[Tweeters] Ferruginous Hawk west of Wapato-27 December

Andy Stepniewski steppie at nwinfo.net
Mon Dec 29 07:24:23 PST 2008


27 DECEMBER 2008

We headed west of Wapato this morning to enjoy a beautiful winter morning.
We started out with arctic air still entrenched in the region. It was 13
degrees F, brrr! All day dark clouds billowed eastward from the Cascades,
threatening us. But, the upper air flow was a little north of west. This
wind direction usually shields south-central Washington from Pacific storms.
Today was no exception. The day was mostly bright and sunny. By midmorning a
wind arose from the west and the temperature quickly climbed, a classic
Chinook By early afternoon it was 48 degrees F! The roads quickly changed
from 100% snow to a slushy mess of rutted tracks.

About 12 miles west of Wapato we stumbled into an adult FERRUGINOUS HAWK on
a low irrigation wheel line. We saw it in the vast wheat fields, now very
snowy, about 200 yards northwest of the junction of West Wapato and
Stephenson Roads.

This is the first winter record of Ferruginous Hawk in Yakima County. We
were thrilled to watch this hawk perch low on the wheel lines, cock its head
this way, peering at the snow intently, and then take off a short distance
and plunge into the snow and hop about clumsily with its legs extended. We
saw no sign of rodents on the surface of the deep snow which was about 10
inches deep on average, and up to 20 inches where drifted. Could the hawk
have been listening for rodent prey (mice or gophers) deep under the snow?
Certain owls, especially the Great Gray, routinely hunt by listening for
prey unseen beneath the snow; perhaps this bird was also employing this

Charles Crandell of Yakima took nice photos of this bird 28 December. Note
the bird has fluffed its breast and belly feathers to totally cover its
rufous leggings. See the photos at: www.pbase.com/charlescrandall

After watching this magnificent raptor we carried on in the same area,
finding many more raptors. Nearby, in the mosaic of weedy and snow-smothered
fields were a number of Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels. We noted a
few each of Northern Harrier and Rough-legged Hawks, including one dark
phase, and one Prairie Falcon. In Red Willow Vineyards some of the grapes
were unharvested, attracting hordes of juncos. Here we spotted a
Sharp-shinned Hawk dashing through the vines.

In Medicine Valley to the west, a bunch of ravens and magpies in the
sagebrush led us to remains of two dead elk (Yakamas can hunt year round),
dumped beside a snowy track. An adult Bald and Golden Eagle quickly left the
area as we approached.

We made our way south to Fort Simcoe where the black, gray, and rosy hues of
the Lewis's Woodpeckers looked particularly resplendent set off by the
bright snowy landscape. Steller's Jays squawked but otherwise there were few
birds there.

Along Pumphouse Road, just west of Island Road we found a farm with piles of
grain, a magnet for tons of blackbirds, Mourning Doves, Rock Pigeons and
sparrows. We lingered here for some time, thinking falcons would surely
appear. After an hour in the area, we noted several kestrels, one Prairie
Falcon, plus a Rough-leg and a number of Red-tailed Hawks.

Raptor list:

Bald Eagle - 1
Northern Harrier - 3
Sharp-shinned Hawk - 1
Red-tailed Hawk - 37
Rough-legged Hawk - 3
Golden Eagle - 1
American Kestrel - 14
Prairie Falcon - 2

Andy and Ellen Stepniewski
Wapato WA
steppie at nwinfo.net

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