Larch Mountain.

I have visited Larch Mountain twice in the last couple weeks, trying to track down the reported Gray Jays and other higher elevation birds.  The mountain itself is an extinct volcano with no larch trees to speak of, but certainly some spectacular views from the top, Sherrard Point.

From left to right you can see Mount St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Jefferson.  Pretty sweet.

Mt. St. Helens

 Finding birds up there is not always easy though from the viewpoint at the top I could see Ruby-crowned Kinglets flitting about on the tops of trees far away.  Yesterday morning after visiting the top I took the dogs for a wander around some closed roads and trails.  A lone American Pipit was standing in the center of a gravel lot just below the main parking area.

A hawk came soaring overhead, definitely an accipiter of some sort, though which kind?  I brightened the dark shadowed belly of the bird (the belly of the beast, if you will) to show big dark streaks:

The bird seemed too big for a sharpie so at the time I was thinking Cooper's.  But now looking at the streaks and the way the wings are shaped, I am trying to make it a goshawk... Eh?

Hmm, but now it seems so small in the photos... The silhouettes in Sibley's make me lean towards Cooper's, as well as the longish neck...

Further down the road from the parking area, between mileposts 11 and 12, there's a closed road (a gravel trail really) that leads back to the Larch Mountain trail.  I was about half a mile down the trail, in the middle of turning a pine cone into a Northern Pygmy-Owl, when a group of four or five birds flew overhead.  They looked grayish and were making sounds I knew I had heard before.  I snapped off a few quick shots before they disappeared over the treetops.

At the time I had assumed they were the Gray Jays.  The photos are terrible but they show some key field marks... of a Clark's Nutcracker?

Yes this is a god-awful photo.  But there's the mostly white tail (with black in the center), the pointy beak, and the black wings with the light colored patch on the secondaries (wording stolen from Sibley).  Plus the sounds I heard from them- so familiar but couldn't place them.  I have a horrible memory when it comes to bird sounds despite my ability to tell at least 100 dogs apart by bark alone.

Now even farther down the road, at the sign that announces leaving and entering Mt Hood National Forest there is another closed road I like to walk the dogs along.  Overhead were swirling swifts, in the trees chattering chickadees, and on the ground... uh... Pacific Wrens... doing wren things. 

Another accipiter came to join the party...

This fella seemed smaller and was leaning towards Sharp-shinned at the time.  It seems to have a smaller head and other photos show it even more hunched-looking.  Obviously I need some help understanding these birds- what do YOU find the most useful field marks for in-flight accipiters?

Alright, that's all I have for you today- lots of questions and few answers.  And a couple cute mutts...

Good times!


  1. Looks like ya wore them pups out! That first panoramic view is incredible!!!

  2. Love the panorama and Mt St Helens. Birds are a bonus with a view like that!

  3. It seems like I was just there, the view from the lookout is gorgeous. Cool hawks sightings. Your dogs are cuties!

  4. What a view of all those Volcanoes!!! I was just reading about that area in my National Parks guide..its from 1986 SO all old news but still interesting..
    Wish I could help with the ID's but you have narrowed down as best anyone it will have to go in the I DONT KNOW stack for a while I guess. Either way FUN to see right?
    Im always trying to make these stupid squirrels into something, they make the weirdest sounds...
    CUTE shot of your boyz!!

  5. Jen, Northern Goshawk is a bird that I've seen on several occasions but am still not comfortable identifying in flight. That said, your bird looks neither like a Sharpy nor a Cooper's to me. It looks far too chunky and cool-colored to be a Sharpy, and it looks too Sharpyish (short head and neck projection and small-headed) to be a Cooper's. I know you said you brightened it, but how much? The overall colors suggest whites, grays, and blues as seen in an adult male Goshawk.

    That said, my inexperienced vote would be for Goshawk. Plus, the timing is on the early side of perfect for migrating accipiters. A great bird for the county if you can get an expert to confirm it!

  6. Well, you asked for it. The top accipiter is far too compact and short-winged/short-tailed to be a goshawk, which are beastly and are as big as Red-tailed Hawks. Complicating things is the fact that the bird has a full crop, giving it the illusion of being bulky and long-necked. I think the bird looks great for a Sharp-shinned, particularly in the second picture, being small headed and very compact.

    The second bird is more difficult; I would guess female Sharp-shinned or male Cooper's. The squared tail and small head is good for Sharp-shinned but the proportions make me think Cooper's.

    1. Thanks, dude. I'll be keeping these two birds in the accip sp. category...

  7. Hi Jen,
    The first bird looks like an immature Coop- fine vertical breast streaks (Sharpies/Goshawks have thicker/heavier streaks), lots of head projection, and a broad white tip on the tail.
    The second a-sip looks like an adult Sharpie- square tail, small head. I don't see any vertical breast streaks (for immature) and I can almost make out red tones of the adult chest barring.
    The accipiters are hard to ID, especially with photos. In the field you get multiple angles, wingbeats, flight style, etc. You should visit Bonney Butte sometime- your dogs would be welcome there too. Late September/early October is peak raptor migration there.

    1. Thanks, Dwight. Bonney Butte sounds great though I remember someone mentioning the roads aren't too great for regular cars? Not that that's stopped me before...

  8. Okay...I don't diddly squat about Accipiters, but they sure are fast! I'll break out the field guide next time I'm hoping to be of service. Sorry you didn't get your Goshawk - yet!

    The road to Bonney Butte is NASTY. You must have very high clearance. The 3-mile, chunky, bouldery road can take up to 45 minutes to travel in my pick-up truck. I recommend riding up with someone who has good clearance... I'm sure Dwight would meet you at the entrance road, being that he lives up there this time of year :-)

    1. Ha, no worries, considering the variety of answers on the first accip (Dave Irons said it "felt" like a Cooper's) I am leaving it unspecified.

      Way to volunteer your friend there to transport me, haha. I would not turn down the ride though if he feels like driving up and down a NASTY road sometime.

  9. Jen- the first photo of the accipiter is probably a Sharpie .And not a Gos, because the Gos has zero "waist", but Coop's and sharpies do .Also the chest is quite robust hinting at Sharpie. The second photo also appears to be sharpie, because of tail tip being square and a thin terminal band. The last photo is not a Coop's because of square tip tail and broad based wings. The best - nelson briefer- Goshawk specialist- Anacortes, WA. my ebook "The man who saw too many goshawks" is available from Also heed -


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