Tag Archives: red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Blog reboot

I’m rebooting xenogere.


Mating pair of syrphid flies (a.k.a. hover flies; Toxomerus marginatus)

Since I last changed my blog theme, I’ve grown increasingly disenchanted with blogging.

That is to say I’ve hated the idea.

But no more.

Close-up of a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and various other diversions will no longer distract me.

I will, however, continue to focus on my novels.

Because I have more important things to do.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) mobbing a feeder

And I’ll focus on photography.

Because I can make money with that, let alone use it to expand my horizons.

A male eastern Hercules beetle (Dynastes tityus) crawling on my hand

And I’ll focus on technology work since that has put many a coin in my pockets.

I mean, hey, come on already.

A female white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) with her fawn

I started blogging more than eleven years ago.

It’s time to either shut down and move on or restart and move forward.

I choose to move forward.

A Striped bark scorpion (Centruroides vittatus) eating a cricket--which has been decapitated

As you can see, I’ve made significant changes to the site. These changes aren’t done yet. In fact, not only are they a work in progress, they’re a work in need of focus.

There are problems I must fix, changes I must make, enhancements I must address.

So the site’s incomplete. But trust me when I say I’ll take care of it.

a Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) crawling along a storage barrel

Meanwhile, it’s time for me to get back on the horse so to speak.

And I intend to do just that.

A lazy afternoon

Daytime yearns to reach noon.  Cloudless blue stretches across the sky in all directions giving way to bright sunshine that blankets the earth.  A warm breeze from the south carries with it yet more humidity, moisture added to an already hot and moist atmosphere.  Despite the early hour, summer temperatures reign.  I stand and let sunshine and gently moving air caress my skin.

Remaining motionless, I quietly listen to birds singing in a cacophony of warbles, trills and melodies.  Their songs carry on the wind and fill the day with life.  Sweeping through the sky in graceful gestures and abrupt maneuvers, they flit from tree to rooftop to tree.  Innumerable species abound in this place, each a master of its own destiny and each blessed with the enviable gift of flight.  Their freedom in the air gives way to wistful fantasies of joining them.  I dream of leaping from the ground and finding my way into the firmament without need of clunky mechanical machines.  Ah, what a wonderfully intoxicating thought.

A red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) in flight (2009_12_20_046498)

Overhead, a hawk glides effortlessly into sight as it swims through the atmosphere upward into the sky, a raptor taking its place in the heavens in preparation for the hunt.  Mockingbirds chase the predator as it climbs ever higher.  Only a few times do they come close enough to interfere with the ascent, but the hawk recovers quickly with minor course corrections and continues becoming a speck at heights normally reserved for the clouds.  In great sweeping circles it rises without ever flapping its wings.  Like humans sticking their hand out the window of a moving car and letting the wind blow through splayed fingers, I see the hawk’s wings and recognize the outstretched feathers at their tips.  What a magnificent hunter this creature is, what a splendid example of conservation of energy in seeming contradiction to its movement.  I watch silently as the predator moves over the lake and eventually out of sight.

The fence surrounding my patio becomes my resting place as I lean against it.  With the sun kissing my skin and the breeze embracing me, I close my eyes momentarily and escape the world.  I imagine I am the hawk soaring high above.  I hang my head forward as my vision of the me-hawk takes shape.  I imagine myself carried on the wind and thermals, gliding effortlessly to heights above any challenger, my superior vision consuming all that can be seen.  On this day, not even clouds fight me for my place here.

Suddenly, the stir of activity across the way rouses me from my daydreaming and I open my eyes behind their cloak of sunglasses to see what I might see.  Sitting on her porch swing, one of my neighbors rests comfortably with book in hand in the shade of her own patio.  Her white ankle-length skirt hangs over her crossed legs and rustles casually in the gentle wind.  It, too, seems to enjoy the day and its lazy demeanor.  She sits back on the swing, her fitted light-blue blouse undoubtedly cool and relaxed against her skin.  I watch as she absently bounces one of her sandal-clad feet while it dangles in the air.  Slowly, almost unconsciously, her right hand moves and methodically turns the page, her attention swimming easily through the words spilling out before her.  How relaxing to see her carefree afternoon taking shape.

