The morning started slowly as it usually does at the Mount Peter Hawk Watch. The temps were in the low 20s. (This time, I had bundled up in 4 layers of clothing-unlike last time I was leader and I nearly froze my butt off.) I paced the 8 steps each way on the platform scanning the firmament. A lone Vulture criss-crossed the morning contrails. Nothing else was flying.
All around me clouds of Cedar Waxwings bounced from juniper to juniper noshing on berries. A few dozen Robins popped in amidst the Waxwings, hoping to share their tree. Tidy flocks of 20-30 Pine Siskins winked by. A Mockingbird dove into a cedar and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker paused to test a tree before moving on. Four Purple Finches glowed in the strengthening sun like Christmas ornaments hanging from a tree.
A Red-tailed Hawk circled higher and higher above me until it found the invisible highway and took off on a straight shot south. A female Harrier, wings set, followed. As the day warmed, there was an urgency in the air. 3 Sharp-shinned Hawks, a Turkey Vulture, 2 Black Vultures, and 8 more Red-tailed Hawks sped past.
I sipped steaming beef consommé while I continued scanning from north to south them from east to west. Two birders stopped in for a visit just in time to see a Red-shouldered Hawk materialize low flying steadily right over our heads giving us terrific views of tail stripes, red breast and flashing windowpanes.
After lunch, two more birders and one of the other leaders came to lend their eyes. We counted 28 Red-tailed Hawks, 1 Bald Eagle, 1 Sharpie and several unidentified buteo and accipiter pepper specks in the next hour. But the prize bird of the day was a juvenile Golden Eagle. What a glorious bird! (worthy of a post in itself.)
By day’s end I had tallied 77 birds. It was a wonderful end to my tenure as hawk watch leader. I will definitely be doing it again next year. Would you like to join us?
I snapped the packet of pepper with my fingers before ripping it open to pour the tiny black specks onto my pea soup. In the process some pepper spilled onto the cafeteria table. Stirring the soup, waiting for it to cool, I brushed the pepper into a small cloud; then ran my finger through it to simulate winds, creating a kettle of hawks. I was missing the single biggest migration of hawks on the planet. Broad-winged hawks gather in large flocks to migrate together down from the north adding more and more birds until there is a river of raptors in the tens of thousands flowing past Veracruz, Mexico. One day I want to see that spectacle. But for now, a small piece of that is happening along the ridges of the north.
I, however, was at work.
Mount Peter had a terrific day yesterday wth 4222 kettling Broad-winged Hawks, like the finest grind of a quality black pepper. The watchers on the platform carefully counted them as they flowed to the south. Today another 3564 flew past. I was still at work. But I get the reports and can vicariously revel in the numbers and see them in my mind’s eye. Broad-winged hawks travel 70 miles a day. Hopefully some of them will have nested way, way in the north and will still be making there way south by the weekend. I will be on the platform craning my neck wishing them fair winds and good speed.
While I was hanging out in the Catskills yesterday, I met up with Judy and Rosie from NJ. Judy runs the hawk watch at Mount Peter. As the 3rd oldest hawk watch (after Hawk Mountain and Montclair) it is run entirely by volunteers. She asked me if I could pop over for a work detail to cut down small trees and bushes that were impinging the view of the skies from the hawk watch platform. Being Labor Day Monday, she was concerned that she would not have a full crew (Mount Peter is only 15 minutes from my house and she also promised ice cream. So, hey.) With a bucket full of loppers, saws, clippers and gloves, I showed up at 9:30 ready to go.
There were quite a few people already repairing the platform when I got there. With hammering in the background, we started to cut any small trees and gather garbage and beer cans from under the bushes. As I wandered knee-deep in highbush blueberries, goldenrod, raspberry bushes and wild mountain asters, I cut down oak, pignut, and tree of heaven saplings. The sun shone from a cloudless sky, yet it was cool in the shade. The virginia creeper spiraled crimson up the cedars and the wild grapes hung heavy with the its sour fruit. The blueberry bushes were full of hard green blueberries. I made a mental note to check on their progress next time I came up.
Suddenly there came a shout, the hammering stopped and all eyes looked skyward. Our first hawk flew south. It was a Broadwing. It’s disapperance was met with a cheer. As the day progressed, we had resident Red-tails swirling over the valley, Turkey Vultures loafing on the microwave tower, Hummingbirds buzzing overhead and 1 monarch butterfly floating past. I am looking forward to spending more time on the platform this year. Hawk watching season has officially started running from Sept 1 through mid November. Come on over and hang out.