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Corvus caurinus

Accipiters and a sparrow at Mt. Rainier

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On August 12th, I took a day trip to the Sunrise area of Mt. Rainier and birded up in the alpine and subalpine at 6000-7000ft above sea level. I have terrible blurry pictures of three birds where I think I know what they are but I want to have some extra eyes look them over just in case, especially because one of them is potentially a long-sought-after life bird. I haven't done any post-processing of the photos yet because I don't know how much good that can do for most of them, the subject is just too far away to be anything but a vaguely bird-shaped pixelated blob.

First up is a sparrow that is either a Chipping Sparrow in nonbreeding plumage or a Brewer's Sparrow. Chipping Sparrow would make more sense given the habitat; the last eBird report of a Brewer's Sparrow at Sunrise was in 2016. It's really looking like a Brewer's to me but because of the rarity I want to tread carefully. It was mixed in with a flock of juncos foraging and bathing just at the treeline.



The other two are large accipiters and I desperately want at least one of them to be a Northern Goshawk, but I don't want to trick myself into thinking I saw one if I didn't. Here's the one I'm 90% convinced is a goshawk, conveniently with the worst quality photos on this post:


This was a BIG bird, at the very least red-tail sized, with fast, powerful flight over the treetops. Its flight pattern seemed like something between buteo and accipiter, with some flapping but also a lot of (very fast) gliding. Goshawks are hard to come by, especially in Washington state, but they are a resident at Sunrise and this bird was in the correct habitat (subalpine coniferous forest and parkland.) If you squint, you can just barely see a supercilium in some of the pictures. It had a noticeably long tail and pale underside.


This next one I'm thinking is just the biggest, baddest, beefiest mother of all Cooper's Hawks. She was also at or approaching red-tail size, which first got me excited and thinking juvenile goshawk, but what I can see of the field markings in the photos I took don't seem to line up. I really wish I had gotten a cleaner shot of the tail bands to see if the black is edged in white because that's a more precise diagnostic than a strong supercilium or streaky belly, because Cooper's can have those too.


It's hard to tell from the terrible photo quality (and impossible in 8x binoculars, this bird was a good 300 or so feet away) whether or not the streaking goes down to her tail, but I'm guessing not, especially based on that last shot.



Nice long and broad tail, white supercilium (just barely visible,) and huge size point to goshawk, but I don't think I have enough evidence here to clearly call it. If a monster-sized Cooper's was going to live anywhere, a national park with large stretches of intact wilderness would be the right place!


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