Sunday, September 27, 2009

Searching For Hawks Closer To Home

I've made a few visits to hawk watching sites over the past two years. I'm thankful for the valuable information that veteran hawk watchers have been able to provide me with. I thought it might be fun to use what I've learned so far to try to find migrant hawks from a location that is closer to where I live. I believe that searching for and identifying migrant hawks without help from others helps me to pay closer attention to details.

Most of the official hawk watch sites are about an hour away from me but I wanted to experience the Fall hawk migration closer to home. Fortunately, I'm within 15 miles of several trails that provide access to the
Metacomet Ridge . The traprock crest of the ridge was created by lava welling up from hundreds of feet deep through faults that were created by continental drifts millions of years ago. The maximum elevation of the Metacomet Ridge in Connecticut is only about 1,000 feet but the view from the top area is fantastic, especially on a clear Fall day. I had a clear view of Long Island Sound in New Haven almost 30 miles away. As I was making my way through the wooded trail that leads to the top of the ridge I saw a doe, a deer, a female deer. I stood very still and talked to the deer in gentle tones. The deer seemed very curious as it took a couple of steps forward and stared right at me. I was concerned that it might run onto the busy highway which was only 10 feet away. After a few seconds of staring me down, it slowly wandered off into the woods. Further up the trail I saw a Fisher scurrying up the hill. There has been an increasing number of sightings in Connecticut of this sleek, dark member of the Martin family over the last few years. They may look harmless but they have been known to eat birds, domestic animals and even deer!
Do you know what kind of plant is in the above photo? I didn't find the big kettle of Broad-winged Hawks that I hoped to. My total count of broadwings was only 8 for the morning but I enjoyed closeup views of Osprey, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and Black Vultures. Searching for migrant hawks reminds me a little bit of trout fishing. Don't worry, I don't intend to start casting lures off the top of a mountain in hopes of catching a passing Osprey. What I mean is, your success depends on the perfect weather conditions and being at the right place in the right time. Veteran hawk watchers wll tell you about some of there greatest days when they saw hawks by the thousands but they will also tell you that some days can be very slow. You can find count totals and hawkwatch locations on the hawkcount website .
One of my more exciting moments came when 5 Black Vultures flew past me in close formation. They reminded me of military aircraft flying out on a mission. The grey wingtips are one good fieldmark to differentiate them from Turkey Vultures. Other highlights included watching a Sharp-shinned Hawk chase after a Red-tailed Hawk and a Red-tailed Hawk badgering a Black Vulture.
Does it look to you like this Osprey has wing damage? I wonder what happened to it and can it survive?

click to play
I combined a couple of short clips The first clip is a Raven which seemed to be enjoying the winds which were in excess of 30mph at times. That is immediately followed by a sharpie showing off its rapid wing beats.


Kim said...

Larry, I am right there w/ you on going places to try and just "observe" on my own. One thing I recommend is to take pictures no matter how lousy they come out. Often that's how you see them in your bins anyhow so I have been taking tons of pics and looking at them closer when I get home. Great comparison regarding the trout fishing too!

LOVE your Black Vulture pictures. You are so lucky to see them in your area as we don't here. Great shots.

Helen said...

Sounds like you saw a good many birds plus the ground animals. I agree with you, the Osprey's wing does look damaged. I hope it makes it. You did great following those in flight. Helen

Ruth said...

I found the song lyrics in your post! There is a place called Hawk Cliff on the north shore of Lake Erie and it sounds similar to your ridge. I have never gone as they say you often need a scope to really see the raptors. Interesting post.

Anonymous said...

As you know from last year, I do take trips out of my local area time to time for biriding, but most of the time I like to bird right close to home. I see less species that way, but I try to keep birding not to be about the "Next bird." I'm not a big Hawk Watch guy, finding I like my hawks a little closer. The one Hawk watch site I do like (but it is far from home) is at Cape May NJ where the birds come right over you and there is the added inerest of possible sea birds. I might be passint through CT in November once again. I remember the good time birding we had at Hammonassett.

Jayne said...

I've never gone on a "hawk watch" per se, but see them all the time soaring in the skies around here. Mostly Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, and Coopers. They are so magnificent, aren't they?

Birdinggirl said...

Sounds like a great trip! I also enjoy watching hawks but have a lot to learn about them. I made the same observation last week- we had some very windy weather in Boston and the red-tailed hawks and peregrine falcons were LOVING it. I noticed the same behavior- they seemed to be having fun catching wind gusts up among the skyscrapers.

Happy birding!

Larry said...

Kim-I do take photos as you say but sometimes I regret not having looked at a particular bird more carefully before taking the defnitely seem to behave differently than the Turkey Vultures in several ways.

madcobug-Thanks-The only way I can get good photos of a bird in flight with my camera is if there is good lighting and the bird is moving very slowy.

Ruth-aha-you caught that little song lyric I slipped in-very good.

Vern-If you are always waiting for the next bird then you need enough money to travel around the world.-Let me know when you plan on passing though CT.

Jayne-Hawks are exciting to watch-although, I've seen enough Red-tails to last me for a while-still nice to see in flight though.

BirdingGirl-BG said- "I also enjoy watching hawks but have a lot to learn about them." you and me both-I guess it's a matter of putting the time in to study them as much as possible.

MaineBirder said...

Excellent series Larry! The Osprey does look like it has some wing damage.

I loved going to Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania when I lived there. Great place to get totals nearing 1,000!

Dan Huber said...

Great shots Larry. I have started looking more myself before taking picturs, have missed a few good shots, but likely would have messed up the pic and not got a solid ID.


Larry said...

Mainebirder-I've heard of Hawk Mountain-I guess that's a petty famous Hawkwatch site.

forestal-I'm sometimes torn between taking the photo or studying the bird more first.If the bird isn't in a good position to take a photo-I just keep observing otherwise I won't have the photo or the id.

Dawn Fine said...

Do a deer a female i cant stop humming that song.
Weird about the Ospreys wing...doesnt look good!

Anonymous said...

The photos of them flying are marvelous! The broad wings are very evident and they look so powerful :)

eileeninmd said...

Sounds like you had a nice hawk watch outing. Hopefully the Osprey will be OK with the wing damage. I enjoy following your blog.

Larry said...

Sashindoubutsu and eileeninmind thanks for the positive comments!

Kathie Brown said...

I never knew about hawk migration until a few years ago. Last year I discovered a Swainson hawk gathering point in Rio Rico. This year I went back to the same field at the same time and saw them gathering again! It is an amazing sight to see so many hawks at once! I saw over 110 last year and about 85 this year. I went back with TR Ryan a few days later and they were all gone. I hope that osprey makes it!