Bonney Butte: The Gray Ghost

20 October 2016
An adult male Northern Harrier, also known as "The Gray Ghost" (photo by Nagi Aboulenein) An adult male Northern Harrier, also known as "The Gray Ghost" (photo by Nagi Aboulenein)

Text by Ceeanna Zulla

What a whirlwind of three weeks it’s been at the Bonney Butte HawkWatch!  Since we last blogged, Jerry Ligouri along with fellow HawkWatch International staff and veterans visited the site on one of busiest weekends yet.  With all the extra eyes in the sky, we spotted a total of 355 migratory birds on Saturday, September 24th and 219 migratory birds on the 25th.  Also our first of three Northern Harriers was captured for the season on this bright sunny weekend – an immature male with a beautiful pumpkin plumage!  Homemade tacos by the SLC HWI staff and fun chats around the fire made this weekend a memorable one.

Since the SLC staff has left us, we’ve had our busiest day of the season on October 8th with 384 migratory birds and a total of 32 captured birds in a single day!  A highlight of that day was the rare gray ghost (adult male Northern Harrier) that was captured by our expert crew members.  What an exquisite bird to see up close!  With its piercing yellow eyes and owl-like facial disk, the gray ghost is one of the most exciting birds we’re going to catch this season.  Competing for first place in the captures though is an adult male Northern Goshawk.  As the fiercest and largest species of North American accipiters, this adult 'Gos' was one fascinating bird!  The juxtaposition of his bold white “eyebrow” over his reddish eyes accentuated his beauty.

Sharp-shinned Hawks continue to be the most prevalent in the sky.  Sharpies broke the 1,000th mark on the 12th with a count of 1,005 migrating past us thus far.  Recently, there’s been a near continuous flow of eagles with 75 migratory Bald Eagles and 54 Golden Eagles.  A few have graciously soared right past the ridge to allow an up close look!

The current totals for the season are, 2,675 migrating birds and 180 captures.  With two more weeks to go, hopefully the numbers will continue to rise!

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