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10 Days Chasing Harlan's Hawks

posted by Tim Avery at
on Friday, November 11, 2011 

It was a strange week. On November 1st I found a Harlan's Hawk in Lehi on the south side of Thanksgiving Point. It was the first day in some time I hadn't brought my camera to work--a costly mistake in the photo department. What would have been a great photo opportunity instead turned into an obsession--one that took 10 days to satisfy and was over 15 years in the making.

Harlan's Hawk in Lehi, Utah - November 11, 2011

Harlan's Hawks as I like to call them (as opposed to just Red-tailed Hawk) are a nemesis bird for me. In all my years birding I had only seen a handful. For someone who had seen 1,000's of Red-tailed Hawks and spent plenty of winter days birding across northern Utah it was strange that for the most part this species had eluded me. Not terribly rare in Utah it was the type of species you would expect to encounter each winter--at least if you spent a few days wandering around locations that had concentrations of raptors. When I spotted that black looking hawk perched on a fence post just off the road, the thick white streaks on the chest caught my attention. When the bird flew showing off its tail and wings I was excited to have gotten such great looks but befuddled that I didn't get a picture. I decided that my goal for the coming few days was to relocate and photograph the bird so I could have so nice pictures for my website.

The following day with camera in hand I headed back to the spot I found the bird--nothing. I decided to expand to the south and west and shortly thereafter found what I thought was the bird perched in a tree to south of 2100 North in Lehi. But this one lacked the thick stripes on the chest, and only had a couple white marks. I snapped plenty of photos but every single one was back lit and nothing that I was really happy with. The bird flew off to the south and I gave up the search.

Harlan's Hawk in Lehi, Utah - November 2, 2011

The next two days I birded the same area and found nothing. On that 4th day I headed east across the interstate and found the raptor mother load. 13 Red-tailed Hawks in a mile stretch of road--no Harlan's but plenty of birds to keep me interested in coming back to try again the following Monday. Over the weekend a local birder named Jeff Cooper birded the area finding not only a Harlan's Hawk, but also getting amazing photos of a couple Prairie Falcons (check out his pictures). His photos got me excited to get back out and looking. On Monday I found the Harlan's Hawk, but it was sitting over 150 yards out and I didn't get any photos. I did however manage a pretty cool picture of an interesting juvenile Red-tailed Hawk with a single reddish tail feather (check out Jerry Liguori's post about this bird).

Red-tailed Hawk in Lehi, Utah - November 7, 2011

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday came and went without another Harlan's. But the varied and beautiful Red-tailed Hawks (by the dozens) kept me busy with great photo ops.

Red-tailed Hawk in Lehi, Utah - November 8, 2011

Red-tailed Hawk in Lehi, Utah - November 8, 2011

Red-tailed Hawk in Lehi, Utah - November 11, 2011

Red-tailed Hawk in Lehi, Utah - November 9, 2011

Jeff Cooper had relocated the Harlan's again on Thursday Morning and I couldn't find it when I looked that afternoon. On Friday Morning I met him to look for the bird together. But after an hour in the field, and no Harlan's I took off for work. As I got to the office my phone rang and it was Jeff telling me that 2 Harlan's Hawks had just flown into the area. I couldn't get away right then so had to wait a couple hours before I made my way back and found both birds. I spent a half hour enjoying great looks at one or the other as they circled and made trips out over the fields in the area.

Harlan's Hawk in Lehi, Utah - November 11, 2011

The photos still weren't quite what I wanted because the birds didn't work with the lighting. But they were good enough to keep me happy and know that I finally got some decent shots of a really cool bird. It was the week I chased dozens of Red-tailed Hawks and took more than 1500 photos of them along the way. What a great kick off to November, and the winter raptor season.

Harlan's Hawk in Lehi, Utah - November 11, 2011

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Anonymous Jerry said...

LOVE this post! The juvenile Harlan's is spectacular. even though the adult is backlit, I love that one too. There will be more to come this winter.

I also like the rufousy adult, notice there are no dark tail bands other than the sub-terminal, fairly uncommon on a darker bird.

Tim, I'm begging you to call me next time you come up this way for raptors!

November 11, 2011 at 7:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post Tim! I really enjoyed this--I got excited all over again having seen some Harlan's in South Dakota (Winter 2010). Too bad I didn't know what I was looking at at that time! But I did recognize the Rough-legged and Ferruginous Hawks!

Beautiful pics too!

Robert Visconti - Lindenhurst, IL

November 11, 2011 at 8:36 PM  
Anonymous Drew said...

I really like those dark rufous red-tailed hawks...don't see any of them in the east. And the barring on the flight feathers of the Harlan's is just fantastic!

November 12, 2011 at 6:02 PM  

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