A red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) in flight (2009_12_20_046483)

Her dog is perched beside her blithely enjoying this sedate existence.  He watches carefully as the birds flutter about and sing in trees only feet away from his position at her side.  Ever so gently, he rocks back and forth as she swings them in tiny movements of vast contentment.  He reacts from time to time as some new little thing happens, perhaps a squirrel or a bird venturing close enough to be of interest, perhaps even a leaf blowing by to which he might give chase.  They fail to spur him to more action than a simple glance, perhaps a muffled, halfhearted bark lacking sufficient energy to be threatening.  If he raises his head from its place resting on his crossed front legs dangling from the swing, it is only a brief movement, almost an afterthought before it begins.  He is her sentry, yes, but even he recognizes the lack of danger and uses the moment to shift his position only slightly so that he might be more comfortable and able to rest his head on her leg.  It is a loving movement, one of absolute trust, and I hear the deep breath and following sigh telling the world he’s in heaven.

She moves her right hand again, this time to the dog’s head, and she gently rubs and scratches him as his eyes close in absolute joy.  From this distance, I am still able to hear her loving words to him.

“Are you comfortable?”

“Good boy.”

“A nap sounds great, doesn’t it?”

He stretches his entire body into rigid writhing.  The movement is over as quickly as it begins.  All four of his paws now dangle off the swing, her leg providing a pillow for his head, and another deep breath and sigh tell me he is as happy as any dog can be.  She rubs his head and neck once more before reaching again to turn the page of her book.  Her eyes never leave the pages as she transfers the book into her right hand and reaches for her glass of iced tea with her left.

A red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) in flight (2009_12_20_046505)

I watch only a moment more before returning my own gaze back to the sky and the overflowing nature around me.  Just before I close my eyes again, I see the hawk circling high above the lake.

[photos of a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)]

Four score and four months ago

Seven years ago today I began a wee experiment: this blog.  My capricious tendencies have seen it through many incarnations.  It has traveled across domains and has lived and died on multiple platforms and multiple servers.  Historically I gave it a face lift almost as often as I posted.  Yet through all of that, 84 months have passed since it came to life in 2003—and it’s still here.

Through this online journal I have met many fantastic people.  It has gifted me with new friends and it has helped me find a community of like-minded individuals.

Blogging also has given me a chance to exercise my writing and my photography.

But why did I start?  More importantly, why do I still do it today?  Instead of trying to answer those questions anew, let me republish something I wrote last November, something that perhaps was meant more for this anniversary than it was the random writ it seemed to be at the time.  Hereafter is The journal is the thing, only this time I will augment it with images of my favorite kind of creature: raptors.

* * * * * * * * * *

A turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) flying overhead (2009_12_13_044565)

Should I waste that which spills from my soul?  Should I dispose of haphazardly the many tellings which spring forth from cluttered and uncluttered thought alike?  Such writs take shape with ease, gleaning from life’s treasures the simple and complex notions that wind their ways through labyrinths of ideas until finally taking shape in the guise of pedestrian words.  Dare I forsake such a thing?

I am but a tool in the hands of creativity.  A lithe bit of sandpaper destined to remove sharp edges from nature’s display.  A rigid scythe meant to clear a path through grasslands too overgrown to be enjoyed by the masses.  A sturdy bridge meant to convey observers across imagination’s mire.  And a supple cloth to dry the sweat from a hard day’s work.  These things am I…  And more.

A male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) perched on a wire holding prey (2009_11_28_042860)

Green pastures stretch out before me like maidens lying in wait for gentleman callers.  Hills rise like breasts from an earthen mother, and shores stretch like her lips around warm waters.  Trees sway in the breeze like dapple braids of hair touched by loving hands.  If indeed life is anything more than existing, it is a consummation, a marriage betwixt what is and what can be.  I fear ever denying the embrace of this seductress.

In the tiniest of things I find inspiration; in the notation of them I find being.

