Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Harris's Hawk: My 350th San Diego County bird!

If one really works hard at it, one could see 350 species of birds in one year in San Diego County. eBird shows 3 persons who reached that mark last year, and not every birder uses eBird. The record of 387 species in a year was set by Barbara Carlson in 2013.

While I still try to see lots of species each year, that goal doesn't take priority over all other things in my life. I've recorded 270-290 or so species each year the past 4+ years. My total lifetime list for the county reached 350 species (eBird total, which includes a few escapees not counted by the ABA list). My 350th species was a Harris's Hawk in Ramona on January 30th, 2018.

Harris's Hawk

This bird was located by birders in late December 2017. However, local residents have been aware of this bird for some time. In fact, this is probably the same bird Nance Christensen photographed here in April 2016! It went unrecorded for 20 months--perhaps because no one expected it to remain. It was still present as recently as April 30, 2018.

Harris's Hawk

This is my third sighting of Harris's Hawk. However, the history of this bird makes it likely that this bird is possibly the only "naturally occurring" individual of those I have seen. You see, in the 1960's this species was gone from the former range along the Colorado River and southern California. The Colorado River forests were cut down and wild birds were captured for falconry. Thus, any birds seen in southern California and along the Colorado River in Arizona were judged to be escaped falconer's birds. It remained this way until 1994 when an incursion of at least 50 birds entered southern California. A few have been reported most years since, with birds reported in San Diego in each of the past 5 years.

So a bird I saw at Quartzsite, Arizona on December 28, 1974, and another at Imperial Dam (California side) near Yuma, Arizona on March 16, 1982, were possibly not of wild origin. Apparently, my Quartzsite record was expunged from eBird for this reason. But the Imperial Dam record is still intact--a pair nested there in 1984 and 1985.

While still rare, it appears that this species may be making a comeback.

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