Monday, January 8, 2018

Killers on the Highway

Heading back to Colorado, I drove from Columbia, Missouri, to Hays, Kansas, today.  The weather on the Great Plains was sunny and mild, a welcome change from the recent Arctic plunge.  Raptors seemed to appreciate the change as well, perching along the highway or soaring overhead.

Though I did not make an official count, I'm sure I saw more than 200 red-tailed hawks on today's journey, at least 20 of which were in pairs.  American kestrels were also common, though not as numerous, and several red-shouldered hawks were observed in Missouri.  Two bald eagles flew across the highway, one in west-central Missouri and the other above the Kansas River in Kansas City.  Six northern harriers (all male) were observed on the trip and a lone rough-legged hawk was encountered near Russell, Kansas (many more rough-legs will likely be seen tomorrow as I cross the High Plains of western Kansas and eastern Colorado).

Joining these hunters was a mystery raptor in eastern Kansas.  A light-colored falcon with a distinct yellow bill swooped across the Interstate and curved back to the east before I could get a close look.  My initial impression was that this bird was a gyrfalcon, an Arctic species that may be observed across the northern Plains in winter but would be extremely rare as far south as Kansas.  The other (and more likely) possibility is that it was a light-colored prairie falcon.