Saturday, December 31, 2022

Sharp-Shinned Hawk vs. Cooper's Hawk

We've had lots of Cooper's hawks around our home, including nesting Cooper's hawks in our neighbor's yard and a Cooper's hawk nest that I found in our nearby canyon years ago where I encountered young fuzz-ball chicks and fledglings just learning to fly. 

However, the Cooper's hawk looks a lot like the sharp-shinned hawk and I've had a couple of occasions where I thought I saw a sharp-shinned hawk and it turned out to be a Cooper's hawk and vice-versa, including just recently. I'm having a very difficult time differentiating them. 

In August 1996 I photographed what I thought was a sharp-shinned hawk in Henry's Fork in northern Utah. I submitted the photo to iNaturalist in 2020 as a sharp-shinned hawk and got two responses that it was an accipiter and most likely a Cooper's hawk. See below. 
Very recently, on December 10, 2022 I photographed a hawk at Mojave Narrows Regional Park and the scan on iNaturalist suggested a sharp-shinned hawk and I submitted that, thinking it was likely a Cooper's hawk, but worth a try. See below.
To my great surprise I got four responses all indicating it was a sharp-shinned hawk, including one by the top identifier of sharp-shinned hawks on iNaturalist and one by the fifth highest identifier. I was ecstatic, my first confirmed sighting of a sharp-shinned hawk. 

A week later I went back to Mojave Narrows and saw what I thought was the same sharp-shinned hawk, perhaps in the same tree, or very close to it. I submitted it to iNaturalist and the scan suggested a sharp-shinned hawk. I submitted that pretty confidently. To my surprise, I got four responses all saying it was a Cooper's hawk, including by the top identifier of Cooper's hawks and two of the other top identifiers, including one that had identified what I thought was the same bird the week before as a sharp-shinned hawk. Those photos are below. 

So what are the secrets to identification? All About Birds notes that a Cooper's has a rather square head with a dark cap, while the sharp-shinned has a rounder head and no cap. Both of the above appear to have a dark cap to me (although the sharp-shinned is less pronounced) and both appear to have rounded heads, particularly the first photo of the Cooper's above. These two characteristic do not seem very reliable to me. 

The third characteristic is that the Cooper's tail-end is rounded while the sharp-shinned is more square. One of my photos (the sharp-shinned) is from behind and the other (Cooper's) is from the front and looks more layered, but if I saw it from the back I wouldn't see that layering and I'm not sure it would look different. 

Audubon says they look almost exactly alike and differentiating is a "tough one." It notes that the Cooper's is about six inches taller than a sharp-shinned, which is very difficult when they're not standing right next to each other. It says to look at the nape (back) of the neck. The nape of the Cooper's is lighter than the feathers on the top of the head, giving it a capped appearance. Adult sharp-shined have a blue-gray appearance on both, which I can see in my photos, but it is much better to say it that way than that one has a dark cap and the other does not. Audubon says that the rounded verses flat tail can be tough to determine. 

After going through this exercise I think I've come away with the idea that the color of the nape differing from the cap maybe the best way to differentiate the two if they are perched. I hope I get some more opportunities to see sharp-shinned hawks and test these identifying characteristics out.   

Saturday, December 24, 2022

La Boca - Santa Fe, NM

In November we met with friends in Santa Fe, New Mexico that we had not seen in 27 years. We mostly ate, talked and shopped, in that order. They go to Santa Fe often and most of the places we ate were old favorites of theirs. However, I suggested that we try La Boca, a place they were familiar with but had never eaten. It looked very intriguing on-line. 

The chef, James Campbell Caruso, is an eight time James Beard Award nominee in the 16 years the restaurant has been open. The menu has been described as a modern re-invention of classic Spanish cuisine with a preference for fresh local ingredients. It is a small-plate sharing menu which I love. 

