For the Birds Radio Program: Hawk Ridge

Original Air Date: Sept. 2, 1996

Some people don’t have to work on Labor Day. When Laura Erickson is counting hawks, is she ever working? (3:54) Date confirmed

Audio missing


Hawks are on the move once again, some cruising at high speed, some just moseying, some circling, others making a bee line, zipping or merely wending their way south via Hawk Ridge in Duluth. I’ve been doing my best to see and tally every one as they go by. As of last Tuesday, I’d counted 806 hawks, of 10 species, from immense Bald Eagles and Osprey to dainty Sharp-shins and kestrels.

August migration is always fairly slow, especially by September standards—on our biggest single day ever at the ridge, we counted 49,615 hawks, which makes the 127 on the biggest day so far this year, or the 806 total over 13 days, seem pretty paltry. But August birdwatching at the Ridge makes up in quality what it lacks in quantity. The first hawks are accompanied by a rainbow of warblers, swirling flocks of Cedar Waxwings, lone hummingbirds racing by, flocks of swallows leisurely zipping this way and that, and loose groups of nighthawks, their long, dainty wings fluttering erratically as they snatch up the summer’s rich crop of flying insects.

When the morning temperature is 42, it feels like fall, but a Red-eyed Vireo and Mourning Warbler still singing their breeding songs remind us that summer is still going strong. A vivid Indigo Bunting lights on a bare branch, making the blue sky seem washed out in comparison. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks munch on berries and seeds in the shrubbery below the overlook, which I think is so named because if we fix our gaze on the spectacular scenery and flying hawks overhead, we are likely to overlook the lovely things below.

I concentrate mainly on birds, of course, but this year’s family of Franklin’s Ground Squirrels distract me. These cute little guys—gray headed with brown speckled backs—sing a bird-like sweet whistled trill, interrupted now and again by a chipmunk’s chatter. Cicada music is so ever-present that it disappears into the background. An occasional grasshopper makes its raspy sound—sometimes I watch two grasshoppers face off, make this noise, and suddenly open their wing covers and take off. As I count hawks, I wonder about these grasshoppers—are they rivals or potential mates? I tried to ask one once, but it hopped off without saying a word.

Insects fill the sky—when I set my focus on infinity and look up, I see swarms of them. Some days dragonflies seem to be everywhere, snapping up hordes of aeroplankton which apparently serve as aphrodisiacs—love literally fills the air as mating dragonflies fly in tandem, tiny Arthur Dents making love in the sky. Where are they going? Are they hitchhiking through the galaxy? Unlike the hawks and dragonflies and warblers, waxwings, and other birds, we’re not going anyplace—we can ponder great questions and dream lovely dreams as we scan the horizon, basking in the late summer sun and the heady rich scent of overripe Juneberries and choke cherries as we watch hawks wing past. Come September, there’ll be too many hawks for daydreaming. Quantifying migration in August is as rich a job as I could ever want.