A juvenile sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus) hiding in a tree (2009_12_20_046363)

I reap from fields sown of the universe’s seed.  What comes from me, then, is the simplest interpretation of the greatest mysteries.  To find magic in a single leaf hanging above my head while I travel paths ancient and new…  To bend a twig and find upon it the hopes of a timeless soul wrapped in winter’s slumber…  To stand by the riverside and hear sweet whispers from the commotion that hides beneath its still surface…  Ah, to live in the now, in such a wondrous place, and to never wish to lift a pen so that I might complete the journey that I began…  Blasphemy, it is.  I would rather die.

Why toil with clumsy language?  It remains clumsy only in the hands of those unlearned in its use, uneducated to its robust expression, and unfamiliar with its mystic secrets.  Nay, the journal is the thing in which I conceal and through which I perform.  Find within its borders the vellum of life, a papyrus upon which I paint in fine and broad strokes of words every bit of me, and every bit of the world where I reside.

A red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) in flight (2009_12_20_046514)

Catharsis barely scratches the surface of why I blog; expression even less.

I find everywhere the riddles begging to be solved, the confidences left openly where none shall see them only to be discovered by those truly looking.  By the rhythm of the sentence and the cadence of the photograph do I reveal such things as much to myself as to others.

A female red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) perched on a limb (2010_01_12_048405)

For decades have I reveled in the joy of the journal.  For almost a decade has that joy found new life in blogging.  The universe opens her dress for me, welcomes me to her bosom, holds me close as I ponder the magnificence of her being.

Never could I give it up.

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) flying overhead (2010_01_24_049071)

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura)

[2] American kestrel (Falco sparverius); male

[3] Juvenile sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus)

[4] Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

[5] Red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus); female

[6] Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii); female

A few of my favorite things #1

I begin each morning long before sunrise, a quick step out the bedroom door to the patio, coffee in hand.  The city sleeps around me, too early for all but a few to be out and about, darkness still a heavy cloak upon the land.  By rain or moonlight, in cold or hot, this begins my day no matter the weather.

The barred owls who sleep nearby often begin their conversations while I stand and listen, deep voices echoing across the lake, big words and small words drawing images in the darkness which I can only view but never understand.  I try to imagine what they discuss each day, why the chat begins well before they arrive in that place where they will find the day’s rest.  As I sip my coffee their voices draw near, each responding to the other, sometimes in long sentences and sometimes with a single word.  Yet always the voices remain the same, the haunting and magical owl sound that none could confuse with any other creature.

Then a squirrel barks repeatedly and vehemently, the warning bark it gives in response to a predator.  The rodent sounds as though it rests near one of the owls.  Might it be responding to the arrival of this nocturnal raptor, this silent killer who stalks the night?  Then a wren joins in, the mobbing, larger-than-life voice from a tiny body.  It too seems near one of the owls.

A smile crosses my face, a comfortable smile, a knowing smile, for this drama plays out nearly every morning just as it has these past few years, just as it has since this owl pair took up residence in the treetops that line my western view.  Soon a mockingbird will join in, perhaps a blue jay, sometimes even a crow wrested from its last few minutes of sleep by the growing cacophony.

But eventually the owls nestle into their favorite woods, their conversation becoming more intimate, the angry noises from other denizens falling silent as the threat passes.  And for a while longer they will speak to each other, these two owls, the chat sometimes lasting only minutes and sometimes ending well after dawn.  Finally, though, it does end as the need for sleep overtakes them, and they become quiet, and their voices stop creeping through the trees and over the water.  Finally, in the cover of woodlands only a minute’s walk away, they drift off into a world of dreams.

Even as the owl voices become a memory, other voices fill the air.  A change of shift has begun.  Raccoons scamper back to comfortable places.  Armadillos trot along toward hidden burrows.  The bobcat slinks into the nearby trees where it rests so close to people yet unbeknownst to them.  Coyotes vanish across the floodplain into the riparian habitat that gives them daytime cover.  All the while, mockingbirds stretch their wings and lift up their voices, wrens and sparrows call into the morning, cardinals pierce the day with sharp choruses and jays offer up greetings to the sun that only now brightens the eastern horizon.

