Monday, January 29, 2024

Crane Hawk, 2nd US Record at Salineno, 1/29/23

This morning I woke up and thought about taking another stab at the Fan-tailed Warbler at the University of Texas campus in Brownsville.  I saw it few weeks ago for just a few seconds and failed to get a photo.  Then it was missing for a few days.  It has recently been refound but standing around waiting for a rare bird to appear is not my idea of fun.  So I went the other direction to Falcon State Park.  Maybe I could find something interesting.

Well I did see the the Say's Pheobe that been hanging around the lake shore and I was checking distant gulls though the scope when the WhatsApp dinged.  Holy Smokes!  A visiting birder had just found a Crane Hawk at Salineno.  Now I had already seen the only other US record, the Santa Ana NWR Crane Hawk back in March of 1988, so it was not like it was a lifer or anything.  I thought my chances of seeing it were slim but it was only a few miles away so what the heck.  When I arrived a birder told me second hand that the Crane Hawk had flown downstream.  But a few minutes later, new Valley hotshot birder Zach Johnson walked up and informed me the bird had actually flown upstream and he was waiting for Simon Kiazc to join him in a seach.  They had been birding the nearby Santa Margarita Ranch which has been hosting a plethora of rare stuff (Mottled Owl, Black-throated Tiger-Heron, Limpkin, Brown Jays, etc).  

Well I walked the trail upstream and found a few birders waiting for the magical reappearnce.  Minutes later Simon and Zach joined us and they decided to check out the Montezuma Cypresses upstream.  They took off and I was standing there thinking why don't I go too?  So I followed them down the rugged trail that traverses the steep bank of the Rio Grande.  They were a bit ahead of me and passing under the large cypresses when a dark raptor looped out of the trees and flew upstream.  Simon and Zach went high on the bank while I stayed low under the trees and the raptor flew past me.  I could see the broad dark wings and broad banded tail.  And then it landed on a snag on the island just across from me.  Simon yelled at me and I yelled that I saw it.  I got few poor photos and repositioned myself on the steep bank where I could see the bird a little better.  I was by myself for maybe twenty minutes admiring the fantastic Crane Hawk when Simon and Zach moved back downstream above me.  The Crane Hawk then flew right over my head, too fast for photos, but circled back around and landed in a bare mezquite above me.  As I was hidden below by the Sabinos (as the Montezuma Cypress is called in Mexico) I was able to get a few decent photos.  According to Howell and Webb, the grey face is indicatve of an immature bird.

Here are some distant flight shots.  The third show the white arc at the base of the primaries which is a good field mark for Crane Hawks in flight.

My first shots were pretty distant.

The Crane Hawk puts those long skinny legs to work as it hunts by clambering around trees and poking legs into hollows and crevices looking for bats, reptiles and nesting birds.  This is also the hunting method used by the African Harrier-Hawk which is structurally similar but unrelated; another example of convergent evolution.

What a fun morning!  It brought back memories of birding along the Rio Cuchjaqui in southern Sonora with Dave Stejskal on the 1985 Christmas Bird Count.  My lifer Crane Hawk was in a Sabino just like those along the Rio Grande this morning.