October 29 I was hawk watching at Lighthouse Point, in New Haven, Connecticut, one of the best hawk watch sites in New England. The day was not what I had expected; the winds were far weaker than forecast and the count was only a little over 100 by early afternoon, but with a good mix, highlighted by a Peregrine perched for an hour and an immature Bald Eagle that spent some time soaring over us, trying to determine what it wanted to do.
Activity was slowing in the early afternoon, when I believe Lynn James said she had a large hawk out front. Lynn, who has incredible distance vision, said the bird was in a large gray cloud above a blue slit in heavy cloud cover. Everyone scanned for the bird and gradually we found it. People remained glued to their scopes as the bird was way out and still quite small, but acting like a very large bird. Someone had earlier remarked that the site had not had a Golden Eagle yet this season, so it was about time, though it was clearly not typical “Golden” weather.
I got on the bird fairly quickly and soon felt very good about it. It had a Red-tailed Hawk kind of dihedral, visible at great distance. The bird was quite large but gliding straight toward us without apparently moving a muscle or a wing, so we couldn’t pick up any contrast on it, much less a head/tail ratio. I think everyone was thinking “golden,” but just could not see enough to call it. As the bird angled slightly, I was able to see a bright white basal third of the long tail and the smaller head. I shouted Golden, and everyone began cheering and concurring. The excitement was palpable as the bird continued to glide towards us.
I had been hunched over my scope straining to watch this bird. When I stood up to relax for a second, I noticed that half the scopes were pointing north and half east. I shouted there must be two goldens, that half the people were looking at a different bird than I had been. Everyone looked up, and then over, and sure enough, half of us had found one golden eagle and half another. The northerly bird slowly glided over, revealing a lot of white in the flight feathers, a long rectangular white patch in each wing. My golden, following a few minutes later, had a lot less white in the wings. Strangely, after not having had a golden for two months, two occurred at the same time, They were followed by a third golden just a few minutes later, a bird with very little white in the wings or tail. It was a terrific fifteen minutes, but we all had to laugh. If one of us had not looked briefly at the hawk watchers instead of the hawks, would we have ever noticed there were TWO Golden Eagles?
Golden Eagle photograph by Joseph Kennedy. Used with permission. (Not one of the "Lighthouse" birds.)