Frontiers of Hawk Identification – Hawks at a distance

11 05 2011

Mystery Raptor #1

I have been looking at Jerry Liguori’s brilliant new book ‘Hawks at a distance’ recently (check it out here). Along with his previous work ‘Hawks at every angle’ (here), and it’s a must own for anyone who has even a passing interest in hawkwatching in my humble opinion. Jerry is pretty much the word in cutting edge identification of hawks in flight these days, in the same way that ‘Hawks in flight’ (Dunne, Sibley, Sutton)  revolutionized the way we looked at flying raptors in the 1990’s, so this pair of books has highlighted the developed and expanded upon techniques that hawkwatchers use to identify these birds.

It was cool to hang out with Josh Lawrey this season at Braddock Bay and talk to him about working with Jerry in person up at the Goshutes. Josh was telling me how Jerry pretty much completely rejected the need to use a scope to identify even the most distant hawk and encouraged Josh to stick with bins exclusively to identify birds (pretty much in keeping with the world view of his book). I’m sure this wasn’t solely machismo (which can be pretty rampant in the world of hawkwatching) but rather the practical need to stay off the scope as it so badly limits your field of view. Use of a scope narrows the area of sky you are viewing and correspondingly the number of birds you can observe at at any one time. This eschewing of the use of scopes apparently manifested itself in Jerry making monkey noises at Josh every time he reached for his scope up in the Goshutes, which I thought was particularly funny.

Mystery Raptor #2

Mystery Raptor #2

Personally I know my limits, and am happy to ‘go to the scope’ every now and then with birds that need a little more work than my comparatively limited skills can manage. Being at Braddock Bay is quite intimidating when one considers the quality of people who have been involved in the world of hawk banding and watching here over the seasons. This began with the hiring of the insanely talented Frank Nicoletti and ran through such luminaries as Jerry himself, Clay Taylor, Jeff Bouton  and local legends such as Brett Ewald and Dave Tetlow amongst others. These are guys who have probably forgotten as much about identifying, aging and sexing raptors as I now know.

As well as being intimidating, it’s also inspiring to be part of that tradition. Anyway where was I? Jerry’s new book. I have a copy for myself and also purchased copies for a friend or two, I was so impressed with it. It’s always interesting to get another hawkwatchers perspective on birds, as everyone looks at things in a slightly different way I think and spots characteristics that may help you with an ID. Jerry really is out there at the forefront of hawk identification and the book is an incredibly valuable resource with little gems of information scattered amongst the cracking ‘little’ pictures of the birds.

However, I think I have a minor criticism and perhaps a next project for Jerry 😉 His books all contain perfectly beautiful, sharp little images of the birds, as if they were flying over at a thousand feet or more in crisp blue skies. What happens though on days like yesterday when you have a stinking, shimmering heat haze blowing off of the nearby lake? When under a mile or so away birds are sucked into the swampy air and rendered little more than twinkling shapes as they flicker in and out of the murky air. So now I bring you images from my latest project  Luke Tillers very own digiscoped  ‘Hawks at a distance in heat haze’, the next step in hawk identification 😉

Mystery Raptor #3

Seriously though, If you don’t own Jerry’s books and having more than a passing interest in raptors – get copies now! If you want to have a little bit of fun, see if you can work out what the above three raptors are. No prizes – just the usual hawkwatchers smug sense of self satisfaction if you call them first and get them right. I’ll post the correct answers on my facebook page and blog in a few days.