Rockfish Valley Trail 12/19/11

All photos are Marshall Faintich

Some birding hikes on the Rockfish Valley Trail are what I call "Raptor Days," although this morning did not start out that way. When I got to the trail a little before 9 a.m., there was bright sun under clear skies. It was cold and a little windy. I first went upstream, and then back to the kiosk, logging 10 species. The Rock Pigeon in her nest under the route 151 bridge raised the count to 11, and I headed downstream to Glenthorne Loop, into the bog area, back-tracked to the first wooden bridge, crossed and went all the way down the east side of Reids Creek to the second wooden bridge, and back to the bog area. I now had 18 species for the morning.

Female Northern Cardinal

Female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

As I rounded the bog area, a small flock of Turkey and Black Vultures were soaring high above the field to the north of the downstream trail. A Red-tailed Hawk was soaring with the vultures. I then saw a Red-shouldered Hawk perched high in a tree along the downstream trail.

Red-tailed Hawk and Black Vulture

Red-shouldered Hawk

I wanted to get a closer shot of the Red-shouldered Hawk, but needed to let it out of my sight as I walked to the picnic table on the downstream trail. When I got there and looked up, I couldn't see the Red-shouldered Hawk in the tree, but a hawk was soaring in that area and gaining altitude - it was an adult Cooper's Hawk.

Cooper's Hawk

Three hawk species in a couple of minutes was a treat - and then the fun really began. I looked back toward the bog area to see an American Kestrel circling, perhaps going after something.

American Kestrel

All of a sudden, the Kestrel was engaged in aerial combat above the bog area with another raptor - it was the Cooper's Hawk. I couldn't tell who was the agressor until I processed the photos. Looks to me like the Kestrel was chasing the Cooper's Hawk. At times the Cooper Hawk would flip on its back and expose it talons to the Kestrel. Finally, the Cooper's Hawk was gone. There was a small bird in the battle as well - a Bluebird trying to keep its distance from both of them.

American Kestrel and Cooper's Hawk

American Kestrel and Cooper's Hawk

American Kestrel and Cooper's Hawk

American Kestrel and Bluebird

All of this activity brought out a small flock of Crows that headed toward the bog area, and soon the Kestrel was out of sight. I think that I heard the Bluebird say "Whew! That was a close one." And then, not to be left out, the Red-tailed Hawk came back to see what all the commotion was about.

Red-tailed Hawk

This morning's list (23 species):

Eastern Bluebird
Blue Jay
Northern Mockingbird
American Goldfinch
Northern Cardinal
American Crow
Field Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Rock Pigeon
American Kestrel
Red-shouldered Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Carolina Wren
Carolina Chickadee
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture

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