For the Birds Radio Program: Hawk Ridge
Hawk Ridge is a place for doing a lot more than looking at hawks, according to Laura Erickson and her dog Bunter. 3:56
Hawk migration may not be quite underway, but hawk counting is. I drove up to Hawk Ridge at 9 am last Tuesday, my slow-moving car scaring up dozens of dozing flickers on the dusty road, to be greeted at the main overlook by two Merlins that had been trying to sneak up on the Cedar Waxwings pigging out on choke cherries and honeysuckle berries. My driving up scared off the Merlins, the waxwings kept eating, oblivious to their close call, and all and all it seemed an auspicious opening to the season.
I set up my folding chair, pulled out a clean, fresh count sheet, and tuned in my weather radio while Bunter the Wonder Dog smelled out the landscape. This is Bunter’s 13th autumn at Hawk Ridge. Like all golden retrievers, she enjoys meeting new people, but is especially eager to greet old friends. She met Minnesota’s premier birder, Kim Eckert, the first time she ever came to the ridge as an 8-week-old puppy. Kim brought a sharp-shin over to show her. The feisty little cupid of a hawk bit Bunter on the nose, and she’s been in love with Kim ever since. Her whole body turns to jelly the moment she sees his car pull up. Kim’s dog Panda was a fixture at the ridge for 17 years, and although he’s been gone for two autumns now, Bunter still seems sort of expectant as she sniffs around the tall boulder we always called “Panda’s rock.” When Bunter was a puppy, she admired Panda sitting atop that rock, and worked for weeks to finally jump up on it herself. For years, every time we came to the ridge, first thing she’d jump up on the rock and sit there, her massive chest puffed out in pride. Now arthritis keeps her feet on the ground, but she’s still drawn to Panda’s rock and memories of days gone by. I know most people think dog’s live completely in the present, but they’re wrong. Bunter remembers Panda as clearly as I remember my grandpa, and that’s a fact.
In mid-August, there aren’t many people up at Hawk Ridge, so Bunter and I were left alone with our memories, the waxwings, a couple of Song Sparrows, and the hope of hawks to come. It took over half an hour for a kestrel to mosey on past, and that was it for the first hour. Bunter was finished with reminiscing and sniffing, and dozed by my feet, pulling herself up to greet the handful of people who stopped by or jogged past now and again, but tiring quickly and returning to her nap.
The second hour there were twice as many kestrels, another two merlins, and two Northern Harriers. I noticed that flocks of waxwings swirled in the sky moments before each of the hawks went by–probably scared up by them, but it was most convenient for me. This pattern held with the harrier, merlins and kestrels that went by the third hour, and with the sharpie that appeared in the fourth hour.
I was having lots of fun looking at these old familiar hawks once again, and plenty of time in between to think about the days ahead when hawks will be too thick to allow thoughtful moments. Thinking was especially easy the fifth hour, when not one hawk went by at all. But as the month goes by, the hawks will thicken, and more and more people will come by, keeping me and Bunter too busy for thoughts and memories and naps. After five companionable hours, we ended this first day of the season with 19 hawks of 5 species, lots of waxwing friends, and happy, hopeful spirits thinking about the autumn to come.