As if on cue, the plaintive call of a mourning dove drifts down from a nearby building, a lonely sound, a lament to my ears yet music to the doves.  They rise to perches this time of day, as if to survey the world from upon high, as if to take one downward glance to ensure all is well.

And then a changing of the guard takes place: the first call from a hawk.  It matters not whether it’s a Cooper’s or a red-tailed or a red-shouldered.  One of them will speak into the light of dawn, one of these citizens of the lake will put their stamp on the day, one of these hunters will shout into the air that the raptors of the night have taken their leave and the raptors of the day have risen in their stead.

This ceremony, this repeatable and predictable wonder called morning…  It stands as one of my favorite things, a marvel which can’t be captured in photos or words, a touch of splendor the universe offers to me as gift.  Though the faces change just as the seasons change, the drama plays out on a stage that seems meant only for my eyes.  So I take my front-row seat each morning, sitting in a silence unequaled by the world of the day, and I let the show unfold just as it has every day before, every year before.  Then I walk away from it a better man than I was when I first climbed out of bed.

— — — — — — — — — —

Strange though it may seem, that somewhat rambling tale stands as introduction to a new picture series.  In the last seven years I have taken 76,847 nature photos (everything before that has been lost due to technology problems coupled with my own shortsightedness).  I realize that number might sound obsessive, but I’m passionate about nature in a way that no doubt borders on, or long ago surpassed, being an obsession.  Having given up television many years ago, all the time I once wasted being a couch potato has translated into time outside, time walking, time sitting, time watching and listening, time enjoying the smell of spring flowers and the sound of buzzing insects…  More succinctly, I have spent all that time letting nature hold my hand.

In my quest to share what marvels I see, I constantly find myself unable to provide more than a glimpse of a whole, something too vast to contain.  So just as I began the “put on your faces” series to offer picture-centric posts that require little more thought than viewing an image or two, this new series, “A few of my favorite things,” will likewise be photo-centric and short on words.  Some posts will be thematic whilst others focus on a singular moment.  But each entry will be one of my favorite things, whether that be a species, an event, a scene, an experience, an encounter, or some of a million other ideas.  Perhaps it will be as simple as mushrooms in morning light, as beautiful and double-edged as catching critters when they’re getting to know each other in the biblical sense, or as singular as this photo, one of my favorite things:

A red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) flying directly overhead (2009_12_20_046506)

When a hawk, my medicine animal, acknowledges me with a glance as it swims the crystal river overhead.

[photo of a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) taken at White Rock Lake]

An unexpected surprise

The preeminent hawk.  The hawk’s hawk.  The common and widespread buteo to which all other buteoine species are compared.  The red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis).  Seeing one is never a surprise from Alaska south to Venezuela and out to Cuba and the Virgin Islands.

With up to 16 subspecies and considerable population and individual variation stretching throughout its geographic range, including both “light morph” and “dark morph” varieties across all groups, not every red-tailed hawk is recognized as such, especially by the casual observer.  Yet it’s safe to say that most large hawks seen in North America are in fact red-tailed hawks.

These predators live and breed at White Rock Lake, yearlong inhabitants who outnumber all other hawk species in the area.  I see them often, and they kettle[1] in vast numbers that appear like a tornado made with birds.  I’ve seen many variations, including leucistic[2] individuals, light and dark morphs, and adults and juveniles (between whom much plumage variation occurs).

However, the majority of the red-tailed hawks in this area fit in two subspecies, B. j. borealis and B. j. fuertesi.  So when one flew by me yesterday evening, it caught my attention as it looked nothing like our usual suspects.  In fact, my first impression called itself white-tailed hawk.  Why?  I stood facing into the setting sun when the bird soared by me, so I had blinding light in my face when the buteo landed in a nearby tree and showed white along the top third of its tail.

