Tuesday was a bright sunny but breezy day. Wednesday held a chance of rain (which of course didn't materialize, at least at Terry's house) so we donned many layers and drove out to the mountains.
|View from River of Rocks overlook|
Hawk Mountain became the world's first raptor sanctuary in 1938. In the early 20th century many individuals as well as governments apparently believed all predatory animals were in direct competition with us, and people were actually encouraged to kill raptors on sight. The mountain ridge that includes Hawk Mountain is a major migratory route for birds of prey, who fly en-masse above its tree-lined slopes every autumn. Hunters would line the ridge and shoot as many birds as they could. Thousands and thousands of birds were slaughtered.
Enter Rosalie Edge. A conservationist from New York, she saw photographs taken by young ornithologist Richard Pough, who had travelled to the area and walked the woods, collecting the bodies of the dead birds to record images of the slaughter. In 1934 she leased 1,400 acres that included what the hunters called Hawk Mountain, banned hunting, then opened the area the following year to the public to come witness the migration. The property was purchased in 1938 and given to the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association.
Who says one person can't make a difference.
|Climb to the North Lookout|
It was a gorgeous climb up to the observation area. There were several groups of school kids, one of them from Philadelphia, who were having fun climbing on the rocks along the trail.
The official observer is stationed at the North Lookout. This person provides the official tally for the day, and calls out approaching birds to the rest of the bird watchers. We settled in a rather shady and breezy spot to wait and watch. On the top of a pole was a taxidermy owl. I was puzzled, as owls are usually used to keep unwanted birds away, but I later learned that this was to draw in younger, less experienced raptors who would come swooping in to chase the threat away.
|West side of North Lookout, with stuffed owl "lure"|
The birds seemed to be staying primarily to the north-west side of the ridge, riding the updraft from the cold west wind. I was not quite prepared when we arrived, and didn't have my longer lens out, thinking the birds would be too far away to get any reasonable shots of them. Thanks to this I missed a Bald eagle who passed quite close to where we sat. I was ready though when this Red-tail soared past.
I wish that I had the counts for the day we were there but their website only has listing through October 4th. (For the annual count to date, click here.) What I do recall is that it was peak Sharp-shinned hawk migration--every other bird was a "sharpie", a Blue jay-sized raptor that hunts primarily small birds.
There were also a lot of vultures, like this Black vulture. A nice treat since we don't seem to have them here in Southern Michigan.
We sat for about an hour, had a snack and tried to stay warm. Just as we were getting ready to leave another Red-tailed hawk flew directly overhead. I nearly fell over backwards trying to get shots of it. I would guess we saw 30 to 40 birds in the hour we spent there.
It was well worth the hike up and back.
|Hawk Mountain in Autumn|