I was surprised to see 4 different Rough-legged Hawks at the Great Swamp (in the measly 1/2 hour I had to spend there) on Saturday. Curious to see if there were any at the Wallkill; I decided to take a run through the farm country in lower Orange county (NY) to see what was shakin’ before swinging by Oil City Road at sunset for the raptor show.
As I crawled along deserted snowy roads I found Rough-legged Hawks alright. I was delighted to find 1 sitting in a tree overlooking the sod farm on Skinner Road. Then pulling back onto Route 6, heading into Pine Island; I squeezed half off the road when I saw both light and dark morphs on successive telephone poles. While I sat there 2 more flew across the road to land in a copse of trees while 1 hovered over a field. That’s 5. 5 + 1 Holy Cow. I was on a roll. Now that I knew they used telephone poles like Red-tailed Hawks, I scanned every hawk on every pole as I headed toward Oil City Road. I found another 1 sitting on a pole beside a pole with a Red-tailed Hawk that provided a lovely comparison. Alas, there was no shoulder to pull off. Spotting a dead-end road not far ahead, I thought to park on the edge of that and hike back for the hawks. But as soon as I got out of the car, I glanced up and in the trees overhead was another Rough-legged Hawk. He took off winging his way across the road toward some distant trees where I spotted yet another dark morph. I shook my head, counting hawks on my fingers.
As I approached the Oil City Road parking lot, giddy from seeing all the arctic hawks, a Harrier flew across the road and the resident Red-tailed Hawk sat on a pole. I spent the next hour standing in deep snow watching Harriers (4 and 1 gray ghost), 4 more Rough-legged Hawks, and the local Tail as they went about the end of their day. The Rough-legged Hawks flew back and forth across the marsh occasionally stopping to hover in place. I did not see any of them actually get anything. Snow started to fall making visibility in the gathering dusk more and more difficult. I finally left, covered in snow, without seeing the owls.
All in all, I had 13 Rough-legged Hawks in both morphs, 3 Red-tailed Hawks, 4 Harriers and 1 Kestrel.
Is it me, or do there seem to be more Rough-legged Hawks around this winter?
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?
Ya shodda been there.
Tropical Storm Hannah passed in the night leaving a chilly day with scuttling clouds against a bright blue sky. Thinking it might be too windy for migrating hawks, I nearly didn’t go to Mt. Peter today. But, boy, am I glad I did.
When I climbed onto the platform, I was greeted with cries of “You just missed it.” Veteran hawk-watchers, Judy and Ken had watched a trio of eagles lazing in the updrafts, before one turned, heading south leaving the other two to fly back north. They had put on a show for half an hour. While there had been hawks, passerines, and the odd Monarch to tally; it was the eagles that caused the most excitement.
I was only there for maybe half an hour when a pair of eagles reappeared from the north spiraling up the thermals to find their southern highway. Their heads and tails shone in the sunshine and as they circled against the sun, their tails positively glowed. We watched them awestruck, tracking them as they flew south. There is nothing like seeing eagles. An hour later, 3 more eagles popped up from behind the microwave tower. They too made a bee-line for the south.
At the end of the day, 6 eagles had passed overhead. I don’t know the finished count, but while I was there, we saw Osprey, Cooper, Sharp-shinned, Broad-winged, and Red-tailed Hawks, as well as the ubiquitous Black and Turkey Vultures.
For me, standing for hours scanning the sky is relaxing. The world slows down. I can take the time to really look at everything: study the clouds, notice small butterflies, thrill to the buzz of a hummingbird on a mission. If you get a chance, come up. There is someone there most days until mid-November.