I laughed at myself.  White-tailed hawks do not travel this far north.  In fact, they hug the lower third of the Texas coast and become more numerous south of the Mexico border.  The last time I saw that species was in May when I visited the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

So what might this beast be?  I had to know.  And as I moved by it and into a better position to see it, I realized its rarity in this area and its singular beauty.  Rather than a white-tailed hawk, it was a white-headed hawk.  More specifically, it was a Krider’s red-tailed hawk.

A Krider's red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) perched in a treetop (2009_10_23_032794)

Often confused with white-tailed and ferruginous hawks, the third and unexpected comparison hit me when two people ran over to celebrate their first-ever sighting of a bald eagle.  I stifled a laugh only because that thought had not occurred to me.  Though truthfully, I understood their assumption: dark(-ish) body, white head, large size, bird of prey.  Making the leap to bald eagle suddenly felt easy.  Nevertheless, to my mind it never stopped being a buteo, a large hawk.

I felt joy in explaining to the couple that the bird they looked at was as rare in Dallas as a bald eagle, but it was in fact not an eagle at all.  They listened intently as I pointed out a few differences and some of the telltale signs that indicated its true identity.  Not once did they look disappointed, for what their eyes rested on lost no magic and no beauty simply because its name changed.

A Krider's red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) perched in a treetop (2009_10_23_032829)

Identifiable though it may be, the Krider’s red-tailed hawk is often listed as a “white morph” of B. j. borealis, the “typical red-tailed hawk” most people would recognize.  To explain a bit further, Cornell’s Birds of North America puts it like this:

B. j. “kriderii” does not have a breeding range distinct from those of other subspecies, meaning it cannot, by definition, be a valid subspecies; instead, its breeding range occupies the sw. portion of that of B. j. borealis, and it winters chiefly in the Great Plains.

That tickles me.  We define a subspecies as requiring “breeding range distinct” from other subspecies, hence a singular population of birds who occupy a predictable area and demonstrate predictable traits cannot be a subspecies since that population lives and breeds within the territory of another subspecies.  It amazes me sometimes how people become so hung up on anthropocentric limits that they cannot see how nature doesn’t care about our definitions.  Nature does what it does anyway, all without concern for our limitations.

A Krider's red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) perched in a treetop (2009_10_23_032824)

Were Krider’s red-tailed hawks to be “by definition” a subspecies, I doubt the birds would notice.  They do not fill the territory of either subspecies with whom they are associated, but in fact they fill their own niche in the northern range of the Rocky Mountains.  They produce offspring who look like the parents that gave life to them, migrate to a definable area for winter and back to a predictable space for summer, and have repeatable and unquestionable physical traits that differentiate them from all other hawks, let alone all other buteos.

A Krider's red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) perched in a treetop (2009_10_23_032826)

Despite semantic arguments, I and the couple who stood with me never once thought less of the bird.  Its stunning presence and unique visage offered to us a mystical evening with a creature we could not disregard.  So long as the hawk sat in the treetop, we watched, each of us mesmerized, enchanted, spellbound.  No matter what one might assume it to be, no matter how versed in or innocent of bird identification one might be, nothing about the encounter could be called mundane.

A Krider's red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) perched in a treetop (2009_10_23_032809)

Never having seen this variety here in North Texas, I let it envelope me as a warm blanket might cloak me in winter’s cold.  I let the camera dangle by my side after only a handful of shots.  No matter its taxonomic disposition, this Krider’s red-tailed hawk will never be considered anything less than matchless, a nonpareil visitor who gave me an unexpected surprise—and a profound gift.

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] ‘Kettling’ is the term used when hawks fly together and spiral upward on thermals in a group.  A kettle of hawks often is mistaken for circling vultures.  This activity occurs most often during autumnal and vernal migrations when a group of traveling hawks prepares to leave after resting and/or eating.

[2] Leucism is akin to partial albinism, except it is a reduction in all pigmentation types and not just melanin.  It manifests from minor loss of color to significant loss of color—and even to a total loss.  Unlike albinism, however, leucism results in pure white being left behind (whereas albinism results in pale yellows or other weak hues since melanin is turned off but other pigments are left on).