A Fun-Loving Guide to the Natural World for Kids and Adults

Mystery Tree, Mystery Bird

We had a grand adventure yesterday, hiking to Glenwood Hills County Park with my Dad and Steph.  Rebecca was dressed as a true gentlewoman adventurer.

We came across two mysteries.  The one we solved, but the other is still eluding us.  You can experience the mysteries yourself right here -

The first was this tree.  Its rough bark was quite unlike any other tree’s bark we had ever seen.  Any guesses as to what it is?

Stepping back, you can see more of the tree.  But its nature still eluded us . . .

The mystery began to resolve itself when we looked up.

And a closer look confirmed it.  Not what we had expected.

A birch tree!  So old that its lower bark had split apart and become very un-birchlike in appearance and texture.

Then a deeper mystery confronted us.  Flapping through the trees, a large bird — clearly a raptor — alighted in a branch.  It was very difficult to get an angle for a photograph, so our pictures are very ‘Loch Ness Monster’, and we couldn’t get a shot that included the tail.  None of us had ever seen a bird quite like this, and our guesses started flowing.  It wasn’t until a dear friend of ours sent the pictures to a falconry expert that we received our startling answer to the mystery.  Here are the pictures — What do you think it is?

My guess was completely wrong.  Seeing those distinctive eye-stripes, I pounced on the only bird I remembered with those markings — the Peregrine Falcon — even though the habitat was all wrong. When we got home and consulted our Sibley Guide, the Prairie Falcon stood out as another possibility, although it wasn’t really in our range.  The falconry expert, however, took one look at the pictures and informed us that this wasn’t a falcon at all, but most definitely a hawk.  Without seeing the tail, the two possibilities were a Red-Tailed Hawk and a Red-Shouldered Hawk.

Puzzling over how the falconer could have been so sure it wasn’t a falcon, we carefully observed the photos, and decided that one could tell by the face — can you see how ‘long’ the bird’s face is in the above pictures? Then observe this photo from the Idaho Birding Trail website.  The Prairie Falcon has a much ’shorter’ face.  From what we can tell, this seems to be the case across the hawk/falcon world.

Visit our Adventure Journal to find out about this week’s adventure!

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