Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Annual Raptor Post

Everyone seems to thoroughly enjoy this post every year, so I keep sharing. If you're someone who's eeked out by birds, you may want to navigate away now. If you're someone who geeks out on birds, enjoy!

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We had an outstanding week banding raptors in Cape May for the Cape May Raptor Banding Project this year. (FYI, this is NOT something I do because of my job. I actually take a vacation to volunteer with this project.) More birds in our short time there than we've ever had before. Monday we had 53 birds through the blind! Talk about ringin' (banding) and slingin' (releasing)! A dozen birds were in the blind at one point. I was the one processing that day. It was beautiful chaos. So many Accipiters (sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks)!

Notable birds banded throughout the week were: red-tailed hawks (RTHA), northern harriers (my spirit bird)(NOHA), merlins, a red-shouldered hawk, sharp-shinned hawks (SSHA), Coopers hawks (COHA), a northern goshawk (NOGO). Of these, we had a wealth of adults, which was a thrill. Usually, we're dealing with hatch year birds.

Birds seen but not banded: golden eagles, bald eagles, kestrels, peregrine falcons. Of these, we had some pretty close calls with the latter three. Peregrines are always an absolute BLAST to watch hunting with their acrobatic diving at top speeds. We even had a juvenile bald eagle come into the station for a serious look, but he ended up swooping off to perch in a nearby snag. An adult bald also looked like it would come in, but dropped last minute into the marsh (to never be seen again).

Acronyms to keep in mind: HY = hatch year, SY = second year, and ASY = after second year.

Without further ado, have a photo dump of birds of prey!

Cape May 2016-2
Cape May 2016-16
With our "Well, this is hawkward" shirts holding SSHAs
Mandy is the reason these trips happen every year <3
Cape May 2016-146
Sunrise over the marsh; the view from our blind
Cape May 2016-29
Cape May 2016-45
Cape May 2016-49
Cape May 2016-148
HY male NOHA; sorry in advance for the wealth of harrier photos, I love them
Cape May 2016-151
ASY COHA - look at that eye!!
Cape May 2016-152
ASY COHA after release
Cape May 2016-153
HY female NOHA
Cape May 2016-158
HY female NOHA
Cape May 2016-159
Adult feathers coming in on the HY female NOHA's tail (center)
Cape May 2016-163
HY RTHA - with the most beautiful tail for a HY bird! 
Cape May 2016-162
They don't turn red until they're adults, but this one had a jump on it. Gorgeous red in the banding.
Cape May 2016-66
Cape May 2016-76
Thrilled to death with this harrier in hand. I got photos with *every* harrier this year.
May share the collage of "Liz with Harriers" at a later date lol
HY female NOHA
Cape May 2016-165
HY female NOHA
Cape May 2016-80
You can see her adult vs. hatch year tail feathers once again (most every HY harrier we saw had this)
Cape May 2016-89
HY female NOHA
Cape May 2016-94
SY male NOHA - male NOHA's turn a beautiful grey in their adult years and are called "grey ghosts"
Their eyes are also a goregous, striking yellow.
Cape May 2016-103
Sunset lighting on our marsh.
Cape May 2016-109
HY male NOHA; you can see how his light colored eyes will eventually trend to yellow like the above bird
Cape May 2016-118
Cape May 2016-122
Cape May 2016-123
Cape May 2016-124
ASY male MERL, also known as "blue jacks" for their dark blueish plummage
Cape May 2016-127
Cape May 2016-139
HY male NOGO; the noisiest bird you'll ever meet!
They also will ATTACK you if you're within ~500 feet of their nests when the nest is active.
Cape May 2016-140
HY male NOGO


  1. I look forward to this post every year! It looks like such a fun and fabulous time.

  2. OMG This is INCREDIBLE!! I am a total bird nerd and only 3hrs from Cape May! If you are ever in need of warm bodies with not a whole heck of a lot of raptor-handling experience but a lot of enthusiasm, I'M YOUR GIRL.

  3. What lovely photos of beautiful birds!! (The "well this is hawkward" shirts made me snort)

  4. So jelly. I would love to see my spirit animal (RTHA) up close.

    1. Well, if you're ever visiting Cape May in the fall... ;-)

  5. I too look forward to this post. It looks like such an amazing experience

  6. Liz, these pictures are absolutely STUNNING!! What an incredible experience :)

    1. Thank you! I am so grateful I get to go every year.

  7. spectacular photos, and what an awesome experience!

  8. So jealous! These are amazing photos!

  9. Such a cool thing. I've been losing seeing your photos on Instagram.

  10. I don't have words for this. Just love for these birds. What an experience for you!!!

  11. Your pictures are stunning! I used to work in a wildlife medical clinic and the raptors were always my favorite patients.

  12. These are gorgeous! I cannot believe the feather coloration on that last male's neck. It looks like he's a painting!