We were in the remote 4WD-accessible Klondike Bluffs corner of Arches NP, checking out raptor nests that were active in past years. I’m learning to locate the whitewash (aka bird poop) on cliff walls underneath a perch or nest, and to put together “this seems like good habitat for bird X” with “where exactly should I look for bird X’s nest?” There are other clues, such as ravens’ propensity for harassing birds of prey, or the finding of a widely-strewn collection of years’ worth of prey bones and regurgitated pellets underneath an owl’s nest — all of which we saw this day.
Tricia spotted it long before I even became aware of its presence. A small speck in the sky behind the sandstone pillar circled lazily, and with binoculars we soon made out its red tail. It was a dark morph Red-tailed Hawk, in the vicinity of a historically active nest. We watched it for a while, and when it disappeared to the north we circled around the huge pillar to look for a nest. Nothing but old stuff. Our stomachs were rumbling, so we plunked down on a soft rock to feast on our backpack lunches.
Twenty minutes later the speck returned, and we realized we were sitting right under one of its favored perches. This time, however, the speck had another speck flying with it. A pair! We dared not move from our spot, so we tried to be inconspicuous while watching this duo catch thermals, circle around, and interact with one another as they flew. Even I, an unpolished observer, could see the sexual dimorphism (obvious size difference between male and female); in raptors the female is larger. The light male and dark female eventually left us, but a return trip to this area is in order to see if next time a nest can be located.