For the Birds Radio Program: A Perfect Day
A Perfect Day I’m writing this on September 13, 2010. We’re reaching the peak of fall migration, and today’s northwest winds and clear sky had me as restless indoors as the birds were outside my window. I stayed dutifully at my computer all morning, rewarded when a couple of hummingbirds stopped for a quick fill-up before moving on their way. One was an immature female, the other an immature male, so I could tell they were two different birds. Blue Jays have been everywhere, and I couldn’t help but watch them when I was supposed to be fixing my gaze on my computer. I stayed on task until noon, but suddenly couldn’t stand it a minute longer, so I hopped in my car and drove up to Hawk Ridge. I knew hawks would be everywhere, and sure enough, as I approached the main overlook, people were pointing out kettles of Broad-winged Hawks, a Bald Eagle, a Red-tailed Hawk, two Turkey Vultures, and several sharp-shins. The counter board said they’d tallied a Swainson’s Hawk earlier. Flocks of Cedar Waxwings were moving through, a few stopping for a few minutes to rest in a nice bare birch and letting me take photos. Two Yellow-rumped Warblers stopped for a quick but distant photo-op, too. I had a great time talking to old friends and listening to the naturalists—Hawk Ridge has an excellent staff, friendly and outgoing, making hawk-watching fun for everyone. But I really did have a lot of work to do, so about 1 o’clock I headed for my car, a ways down the road because there was a big crowd of people today. Just before I reached it, I spotted one of the assistants carrying birds from the banding station. This time of year, the main hawks they catch are Sharp-shinned Hawks, which are kept still and quiet in a tube made from beverage cans. One of these two birds was a sharpie. But the other one was in a tube made from coffee cans, and its tail didn’t stick out much. It was a Broad-winged Hawk. Hawk Ridge’s annual count of hawks averages over 94,000, but the Broad-wings account for more than 70,000 of these on average. The best day ever, September 15, 2003, they counted 101,716 Broad-wings. So you’d think they’d catch a lot of them at the banding station, but they don’t—Most broad-wings spend their fall days either on a migratory mission or within a forest, so they’re not easily attracted for banding. In the 29 years I’ve lived in Duluth, I’ve only been up there a couple of times when the banding station has sent one to the main overlook—and today was one of those two days. Broad-wings are my favorite hawks, because they’re so tame—When you see one, it usually stays there to give you great looks. Whenever Photon and I take a walk at Twin Falls Park in Port Wing, one waits for us to pass under and suddenly calls from right overhead. We never notice it ahead of time, and every time, Photon cowers. As little as Photon is, Broad-wings are much tinier. The moment I saw that hawk in the coffee can, I turned and followed back to the overlook. I donated $50 to the Adopt-a-Raptor program, and got to hold and release the little hawk while the Hawk Ridge staff took pictures. I’ll hear from them if she’s ever found again. After that, I headed home, but the day’s perfect birding wasn’t over. I had my first White-crowned Sparrow at my feeder, and one hummingbird came to my window feeder until dark. And even after dark the fun wasn’t over. During the Daily Show, I heard a soft, mellow hooting through the window—a Great Horned Owl. What a perfect way to end a perfect day.