Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hawk Ridge, Duluth, MN

During the week of September 13 - 15 Rich and I both had some time off, so I planned to finally go visit a spot on the map that I've wanted to visit, and passed close to several times. At the western tip of Lake Superior is Duluth, MN. The geographic features of the lake channels migrating birds through this area, making it a bird observing hot spot. Birds coming out of upper Minnesota and Canada hit the lake, and being unwilling to fly over some unknown distance of water, follow the shore. This causes a great pile-up of birds, which can be observed. In the fall trained observers take turns counting primarily raptors, but also other smaller songbirds, on Hawk Ridge, which is a hilltop overlooking the city and the lake, that has been set aside for conservation. During the fall migration there are volunteers who also answer questions, point out interesting birds in the air, and sell items to support the program. There is a trapping station that captures and bands, then releases hawks. Looking at the website, it says for a $50 membership you can go observe the trapping. I was hoping to do this . . . yet when I arrived they inform me I have to have a reservation. I didn't see that on the website . . . gonna have to look again. Disappointed, I also didn't give them $50, but I did buy a shirt, and Rich a new hat. I did get to see a few birds that were trapped. Above is a Broad-Winged Hawk, a species that is passing over Hawk Ridge right now in the thousands daily, really. It looks very much like a juvie Red-Tailed hawk, only much smaller. It was even displaying fear as they do, mouth open. If it could have spread its wings, it probably would have. Above was another species that is seen in incredible numbers early in the fall, a Sharp-Shinned Hawk. Look at the difference in the appearance of this little bird-killer. He (she?) seems unfazed by being held, indifferent, ready the moment he is released to get on his way, unwilling to show any fear. That's an accipiter for you! They are little murdering machines. True 'cold-blooded' serial killers. Two of the volunteers showed the difference in the shapes of the wings between a soaring hawk (Broad-Wing) and a true forest hawk (Sharp-Shin). Each bird trapped is marked with a traceable leg band which is recorded, and in future when and if the bird is either found dead, or trapped again, gives valuable information about migration patterns, lifespan, habitat usage, etc. This is one of the major functions of Hawk Ridge . . . research. Here you can see a couple of the observers watching the sky and counting. The bushes and plants on the hill are also very attractive to smaller passerines, who follow the same migration route as the hawks. It is a fabulous place for bird watchers to come and spend many enjoyable hours just watching and counting. While we were there, the observer/volunteers told us of a kettle of Broad Wings forming on the horizon. We looked with naked eyes, and binoculars, yet saw nothing. A kindly birder let us look through his scope, and then we did see a very large gathering of hawks. They form large circling flocks inside a thermal, where they gain altitude to aid in their journey. I'm not quite sure if Rich found some of the ships on the lake more interesting. We spent Tuesday on the road to the Twin Cities, where we had to hunt down a place to camp for the night. Wednesday was spent slowly working our way back home. All this time I was watching and looking for juvenile red-tailed hawks to toss a trap under. Thus far, I have seen and tossed the trap twice . . . both times the bird was caught, and both times it broke free. I guess it is just not time yet to have my next hawk. I was returning home to go into three days of work. Still . . . I'm 'chomping at the bit' to get my next bird. We didn't see very many as we travelled. I've been watching the migration numbers from Hawk Ridge, but thus far not that many Red-Tails are flying through, yet. October is their big push month. I'll continue to watch, to hawk stalk, to most likely change out some of the nooses on my trap . . . and hopefully soon I'll trap a new bird.

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