They Who Eat Snakes with Feet

After a seriously bumping landing in Vegas and a similar rough landing on the way back, I can now proclaim we had a successful birding trip in Sin City. During the course of outing, I am quite religious about copying all the contents of the digital card(s) to two separate portable drives at the end of each day. Recharge the battery(ies), format the card(s) and get ready for the next day. I am careful about only using one drive to do any quick validations and count tallies to insure one copy stays pristine. At the end of the trip, those two drives end up being uncomfortably close together, causing a high degree of worry until the contents of one of the drives is copied onto the highly redundant NAS drives and another copy on the work drives for later digital processing. Can you tell I’ve lived an Information Technology life – TRUST NO ELECTRONIC DEVICE MADE BY HUMAN HANDS ha. Everything safely copied – stress levels return to normal. I did get a chance to update this year’s Average Year stats (link here). Official count comes in at +26 for the Vegas trip with 9 new lifers bringing the current total to 237 with 14 lifers (Ron currently sits at 158 with 12 lifers). 35 birds ahead of last year’s pace – not too shabby only a few months into ’23.

Hope you all enjoyed Brad’s Yellowstone series – it definitely has Linda and I motivated to book a trip back out there. It is time for me to get back on the post horse and earn my keep. Ironically, with the prior notes about how well this year’s birding is going, I’ve decided to feature a bird that successfully eluded us this year.

Grey Hawk found at Quinta Mazatlan, McAllen, TX in January 2022

As you will see later in the post, the Grey Hawk (Technically Gray Hawk) has a very limited presence in the United States.  Not to be confused with the male Northern Harrier which is often referred to as the Grey Ghost (link here).  This Hawk one of the top When we head down to Texas each January, this is one of the targets at the top of the list.

Hit the jump to read more about this relatively rare visitor to our southern border.

In a previous post I featured a specimen found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in 2020 (link here). Not overly proud of those previous shots, but sometimes you have to take what they give you and look for better opportunities in the future. Luckily didn’t have too long to wait as the series of shots you are looking at here come exactly one year later. Not likely to tell between them in these shots, but there were actually two specimens patrolling the skies that day.

I need to give “locating” credit to a group of birders that happened to be visiting Quinta Mazatlan the same day we showed up. As Linda pulled the RV into the visitor parking lot we noticed a group of people standing off to the side cameras and binoculars at the ready. Trust me, this is what you hope to see whenever you show up at a birding location, hell, any wildlife setting for that matter. Something good and juicy is abound and someone already has eyes on it. Asked Linda to stop, jumped out camera in tow and politely asked them what was on the menu. “Two Grey Hawks circling overhead!” That will do ha! Quickly located them and started working the shutter.

Grey Hawk found at Quinta Mazatlan, McAllen, TX in January 2022

Not sure if they noticed our RV plates or it somehow came up in our brief introductions, but it turns out they were a birding group (or at least on a guided birding tour) from Chicago, IL. Ron had not arrived down there yet, but he would have felt right at home. What are the chances you drive miles and miles across several days and manage to pick one of several hundred of birding hotspots and find yourself conversing with birders a mere 3 hours north of home (or next door if you are Ron). That was also the one and only encounter we had with the Grey that entire trip. Wish we would have had that much luck on the Vegas tables!

Linda’s years in IT and stint in cyber-security has made her quite the online sleuther. She quickly found the blog for that group and we were busy catching up on all the spots they had visited and what they had found so far. This is also where we learned about the Burrowing owl that was wintering at the Progress Sod Farms (link here). Just to follow that encounter through, Ron and I were birding Montrose Bird Sanctuary and ended up meeting a lady (Jane) that was also there at Quinta. She showed us the Merlin Sound ID app and we’ve been addicted to it ever since.

You probably really want to learn more about this monotoned hawk. I took this screen capture from Cornell just to give you a feel for what a small footprint there is available to us. Mostly tiny migration inroads from Central America – one in Arizona and two places in Texas. It is too small to see, but there is a very small area at the tip of Texas where they tend to hang out year round – obviously that happens to include the McAllen area where Quinta Mazatlan is located.

Grey Hawk Region Map from Cornell

The Grey Hawk has went through a few family changes in its history, being once in its own genus called Asturina mainly due to its “accipiterlike” flight patterns and being relatively smaller than the other Buteos where it now resides. There were once even called the Mexican Goshawk – at least they finally ended up with a name that helps out in the field. Cornell also notes they are primarily Lizard eaters which means they immediately become Linda’s favorite bird of all time. She believes all those critters are just Snakes with legs and if you have been following this blog for any length of time, you already know for Linda the only good Snake is a dead Snake… as in whack it 50 times with a 2×4, turn it over and then proceed to whack it 25 more times to make sure there is zero chance some muscle might still have a twitch left in it. For those concerned, you will be happy to know I deal with ALL things that slither and compassionately relocate them secret and undisclosed location far far away (shhhh, as far as she knows) – assuming, of course, I see them first.

As I mentioned earlier, this species remains unchecked from our trip down there this year. Ron and I did hear one (confirmed by Merlin), but unable to track it down in the thick trees at Quinta. Sure hope that doesn’t come back to bite us on our quest to break 300 species this year.

Will leave it there folks, have a lot of training miles to make up from the Vegas trip and need to get on that stat before he head out again at the end of the month. Take care, stay safe and these days, trust your own eyes for the truth.

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