paradise on the Hawaiian Islands as a state-employee biologist.

Note: this photo, like all on the blog, can be enlarged for better detail by clicking on the image.

Stan Moore

When Rawge Met Athene

Roger "Rawge" Jones and Chris Conard are biologists working for Sacramento County at their Bufferlands facility. Rawge and Chris heard of me through my involvement at the time with The Wildlife Society's listserver, and they contacted me to see if I could tag some burrowing owls at their facility with color bands to help them monitor the local population. They bought the bands and bought me a new pair of binoculars, and I spent a day trapping adults and banding baby burrowing owls for them. This photo shows Rawge with the first owl he ever handled. I think Rawge was a little bit intimidated by the talons at first, but he settled down quickly and handled the bird very well. I think I heard later from Jack Barclay that one of the juveniles we banded that day was ultimately discovered by another burrowing owl biologist who read the band at a location miles away, having made a nice post-juvenal dispersal movement. And that is what color (vid) bands are for!
And the past few years I get two fabulous Bufferlands wall calendars with fantastic wildlife photos; one is sent by Rawge and one is sent by Chris. What a deal!
Note: this photo and all other photos on the blog can be enlarged by clicking on them to get more detail.
Stan Moore

Sunday, March 22, 2009

why it is called a "rough-legged" hawk

Note: click on images to enlarge them.

high wind redtail hawk behaviors seen today, including flying backwards

Today I went to the field, and first of all, saw the Common Black Hawk in its home location and hopefully got a good photograph of the band on its leg.

The day was very windy, with gusts perhaps as high was forty or fifty miles per hour. Telephone lines were blowing and birds flying with the high energy used by sailors on San Francisco Bay.

I checked some nests. A nest on Chileno Valley Road was interesting; the female's rump end was sticking upwards out of the nest as if she wanted to get her head as low as possible. I suspect she is trying to incubate new eggs and she does not like the high wind one bit.

Just down the road I saw an adult male redtail who was probably the incubating female's mate. He was hunting over a dairy pasture and flying low in the high wind. He pumped his wings to go forwards and demonstrated a behavior at low altitude that I had never seen in a redtail to my knowledge. While always facing forward, this bird would open his wings and allow himself to be blown backwards while in full control of his sails so as to move backwards across the field while facing forwards. Then he would pump his wings and move forwards to the slight left or right, and thus able to cover the field with minimal energy expense for the conditions at hand.

I have seen redtails move backwards while slope soaring or high above the ground, but this bird was maybe fifteen feet above the ground. He had full confidence in his flight control capability and flew like the master aeronaut that he is.

Now that I have seen a hawk flying backwards at low elevation, I look forward to seeing what additional surprises and delights lie in store as my hawk monitoring life goes on...

Stan Moore

Fairfax Raptor Research

P.O. Box 341

San Geronimo, CA 94963


Saturday, March 21, 2009

peregrine falcon chases starlings at Sonoma County dairy

This photo was taken by me in February, 2009. When I first drove down Guglielmeti Road, I saw a lot of starlings acting very nervous on the ground amidst a herd of dairy cows. But the starlings did not want to fly. I knew a falcon was about. I drove to the end of the road and turned around, and when I got back to the herd the starlings were aloft, but still very low, and they were balling up in defensive posture. Many small birds form bird clouds when under threat of predation by a falcon, which means that the chance of any individual bird being taken by the predator are small. In this case, the peregrine did not capture any prey and flew off in search of better hunting at a different location.

Coincidentally, my photo is similar to an award-winning photo of a peregrine going after a huge flock of starlings in Rome, Italy. That photo became publicized internationally, and can be seen online at:

Stan Moore

did Dave DeSante REALLY see and photograph an eastern red-shouldered hawk in California?

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from David DeSante regarding his earlier posting to Cal Birds about an alleged sighting of an eastern red-shouldered hawk in Glenn County, CA at the end of January, 2009. He included poor quality photos and directions to the location and expressed an interest to me and to Pete Bloom that the bird be relocated and banded, if possible.

I looked at the first photo and could not even tell for sure what species of hawk it was, much less which subspecies, and did not even bother to look at the second photo. But I had confidence in Dave and spoke with Dave and Pete, and I decided to drive up to Glenn County to look for the hawk, and if possible photograph it and possibly even band it. I thought it would be great to capture and band the juvenile eastern red-shoulder and photograph it alongside a typical California juvenile which would surely be abundant in the area.

So, I drove up there and quickly idenified the exact location described by Dave. I saw a juvenile red-shoulder and trapped it, but it was a California juvenile and not the prize bird. I let it go. I spent five solid hours traversing the entire area repeatedly, carefully checking out each bird with my scope, and hoping to see the eastern hawk, which Dave felt would have been the first live eastern red-shouldered hawk ever documented in California. But I had no such luck, but did have a lot of fun seeing other raptors and other birds.

I came home and reported my findings (or lack thereof) by email to Dave and Pete. And I shared the story with William S. "Bill" Clark, a friend, raptor identification expert, field guide author, and person I knew would be interested in this story. Bill asked to see Dave's photos and other documentation, and I sent them to him. He looked at everything for a day and then replied that he did not think the bird in the photo was an eastern red-shouldered hawk at all and could not be mistaken for one, in his opinion.

That caused me to revisit the second photo, which I had not seen, and when I saw it I immediately agreed with Bill Clark that it was a typical California red-shoulder juvenile and could not be an eastern bird.

