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.