Monday, August 29, 2016

"Lazy Circles in the Sky"

Yesterday, we had a delightful afternoon yesterday, attending an Audubon program about hawks.  As you know, I'm fond of raptors, as is Mama--owls, falcons, hawks.  We've seen birds-of-prey shows, gone on an "owl prowl," taken falconry lessons, gone on a nighttime owl-tagging program, and taken every chance we can to see and learn about raptors.  And yesterday, we had another chance--we spent an hour or so learning about the body shapes, markings, flying profiles, behaviors, diet, "profession," and migration of hawks.

Just a few takeaways:

  • Most hawks follow their food sources.  Some hawks eat small mammals mostly--like the Red-Tail Hawk--so they can stay up north during the winter.  Other hawks and raptors eat dragonflies and snakes and have to migrate south to find them.   Apparently, the peregrine will go from Greenland all the way to Tierra del Fuego!  On one occasion a few years ago, so many raptors passed through Panama City, that they had to close the airport--there were 2 million birds in the air that day!  Of course, some raptors stay closer--arctic birds think Buffalo is paradise in winter.  Connecticut is apparently one of the migration "funnels"--birds come from New England and Canada and see the Sound and turn right through Connecticut, which is why there are several official Hawk Watch spots here.  
  • You can even tell the original location of a bird somewhat by size.  Northern birds tend to be larger because it helps them save more body heat for winter.  (And of course, female birds are larger than male birds.)
  • The Audubon education specialist gave so much information (some of it via avian interpretative dance!) that I can't recall it all and might have mixed it up.  A bald eagle looks like a "barn door in the sky," while ospreys look like an "M."  Goshawks will fly like Luke Skywalker through trees (my comparison!), while harriers will sail low over trees or the brush near the coast.  
  • I couldn't keep track all of the markings--horizontal stripes, vertical stripes, thick, thin, brown, red, gray, all changing based on the age or gender of the raptor.  I know that juvie bald eagles are brownish and don't get that distinctive white head until they are about five years old.  A Northern Harrier female is brown and a male is white with gray, "the Gray Ghost."  
  • And I really doubt I'll be able to keep the size differentials of, say, the Red-Tail vs. the Red-Shouldered Hawk (smaller), straight.  I can recognize the tiny kestrel vs. a turkey vulture, though.  As my dad says, if you guess Red-Tail Hawk, you'll be right 90% of the time.  
  • For more information, go to Hawk Watch International.  There are some helpful fact sheets.  There will also be a Great Hawk Festival at Greenwich Audubon on September 16-17.
Then we headed out to the field with our binoculars to spot some hawks.  I've never been very good with binoculars, but I'm getting better.  We have a nice pair from Pop and borrowed a few kids pairs so we could all look.  And the first thing we saw was a turkey vulture, of course.  But soon, there was an "accipiter"--some kind of red hawk--who actually attacked two turkey vultures repeatedly, high in the air.  It was fascinating.  And we all got to see it!  The official Hawk Watch volunteers (who are there everyday from mid-August to the beginning of December to count migrating raptors) also spotted an osprey, but I don't think the rest of us saw it.  (I did see an "M" osprey over the river driving to pick up Sis from horseback riding lessons today.)

It was a lovely afternoon and I'm so excited to try out my new knowledge.  Though, it's pretty easy to identify a Snowy Owl!

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