Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gearing up for fall!

Although I am wilting in the summer heat, I am hard at work on the fall issue of Hawk Migration Studies. I can already tell you that the new issue will be a good one, with some great articles, and I’d like to give you a short preview of what you can expect.

Frank Nicoletti has written a piece summarizing and analyzing his years of hawkwatching at West Skyline hawkwatch near Duluth. If you were lucky enough to attend HMANA’s conference there in April and attended Frank’s workshop, you’ll have an idea of what the article is about.

How would you like to count hawks at Curry Hammock on Little Crawl Key in Florida and help HMANA continue the important data collection there? We’re looking for a few good hawk counters (and those hoping to get better). The Curry Hammock site is being restarted as an all-volunteer site. In case you need any more enticement, the site boasts the highest fall count of Peregrine Falcons in the country and the second highest in the world. HMANA’s Julie Tilden gives you more details in the fall issue of HMS.

Have you ever thought how breeding bird atlas information can help determine the current state of raptor populations and distribution? Now that many states are working on their second atlasing project, the differences found between the first and second projects can be quite interesting. Paul Roberts discusses some of those differences in his own state of Massachusetts and gives some ideas for the rest of us.

We’ll be printing a lot of photos and a wrap-up of our successful conference in Duluth in April, a short piece on what the Turkey Vultures did to an opossum, the usual reports from all the North American flyways and lots more!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

More Aesthetics: Hawk Glimpsing

I sometimes wonder if hawk “watching” isn’t a somewhat misleading label for our observation of the raptor migration. It’s often more a matter of hawk “glimpsing.”

Granted, often we have an opportunity to “watch” an eagle approach our observation sites in a leisurely soar, over at least several minutes. More frequently, however, hawk “glimpsers” have only a second or two to find, observe, identify and enjoy a migrating raptor, the quintessentially “glimpsed” raptor being a Merlin or Peregrine Falcon slashing aggressively through space and time. Even observing a majestically soaring eagle, although not so electrifyingly quick an experience as catching a glimpse of a Merlin or Peregrine Falcon, is definitely a passing experience, something that can only be possessed briefly.

This very ephemeral nature of observing migrating raptors contributes significantly, I think, to the aesthetics of the activity, giving it a kind of “Wow!” factor that’s dramatically contrary to the overly programmed, controlled and predictable nature of most people’s everyday experiences. I like the photographs of raptors taken by my colleagues, but the photographs, as amazing as they often are, differ radically in effect from the fleeting apprehension of a migrating falcon, hawk or eagle. A photograph makes permanent, in a way, the moment of connectedness with something wild, but in so doing contradicts the quickness of that moment. That’s one of the reasons we don’t just stay home and look at pictures but go out to our observation sites hoping for the jolt of pleasure a brief connection with the raptors and with the migration, that great global movement of wildlife, can provide.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Live Action!

In late April subscribers to NH.Birds got a birth announcement from Audubon biologist Chris Martin: " the Brady-Sullivan Tower in Manchester, ... the adult pair is trying to raise FIVE chicks! Will this be the first time on record anywhere in the Granite State that Peregrines successfully fledge five young?" Chris went on to say, "Get an inside look by visiting Peregrine Cam at Who needs reality TV when you can watch this?"

Indeed! As these young eyasses grew people from all over the world "tuned" to the two-camera live coverage of this particular falcon family. Owl cams and falcon cams and just about any other bird cams have been around for a while, but until my recent access to high-speed internet I never really got into checking them out. Now able to view the comings and goings of the Manchester Peregrine parents as they cared for the five fluffy nestlings I became hooked. The link was constantly on my screen as I worked on various projects, and every once in a while I'd check in to see how the family was doing.
Wow! What a great view!

In mid-May the "kids" were surprised by a big green gloved hand reaching down into the nest box. One by one they were plucked from their huddle and disappeared from view somewhere above. Some time later they were returned wearing the "jewelry" which will identify them wherever they may be seen. USFWS aluminum bands as well as colored and numbered bands were placed on their legs by Martin and his assistant (HMANA award-recipient) Robert Vallieres. Viewers were treated to the sight of a very angry mother bird who tried to defend her young through the trap-door in the top of the nest box. Vallieres reports that she "would have come right into the room with us" if they hadn't been careful.

Within a couple of weeks the white fluffy down pajamas were being replaced by darker adult plumage, and the youngsters began exercising their newly feathered wings. Finally they began to be brave enough to venture out onto the perch, and would "fly" back and forth between it and the ledge.

This is how you do it!

By June 3 four of the young birds had taken flight. It took the youngest of the brood another couple of days before she was bold or hungry enough to make the jump.

Yes, this is my kind of "reality TV!"

And then there was one....

Thanks to the folks at Spectra Access for permission to use the photos accompanying this article.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Satisfy a Primitive Need: Become a Hawk Watcher!

In a previous entry (“Letting the Day Come to You,” Monday, March 22, 2010), I took a preliminary stab at answering the implicit question, “What’s the pleasure in observing the migration and watching hawks?" The answer had to do in part with how hawk watching during the migration gives us a visceral and fulfilling connectedness with natural forces and movements like weather, the advancing of seasons, and, in the context of those, the migration itself.

Related to this connectedness (but different from it) is the kind of atavistic hunter-prey relationship we experience with the hawks and eagles we see and identify, similar to the relationship Ernest Hemmingway celebrated in his hunting and fishing exploits. We connect not only with the wild creatures on which we focus but also with a primitive part of ourselves from which centuries of civilization have estranged us, the hawk watcher’s successful identification of a hawk swooping past the watch (“I got it!”) functioning as the hunter’s cathartic coup de grace.

It doesn’t surprise me that many of the most dedicated hawk watchers I know either have been or are skilled and experienced hunters or fishermen. The primitive needs we satisfy at the hawk watch, in a rather sophisticated way, are much the same that hunters and fishermen address, but with an added benefit: when we get home, we don’t have to clean our catch!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Taking it to the Edge

What a woman, that Rosalie Edge! Mrs. Charles Noel Edge, as she was known among her contemporaries, was not intimidated by anyone when it came to acting on her conscience. She honed her skills in battle when she joined the women’s suffrage movement. She learned to write powerfully and persuasively – in pamphlets, in letters to politicians, to newspapers. Later she took on powerful entities who claimed to be conservationists but mostly acted in their own self interest. We all know that were it not for her untiring efforts the hawks we study today might not have safe passage past our lookouts. But without her many other endeavors on behalf of our environment, the world would be a very different place.

Many of the battles Mrs. Edge undertook and won, need to be fought again today. In a 1935 Emergency Conservation Committee (ECC) publication, Fighting the Good Fight: Program for Conservation Advance in Five Years, she wrote that “beaches were defiled with oil and dead and dying birds.” Yes, that was 75 years ago! We can only imagine her reaction to the current situation in the Gulf of Mexico. Would that this fearless woman were here to take on BP and those more interested in lining their pockets than in maintaining healthy ecosystems. We need a 21st Century Rosalie!

I have learned so much about this intriguing woman who inspired Rachel Carson, among others, by reading Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy (2009 University of Georgia Press), by Dyana Furmansky. I encourage anyone who cares about our incredible planet to read this eye-opening and well-written book.