I wish I had looked at BOTH photos before driving way up there! However, it is always worth taking a chance if possible and I certainly would always give an expert like Dave the benefit of the doubt until I became convinced otherwise.

My records indicate that I have personally banded 408 red-shouldered hawks in N.thern California, and I have banded as many as three hundred more in Southern and Central California while working for Pete Bloom. I don't think there are many, if any, people who have trapped as many of these birds as adults or juveniles as I have. I have also visited a banding station at Cedar Grove, Wisconsin where red-shoulders, including juveniles, were trapped and banded during my visits.

I feel 99% confident that Dave DeSante saw a typical California (elegans subspecies) red-shouldered hawk and not a lineatus (Eastern juvenile). But I hope Dave and others will keep looking. There is no good reason for an eastern red-shoulder to end up in California, as their migratory movements are not conducive to a California sojourn. But strange things occasionally happen, and if it does, I want to be there.

Attached is a photo of me with a local (North Bay) mated pair of adult red-shouldered hawks taken in late 2008.

Stan Moore

on the recent banding of the Sonoma County Common Black Hawk

A Common Black Hawk has been seasonally present in northern California for at least five years. This bird is only the second of its species ever documented in the state of California, but its remote location in the Laguna de Santa Rosa has allowed its relative secrecy despite being present for months at a time for several years. But where does the bird go when it leaves Sonoma County? Is it the same Common Black Hawk that was seen in the Stockton area a couple of winters back? The questions about the movements of this bird led to a stated desire by members of the California Bird Record Committee that the bird be banded to aid in its identification. This was done in February, 2009. A phai trap was baited with a live crayfish, the preferred food of this bird, and the black hawk flew down to grab the crayfish and was snared and then banded. The local property owners had several family members present and they seemed to greatly enjoy seeing this special bird up close and personal. The federal Bird Banding Laboratory subsequently revealed the exciting new that the Sonoma County Common Black Hawk was the first of its species to be banded since 1993 and the 35th overall in the entire history of the North American bird banding program! Most of the previously banded black hawks were nestlings, and only a few adults have ever been banded. It is unknown if any wild Common Black Hawks have been photographed in hand and so the accompanying photos are rare and reveal closeup details of the plumage, iris color and other features of the Common Black Hawk that have been seen rarely, if at all.

Stan Moore
Fairfax Raptor Research
P.O. Box 341
San Geronimo, CA 94963

on the recolonization of bald eagles to the Bay Area

Birders and other members of the public are regularly seeing bald eagles in the Bay Area and especially the North Bay nowadays. This includes pairs, nests, and lone adults as well as juveniles and subadults. Clearly the recolonization of the North Bay and the Bay Area by Bald Eagles is underway now and we can expect to see them with increasingly regularity and in increasing numbers in the near term and long term.

When I think of this recolonization, I am reminded of a statement regarding peregrine falcons that Greg Septon of the Wisconsin Peregrine Society credited to raptor biologist Fran Hamerstrom. Greg quoted Fran as saying that "peregrines like to be around other peregrines". This simply but astute fact characterized the recolonization of the North American continent by peregrine falcons in the aftermath of DDT and a similar pattern is followed by bald eagles, I am sure. Peregrines clustered in favorable areas and built local populations that then spread further over time from loci determined by concentrations of serviceable breeding locations, food concentration, and other factors that species and populations adapt to in their quest for survival.

Bald Eagles showed up at the Del Valle Reservoir in the East Bay over ten years ago. One of the birds was an Alaska native that had been hacked along the California coast, if I remember correctly. Later, a pair was formed at Lake Sonoma and later yet another at the Laguna de Santa Rosa. Another was formed at Kent Lake in the Marin Water District lands. As these birds succeed or fail, their presence on the land adjusts tropic threshholds. Ospreys are affected and their concentrations no doubt change in relation to the competition and threat from the fish eagles. Production of young eagles by nesting pairs tends to produce wanderers that ultimately will return somewhere near their point of origin, but in their wanderings are no doubt attracted by the presence of other conspecifics. Bald eagles want to be around other bald eagles, just like peregrine falcons want to be around other peregrines and humans want to be around other humans. A few humans were pioneers and spread out to unexplored territories, but most congregate in proximity to their kith and kin. This is natural for various taxa.

It is unlikely that we will ever seen massive concentrations of bald eagles as they do in Alaska or even in the Tule Lake region of far northern California. Bald eagles can congregate by the scores or even hundreds when massive concentrations of salmon or waterfowl provide means of support for many predators in a short distance. This sort of concentration is not likely in the North Bay or the Bay Area. But there is room for several nesting pairs per county in all likelihood, and year round breeders will attract other floaters and younger birds.

In short, be prepared to continue seeing bald eagles in the North Bay in greater frequency as the next few years pass. I could picture perhaps three pairs in Marin County and three to five in Sonoma County and a few in adjacent counties. The East Bay will see a few more pairs and maybe one day we will get reports down on the peninsula. We know that bald eagles need not be wilderness birds and they can become relatively comfortably acclimated to human presence as long as certain threshholds of disturbance are not crossed.

I can speak from recent personal experience that it is exciting to be driving along and to see either a flying or a perched large bird with a pure white head and tail. I could get used to it and I am sure I will. The recolonization of bald eagles to our area is in process and for some it will be almost a daily occurance to see majestic bald eagles in the northern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Stan Moore
Fairfax Raptor Research
P.O. Box 341
San Geronimo, CA 94963
hasEML = false;