We had the following dishes in the following order:
Croquetas de Jamon: fried coquettes filled with a white bechamel sauce of a butter and flour roux mixed with milk, and then added Spanish ham. Good, but not spectacular. 

A potato and wild mushroom soup not on the regular menu. Lots of mushrooms with a little bit of spice. It was excellent. 

Alcachofas: grilled Roman artichokes that have a rounder shape and non-thorny leaves, called globe artichokes in English. They came with queso de cabra, a  semi-soft Spanish cheese made of goat milk with orange and mint zest. They had an unusual look, were softer than the artichokes we normally eat and I enjoyed it with the cheese.  

Chorizo Iberico is chorizo made from the black-hoofed Iberico pig of Spain. It is dark red and marbled with fat that starts to melt at room temperature. It came with pipparra-egg salad. Pippara peppers are a Basque pepper traditionally pickled, mild and spicy-sweet. It was okay at the time, but knowing more about it now, I would like another taste of it. One of the fun things about a restaurant like this is that you are exposed to new cooking ingredients and styles. 

Grilled eggplant with melted Manchego cheese (a sheep cheese from central Spain that is one of Judy's favorites), capers and saffron honey. This was five stars: nice texture and flavorful. Perhaps the best item we tried. 

Patatas bravas: fingerling potatoes with spicy sherry vinegar, garlic and roasted garlic aioli. Good, but not must-eat. 

Roasted beet salad with arugula, coriander, crushed Marcona almonds, Greet yogurt and red and yellow beets. I liked this dish because it had large chunks of cooked red and yellow beet that were flavorful and easy to eat. I find most beet salads are low on beets, particularly the yellow ones that I love. 

Sage Bakehouse sourdough baguette with olive oil. 

Mejillones: west coast black mussels in coconut salsa verde, coconut, cilantro, garlic, spinach, lime and jalapeno. Mejillones is Spanish for mussels and I love mussels. It was an off-putting bright green that tasted much better than it looked. The mussels were large and plump, some of the best I've ever had. Another five star dish that may have been the best. 

Chicharrones de Andaluz: fried pork belly, cumin, sea salt, lemon and harissa. The pork belly was cooked more than I prefer and was crispy, but still fatty. This came toward the end and our bellies were filling up. 

Braised beef short rib with Yukon gold mashed potatos, fried sage, caramelized onion and Oloroso pan sauce (a variety of sherry made in Jerez and Montilla Morilles and produced by oxidative aging). This was also a five star dish, but we were so full at the end what we couldn't finish it. 

I feel like I always learn when I go to a restaurant like this and look up the ingredients and start to appreciate the effort and ingredients that went into the dish. 

Friday, December 23, 2022

Rio Grande Nature Center State Park - New Mexico

Rio Grande Nature Center State Park is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico near the Rio Grande River on 38 acres. However, it feels larger than that because it is right next to the Rio Grande River, which is not part of the park, and its accompanying riparian forest which is known as the bosque, which can be followed about 20 miles.
The Rio Grande near the state park. Also the photo below. 

This photo, and the one below, are part of the bosque which is between the state park and the Rio Grande River. 

There are four constructed ponds which mimic the flood plain of the Rio Grande, several gardens with bird feeders and a visitor center, which is right next to and encroaches one of the ponds. 
This is one of the artificial ponds near the visitor center and my favorite part of the park. When I visited there was a great concentration of wood ducks. 

This is part of one of the gardens. 
I visited in October 2022. It is a beautiful park and I wish I lived closer. I could spend a lot of time there. 

While there I photographed the following birds:  
American wigeon

A black-capped chickadee, the first one I've ever seen. 

Canada goose


Great blue heron

Green-winged teal

House finch


Pied-billed grebe

Rock squirrel

Spotted towhee

White-breasted nuthatch

White-crowned sparrow

White-winged dove

Woodhouse's scrub-jay, the first ones I've seen, at least since starting to keep track. 

Wood ducks, only the second time I've seen them and I got phenomenal views.