Friday, March 25, 2011

The Joy of Spring Hawkwatching

“Keee-errrr, Keee-errrr, Keee-errr!” The wild sounds tumble out of the March sky as I stand on a late winter snowbank. In the warming provided by the climbing sun a softer sound can be heard all about as little clusters of snow break off the edges that line the roadsides and ditches. But the insistent calls of newly-arrived Red-shouldered Hawks demand attention, and to me are confirmation that despite lingering patches of the white stuff, Spring is indeed here. Spring hawkwatchers can be plagued by the fickleness of the season. Warm days tempting jacket-free watching can too quickly turn into blustery chill. Snow showers morph into powerful winds straight from the tundra. And then a Bluebird sings overhead and you remember why you really love doing this. Each day brings more exposed ground, and each day has its new spring messengers. One morning it’s Killdeer, and soon afterwards the Meadowlarks arrive. Male Harriers begin to float past, skimming the dried grasses protruding through the aging snow. Lit from below by bright snow-reflected sunlight, these almost magical visions drift silently toward the northeast.

Again: “Keee-errr, Keee-errr!" The Red-shoulders are in tumultuous courtship, breaking now and then to chase away a passing hawk. Occasionally they disappear behind the trees to the northeast where they no doubt reaffirm their bond, and perhaps add a sprig of greenery to their nest.

And now comes the loud “Keh-keh-keh-keh-keh” of one of the two pairs of Northern Goshawks whose territory boundaries apparently meet over the adjacent meadow. Dramatic courtship displays ensue. Deep wingbeats, loud vocalizations, and then a talon-grappling plummet catches me holding my breath as I wonder just how long the pair will dare the approaching earth before releasing their grip on each other.

Arrivals are following an almost precise calendar. Here are the Phoebes, the Song and White-throated Sparrows. And now the Tree Swallows. Overhead skeins of geese and other waterfowl aim their arrows northward. “KleeeKleeeKleeeKleeeKleee!” The Kestrels are back! And there, over to the west! The resident Red-tails are performing their own courtship maneuvers. One April morning the trill of a Savannah Sparrow welcomes us to the hill. Will this be the day the Broad-wings return? What an affirmation of Life spring hawkwatching provides!

above photo by Joseph Kennedy

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