Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Class Trip #2a & 2b -- Hawkwatching

Given that mid-September is THE prime time for hawk watching in Central Mass, we had two different trips -- the 18th and 19th. Our first foray was with a combined group comprising some class members as well as participants from a lecture Mark gave at the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, MA. This is a wonderful museum complex overlooking the Nashua River valley and Mount Wachusett. It's a different kind of museum with connections to Louisa May Alcott's family (and Transcendentalism), Native American heritage, art and nature....very eclectic, but it all comes together wonderfully. Here's a link for you to check it out www.fruitlands.org They currently have a great exhibit of bird art so you should make time to go there and see it.
As any hawk watcher will tell you, you really want some clouds against which to pick out the hawks....so we were hoping. Unfortunately, there were so many low clouds all morning that our count on Saturday was rather disappointing. We did, however, have double-digit numbers of Osprey migrating along the Nashua River.
Picking up that first hawk is always exciting, even though it can be rather far out. There's always those few moments when you're trying to get everyone on the bird AND identify it at the same time.
Sooner or later it usually gets close enough for a good look through scopes. Since Osprey tend to be in singles when they migrate, it's a good way to warm up for what you hope will be the big kettles of Broadwings.
When things are slow you also keep an ear out for land birds migrating. Mark heard a warbler chip at the far end of the parking lot and was the only one to wander down and check it out. Therefore, while the rest of us were looking at an Eastern Phoebe, he was the only one of us to get the Connecticut Warbler! I've often said it pays to watch where Mark's wandering off to, because he doesn't usually do something without a darn good reason.
The picture above is a classic profile shot of a buteo moving over us fast. This one turned out to be one of the local Red-tailed Hawks, which is probably why we were able to see it.
Other than a few Sharp-shinned hawks, a small handful of Broadwings, the previously-mentioned Ospreys and Redtails, we had to content ourselves with nice looks at Kestral and Turkey Vultures (which we all now know are not really hawks, but more closely-related to storks.) It was a nice morning trip, with a small group of folks, and lots of people stopping by on bicycles, cars, etc. to ask what we were doing. As it turned out, Saturday was actually a big day....later in the afternoon. Both Goat's Peak out in the Connecticut River valley and Mount Watatic to the north reported 5,000-6,000 Broadwings passed over after about 2 p.m.

We were a wee bit disappointed when we heard that Saturday night but since we had another hawk watch with the class planned for Sunday, we had high hopes.

Sunday's skies appeared more promising when we started the trip around 7:30 at the Lover's Leap pulloff in New Salem. This area had a spectacular view to the north and full to the east so we've been wanting to try it out for hawks. It seemed like an ideal location when you consider the birds they get on Mounts Tom, Watatic and Wachusett.
While way to early for thermals and, therefore, kettles to build, first thing in the morning can be a great time to get landbirds passing through the trees nearby. In fact, in about a 20 minute period right after 7 we had great numbers of warblers and vireos in the trees just below the overlook. We had about a dozen Parulas, along with Nashville, Connecticut, Black-throated Green, Blackpoll, Cape May, Magnolia and Redstart. And we had Red-eyed, Blue-headed and Philadelphia Vireos as well.
Most birds moved through so quickly it was almost impossible to get any shots, especially in the dim early morning light. Both this Red-eyed Vireo (above) and Northern Parula (below) were a little more cooperative.
We also had a few Scarlet Tanagers move through later in the morning.
Looking to the north as the mist was rising, we started to see our first hawks of the day.
Watching a bird come straight at you gets that adrenaline rush going since you always imagine it will be something totally fantastic.....
even though it may only turn out to be a Sharpie. I have to keep telling myself, though, that I love accipiters and don't really need something exotic to keep my interest when I'm hawk watching.
Even the Turkey Vultures that pass over close by can be totally impressive.
We did have a good show of Sharp-shinned Hawks, and when someone asked if we ever see Cooper's Hawks during migration, this one appeared right on cue. There was some question initially as to whether we were seeing a large Sharpie or a small Coop, but when the bird passed close by, you could see both the larger head protruding and the much longer tail. It's always fun to be able to see the field marks right in the field!
We also had several Bald Eagles, but since we're just at the north end of Quabbin that's to be expected. Surprisingly we didn't have even one Osprey. We did have a few 20+ kettles of Broadwings, but, again, not the larger numbers we had hoped for. I think out total count of Broadwings for the morning was just over a couple hundred.
And the local Red-tailed Hawks visited several times....sometimes just circling up in a small thermal...
and sometimes passing so close that I felt I could reach out and touch it!

Even though we never turned up the thousands of hawks everyone hopes for, I couldn't think of a nicer way to spend a morning in mid-September. And, hopefully, there's always next year!


No comments:

Post a Comment