Thursday, March 29, 2007

Hawkwatching 101

Maybe I shouldn't call this post Hawkwatching 101 as I'm not going to give you any hawk identification tips. This is more in the realm of "how to hawkwatch."
First off, one of the nice things about hawkwatching is that unlike, say, warbler watching, you don't have to get up at 5 a.m. to do it. You can sleep in, go out to breakfast, walk the dog(s) and then get to a hawkwatch in plenty of time to see the flight. Of course, since places to hawkwatch are often good spots to see other birds you still can go early if you want to see them. Just don't expect to see any hawks then. On most days, 9 a.m. is plenty early enough to start your hawkwatching day.
If you decide to go hawkwatching, be prepared to sit and wait. So, a chair or a cushion are good things to take with you, depending on where you plan to hawkwatch. When I watch at Roundtop, I'll take a chair or sit in the car with the front window facing southwest (in spring). When I go up to Hawk Mountain or Waggoner's Gap, the walk is a bit far for a chair so I take a cushion and hope to find a comfortable rock.
Other good things to take with you: food and water -- Snacks are always a good way to fill the times when the birds aren't flying. Binoculars -- for hawkwatching I prefer 10x binos. Extra clothing--this can be in the form of a rain jacket, an extra sweater or whatever depending on the season. Brimmed hat--don't leave home without this. It's as important as the binos. Sunscreen --ditto. Sunglasses--ditto.
If you're hawkwatching in the spring, wait for a day when the wind is 1) calm or better yet 2) from the south. If you're hawkwatching in the fall, wait for northwest winds, preferably the day after a storm.
I've gotten to the point where I avoid hawkwatching on days that are perfectly clear. Bluebird skies are what I call this. Staring into an all-blue sky all day long plays havoc on your eyes. Worse, if there are no clouds to keep the birds at a lower altitude you'll be looking for spots in the sky, instead of seeing close-up hawks.
My favorite days are those with high hazy clouds but lots of gray or white cumulous clouds are okay too.
Hawks fly at lower altitudes in the morning, get pretty high to invisible by noonish and then drop down lower again later in the afternoon when they lose their lift. I often stop hawkwatching around noon when my time is limited. Usually, the birds stay lower longer in the morning than in the afternoon anyway.
Today's photo is a shot I took this morning looking towards the last of the snow left on Roundtop Mountain. It's going to be a bluebird sky today.

1 comment:

nelson said...

hi Carolyn, you are starting off the 101 blog in the correct way. However, how much farther can you or anyone else carry-on with the subject? I know the answer: not much more info can be brought forth. 1 good suggest is to use sunglasses; or depending on the color of the sky; some tpye of specialty glasses, as what rifle-shooters wear.

What i am saying is that strategies are limited toward your type of hawking. In my type of hawking, many are the days when I don't bird the landscape, but bird the bird. From this concept I have developed a series of "rotating - revolving" hawkwatch sites. I always hawk watch from the flats, and I always have my bike or truck very nearby. Hawking from the flats also allows you to rapidly walk toward that raptor, and if the raptor is one mile away and slowly heading in your direction, the distance can easily, and quite quickly be closed. I have developed many strategies in my 15 years of observing Nothern Goshawks. And you do need tactics to observe this species. I will be giving hints on my to-be published blog "Goshawks of Tucson".
As for now my blogs are - Goshawks of San Diego; and Goshawks of Apache and