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Posts Tagged ‘Bald Eagle’

By Wendy Hawkins

a parallel to the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” (Clement Clarke Moore)

‘Twas the night before birding, when an e-mail I spied;
David Disher saw ducks, “What time?” I replied.
Bundled up next morn — Salem Lake I did dare,
In hopes that all those ducks still would be there!
My gear was all nestled, snug in my backpack,
While visions of ducks in my head shouted “quack!”

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

I stacked on the layers and donned a down jacket;
My haul down the stairs made a bit of a racket.
Taking off in my car, heading east I did dash;
Although I was careful, not going too fast.
The park in the distance at the end of the lane,
The clouds looming over — glad there was no rain.
A Red-Tailed Hawk was the first bird to show,
But no time to stop yet, there were ducks down below.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a handful of birders adorned with their gear!
Out of my car with equipment I flew,
To join in the party and spot what was new!
There on the lake there were birds — quite a LOT!
There was no question, we’d hit “duck jackpot!”
Mergansers, both Hooded and Common, were there; Canvasbacks, Long-Taileds, and gulls to compare.
The Canada Geese made a grandiose show,
Flocking and splashing, for what? — We don’t know.

Duck jackpot

Duck jackpot

Hop Hopkins and others, scopes panning around,
Were happy to share from the dock, safe and sound.
“Where’s the Long-Tailed Duck? The Common Merganser?” I wished.
“Can you find them? I’d like to expand my life list!”
“Look here in my scope,” these bird friends would say, Lowering an eyepiece — not a moment’s delay.
“Wow! A Long-Tailed Duck! I’ve never seen one before!
“Can’t believe it!” I hollered, “Life bird 2 – 0 – 4!”
Next a Common Merganser, looking alive,
My eyes big a saucers — life bird 2 – 0 – 5!
Scope, binoculars, and camera in hand,
I aimed, and I spotted — boy was THAT grand!
In the cold our eyes watered, but we were quite merry,
Our cheeks were like roses, our noses like berries.
Our lips were all frozen; our teeth, how they chattered!
But we could see DUCKS, and nothing else mattered.

Long-tailed Duck

Long-tailed Duck

We pointed and spotted and snapped what we could,
A flashy male merganser shows off his hood.
“Take a look at their faces, see the difference in bills,”
Great ID advice! – as we shrugged off the chills.
Some ducks in clumps – now others drift left,
Where’s the Herring Gull? Bald Eagle? Hmm, was there a theft?
Blinking our eyes and turning our heads,
We “oooed” and we “awed” – there was nothing to dread.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

I’d have to leave soon – meet a friend for some “perk”,
With enough time to chat before heading to work.
I could hardly wait to report what I’d seen,
What a breathtaking, impactful trip it had been!
My short time was up; just 30 minutes allotted,
But I had seen lifers! What birds we had spotted!
I bid birders farewell, as the cold air did bite –
“Happy birding to all, and to all a good flight!”

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

To hear Wendy read her poem, click this link hear my audio recording.

Photo credits:  Long-tailed Duck by Shelley Rutkin, all others by Wendy Hawkins

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Josh

Josh Buchanan Spots Merlins and More

“Merlin,” Scott DePue shouted on a September morning at Pilot Mountain State Park. Sure enough, a small, dark raptor with pointed wings shot through the gap that separates Pilot Knob from the Little Pinnacle overlook where we conduct our annual hawk watch. Then, as we watched the bird zoom south toward Winston-Salem, a second Merlin followed the same path only a few seconds behind.

The Merlin sightings were particularly thrilling for me. We see very few even at the hawk watch, and three times last year I was looking one way while other observers spotted these birds going another. Seeing two within ten seconds was special.

Osprey

Ospreys Fly Over Pilot, Too

In Forsyth County, Red-tailed, Red-shouldered and Cooper’s Hawks stay all year. However, many hawks and other raptors that breed to our north migrate to warmer climes in the fall. Most notable in the eastern United States is the Broad-winged Hawk. Hundreds of thousands of these birds travel to Central and South America, often in large flocks or “kettles” of dozens, even hundreds, of birds. A large kettle is quite spectacular, as the hawks swirl up on a thermal rising off the ground and then glide out on a high current of air – a very efficient means of travel.

Pilot Mountain has been the site of an annual hawk watch for almost 40 years. In 1973, Ramona Snavely was there in early October and observed several Broad-winged Hawks riding the thermals on their way south. Since then, Pilot Mountain has joined many other watch sites from Canada to Mexico. Sites submit collected data to www.hawkcount.org, where they are available for scientific study.

At Pilot, observers can find 13 raptor species. Besides the species already mentioned, we see Bald Eagle, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, and both Black and Turkey Vultures. Park visitors often are amazed to hear that we see eagles and, even more so, when they get to see one themselves.

Bockhahn

State Ranger Brian Bockhahn Taught Raptor ID Classes

We get much satisfaction from talking with the visitors about what we are doing and seeing at the pinnacle. For this veteran, it is always a joy to see the “wow” look of  someone seeing their first eagle or a broad-winged kettle. Chuck Smith brought his natural history class from High Point University one day, and State Park Service Ranger Brian Bockhahn brought two groups of rangers and other individuals for a raptor identification class.

In 2012, we conducted our hawk watch from September 12-30. During that time, we counted 2592 Broad-winged Hawks. In addition, we observed 30 Osprey, 25 Bald Eagle, 14 Peregrine Falcon, 4 Northern Harrier, plus a few each of the other raptor species. Those two Merlins were the only ones seen. For butterfly enthusiasts, this also is a great place to watch the fall Monarch migration.

The 2592 Broad-winged Hawks was the highest tally since 2006. Sunday September 16 was a dream day for hawk watchers, as 1735 passed by, including over 1000 birds kettle after kettle between 3 and 6 p.m. We wrapped up on September 30 with another 632 broad-winged and six eagles.

Vulture

Turkey Vultures Roost on Pilot

For many years, Toby Gordon was synonymous with the Pilot Mountain Hawk Watch. Every fall, Toby was there most days often alone patiently waiting for those large kettles of birds to come through. These days, Scott DePue is the name that comes to mind. Blessed with extraordinary vision, Scott has been nicknamed “Hubble” after the space telescope by fellow Piedmont Bird Club member Julien McCarthy. Scott finds “specks” of birds on the horizon that some of us with old eyes never see. More than that, he has excellent raptor ID skills and always is ready to help less experienced birders understand what they are seeing.

Thanks to all of the many observers who made this year’s Pilot Mountain count a success. In addition to Scott, I extend a special thank you to Jean Chamberlain and Carol Cunningham for their many shifts as compilers at Hawk Watch and their extra efforts to make sure we did not miss any of those migrating birds. To learn more, visit the Hawk Watch page at our website, www.forsythaudubon.org.

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