For the Birds Radio Program: August Day at Hawk Ridge
I spent a foggy morning this week up at Hawk Ridge, helping them out until their professional hawk counter arrived. I used to do this a lot, and even though the fog was too dense for even a single hawk to wing past, at least close enough to be visible, the morning brought back lovely memories. Cedar Waxwings filled the nearby berry bushes, their sleepy snorey little call notes the sound I most associate with the lazy hazy days of summer. One Red-eyed Vireo broke into song for a while, and made several call notes near me. Red-eyed Vireos are a staple of the north woods, singing not just at first light but throughout the day. They sing most in June and early July, but seem to have a resurgence of song in late summer, so it’s another song I very much associate with sitting up at Hawk Ridge on August days.
Gray Catbirds and Song and White-throated Sparrows skulked about in the dense shrubs, and four hummingbirds flew past like microscopic torpedoes. I didn’t hear any warblers, but often, especially early in the day, migrating warblers are part of the fabric of August days on Hawk Ridge.
Although the fog was keeping them from migrating, hawks do start their migration in August. The first to go by tend to be American Kestrels, especially abundant on days when we have good dragonfly flights, Sharp-shinned Hawks which are capitalizing on the abundance of migrating warblers, and Osprey. The first Bald Eagles to go through are invariably adults from the Florida population—they have an early breeding season and adults often wend their way northward for a while after their parental responsibilities are over for the year. They move south way ahead of the true northern Bald Eagles, which wait until northern lakes have frozen up to get going. Any Mississippi Kites that appear at the Ridge tend to show up in late August or the very first few days of September—these, too, are southern birds that sometimes wander a bit in late summer. Kites specialize on hawking for insects, and we seem to see most of them on days with lots of flying insects, especially dragonflies.
In September, migration becomes heavy fairly quick, as more species enter the game. The hugest days of the season fall in mid-September, at the height of Broad-winged Hawk migration. These birds don’t hunt as they migrate since they capitalize on thermals to cover hundreds of miles in a single day. The vast majority of Broad-wings move on a few high-pressure days with light winds from the northwest. We will sometimes have a day with 20 or 30 thousand between days that had just a handful.
Now that the season has begun at the Ridge, people are starting to show up eager to learn how to identify hawks and interested in learning more about bird migration. Fortunately, there is a cadre of volunteers and professional naturalists and educators at Hawk Ridge, all eager to share their knowledge and help visitors enjoy the experience. Banders are already trapping hawks, and when visitors are up there, these banded birds are often released at the main overlook so people can get an up-close and personal look at them and watch them take off again. Hawk Ridge is one of the true treasures of Duluth, worth visiting and worth supporting.