For the Birds: Hawkwatching season in New England

Photo by Chris Bosak A Red-tailed hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., January 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Red-tailed hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., January 2015.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.

The seasons are changing, and there’s a lot going on in the birding world.

Warblers and other songbirds are migrating south. Shorebirds — many species of which have long migrated already — continue to move through New England. Other small winged creatures — monarch butterflies — are also seen more often now as they prepare for their generational migration.

On the ponds, the waterfowl migration hasn’t started with verve yet, but wood ducks, which spend much of the summer hiding out, are more often seen and heard in the fall. At the same time, herons and egrets are still with us in large numbers, and feeder birds continue to keep us company in our backyards. 

Yes, a lot is going on in early fall as we birdwatchers start to shift from a summer frame of mind to a winter one.

With all that’s going on, one type of bird still manages to take center stage in September and October: hawks.

Hawkwatches are the primary destination for birdwatchers this time of year as birds of prey by the thousands ride the wind south. Pick the right day with the ideal weather conditions, and a birdwatcher may see hundreds of hawks, falcons, eagles and vultures soaring overhead.

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Latest For the Birds column: Hawkwatching primer

Photo by Chris Bosak An Osprey soars over the Norwalk River on Monday, Sept. 1, 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Osprey soars over the Norwalk River on Monday, Sept. 1, 2014.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.), The Keene (NH) Sentinel and several Connecticut weekly newspapers.

A September would not be complete without a bird column on the fall hawk migration. For many, the hawk migration is the highlight of the fall season, despite there being many other birding options this time of year.
It’s hard to blame those people who feel that way. You can’t complain about spending a sunny, crisp fall day on the top of a mountain or other open area looking for hawks coming down from the north. Pick the right day and you may see hundreds of hawks making their way to their winter grounds.
The trick for many people, including myself, is figuring out which hawk is which from such a distance in the sky. I have gotten better over the years but certainly not to the level of the experts at the popular hawkwatching sites throughout New England. The experts, who are trained in this sort of thing, know the identification of the bird long before I can even see it out in the horizon.

The other trick to hawkwatching is picking the right day. Weather plays a big role in the fall hawk migration. Pick a day with a steady southerly wind and you’ll likely see very few hawks. Which hawk wants to battle a stiff headwind to start a thousand-mile (or more) journey.

But, pick a sunny day following a cold Continue reading

Cooper’s Hawk eating squirrel

Photo by Chris Bosak A young Cooper's Hawk eats a squirrel in southern New England in Feb. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A young Cooper’s Hawk eats a squirrel in southern New England in Feb. 2015.

The other day I pulled into my driveway and noticed a clump of brown in my neighbor’s yard. Birders are trained to notice anything out of the ordinary in a scene because it just might be a bird. Often these days it ends up being a plastic bag stuck in a tree, but sure enough, sometimes it is a bird.

Such was the case the other day. That brown clump was a bird, a young Cooper’s Hawk to be exact. Not only that, but the bird was eating (a Gray Squirrel as it turns out.) Cooper’s Hawks eat mainly birds, but small mammals can also fall prey to these quick and agile birds.

I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story. (Warning: If you don’t like the bloody side of nature, don’t click “continue reading.” Fair warning.)

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One more of the hawk

Photo by Chris Bosak A Red-tailed hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., January 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Red-tailed hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., January 2015.

I know I wrote in my first post about the Red-tailed Hawk that it would be a two-parter. I couldn’t resist, however, throwing this one up on the site, too. It’s a hawk’s world.

The Red-tailed Hawk under calmer conditions

 

Photo by Chris Bosak A Red-tailed hawk preens at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., January 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Red-tailed hawk preens at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., January 2015.

Here’s the second post about the Red-tailed Hawk I found at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn. the other day. The previous post explains the story, so here’s the photos of the impressive bird without the wind blowing its plumage.It is, however, preening and then looking back at me menacingly.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Red-tailed hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., January 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Red-tailed hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., January 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Red-tailed hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., January 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Red-tailed hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., January 2015.

Red-tailed hawk in the wind

Photo by Chris Bosak A Red-tailed Hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Red-tailed Hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., Jan. 2015.

Here’s the first of a two-part post about a Red-tailed Hawk I found at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., last week.  These photos will show the hawk with gusts of wind blowing its plumage.

I was focused on a tree near the beach that had a White-breasted Nuthatch and a Downy Woodpecker in it. I thought I was getting good shots of the nuthatch, but when I checked the screen on my camera, the results were always subpar. I wasn’t sure what I was doing wrong, but I just wasn’t nailing it. Then I looked in an adjacent tree and spotted a much larger subject. Since I had been in that spot for several minutes, the hawk clearly did not mind that I was there. I gave up on the nuthatch and turned my attention toward the Red-tailed hawk.

I took several photos of the hawk in the tree and it eventually flew to a nearby structure where I was able to get a few more shots as the hawk seemingly watched a foursome play paddle tennis. The wind was whipping pretty good that day, making for some interesting shots of the hawk. The next posting (coming in the next day or two) will show the hawk under calmer conditions.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Red-tailed Hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Red-tailed Hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Red-tailed Hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Red-tailed Hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., Jan. 2015.