Yesterday was especially nice because I met a fellow birdwatcher, a veteran with 30+ years of experience. He had lots of information and experience he was willing to share. He was looking for broadwing hawks, who migrate through the area about one week every year. Sometimes, he says you can see a whole kettle of hundreds of hawks streaming out of the clouds. But there was not enough wind and no clouds for contrast, so he only saw a couple in the distance. I had already seen an osprey carrying a fish in the telltale parallel formation that makes the fish more aerodynamic. He helped me with more signs of ospreys--the M-silhouette of the wings, the black "wrists", the "fingers" at the tips of the wings. In contrast, red tails have a black belly band and no "M." To differentiate ospreys from similarly M-shaped gulls at a distance, you look for a sheen of white when the bird turns--white is a gull; dark is an osprey. I called out a few osprey on my own (probably the same one coming back and forth a few times)--I'm getting really good at those. He also heard a red tail hawk screech, though we never saw it, and so I think I can now recognize that sound. He was very kind and complementary, praising my "young eyes" (he was probably in his 80s.) So, I would spot the flash of a bird in the distance and he'd site them with his binoculars and ID them quickly. He even saw an eagle and a broadwing that I never could find. I asked him about the accipiter I'd seen attacking turkey vultures. He said it was probably a juvie sharp-shinned or Cooper's hawk just playing; he says they practice that way. I also told him my monk parakeet story.
See, when I'd sat on my bench, I knew I was between two of the tall spruces in which the resident monk parakeets nest. There were no droppings on the bench, though, so I figured I was safe; I also had my hat on. Soon, those bright, little, green birds started their abrasive squawking . . . . and started dropping twigs on me! The twigs never actually hit me, but five or six fell nearby and the noise grew louder. My birdwatcher friend said that those parakeets were jerks! I'll remember never to walk under their trees!
A few other things I've picked up in the last few outings:
- Binoculars take practice! I can't always see well out of them, especially if my arms or hands are moving even a bit. But I'm getting better with focusing them and seeing the one circle through them, bracing my arms against my sides.
- Lingo and technique: the sighting of birds is identified by landforms (though I tend to use the clock, with "12" dead ahead) and by how many glasses (i.e. binocular circles) above the landform it is. So, you might say, "Red tail at 12, two glasses above the maple." You might also try to indicate how far out it is. To search for birds, you scan back and forth, raising up a glass each pass. I tend to spot them with my bare eyes and then pull my binoculars up to where I'm looking; sometimes I lose them in the process.
- Birdwatchers tend to be friendly and generous with information. I've talked to a few now, beginning with those searching for the Snowy Owl last winter. They are dedicated and kind.
- As my interest in raptors grows (from Ren Faire falconry shows to historic falconry and our own lesson to Harry Potter's Hedwig to real Snowy Owls to raptors in general and now the Hawk Watch), so does my interest in nature in general--identifying plants, trees, noticing butterflies, watching the weather, worrying about the environment. It can all start with birds.
- I like talking birds with Pop. It's less stressful than our usual discussion of politics! And he knows so much. I'm not into ducks as much as he is. Yet!
- I haven't started a life list or bird log yet. But I've taken some notes below. And I have checklists on eBird.
And soon it will be Snowy Owl season.
My Selected Checklist of Raptors et al I've Seen in the Wild
9/12/16, park: ospreys (one with a fish!), accipiters, Red-tailed Hawk, Monk Parakeets
9/10/16, park: 5 turkey vultures, ospreys, accipiters, Monk Parakeets
8/28/16, Greenwich hawk watch: turkey vultures, accipiters playing with vultures,
4/21/16, historic house: Northern Harrier
4/16/16, Canton CT "owl prowl": Barred Owl in a tree; heard lots of calls later
2/29/16, point: Snow Buntings, 2 American Tree Sparrows
2/29/16, marsh: Mute Swan
2/22/16, marsh: Snowy Owl on a log about 300 yards out
10/2/15, backyard: accipiter going after squirrel
2/16/15, river: Bald Eagle
2/3/15, tree near sidewalk: Red-Tail Hawk
11/15/14, BI: 3 Saw Whet Owls (Nature Conservancy tagging); Northern Harrier along the beach
10/14/09, side of the road in Texas at night: Barn Owl