Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A fine kettle of broadwings

Kettle of Broad-winged hawks
Hawkwatching for three days in a row during the prime Broad-winged hawk migration is simply heaven for me. Even though I didn’t see tens of thousands of broadwings, and too many of them were high birds, plenty of them were low enough to keep me happy. Several good eagle days were also much appreciated.

For those who are uninitiated into the joys of hawkwatching, perhaps a good way to explain it is to describe the activity as something like a “big sit” only in a location where the prime feature is the hawks. That’s not to say other birds and animals and bugs aren’t looked at—far from it. But the raptors are the reason for the show in the first place.

Waggoner’s Gap hawkwatch on the border with Cumberland and Perry counties in Pennsylvania is where I’ve spent the last several days. By the time I got home in the evening, the dogs and chickens needed attention, and I was too tired to do any blogging afterwards.

Broad-winged hawks are a bit like the swallows that return to Capistrano every year on the same day. Broadwings flock together, a rarity among raptors, all searching for that perfect thermal that will make the long flight to central America easier than flapping the whole way. In this area, barring weather complications that delay or hurry their flight, September 17-18 is the time to be on a hawkwatch to see the bulk of the broadwing migration.

This year at Waggoner’s Gap the birds were annoyingly high on Saturday but made up for that a bit on Sunday by flying low through most of the morning. And when I say they flew high on Saturday, I mean they were in the Mars flyway, not the eastern flyway, because you almost needed a telescope to see them.

My photo today is what we call a “kettle” of broadwings. The term was apparently first used at Hawk Mountain to describe the circling motion of the hawks as they rise through an air thermal. When the hawks reach the top of their thermal they stream out of it, soaring for as long as they can. During their soaring, they often lose altitude again, so then they look for the next one to regain their height.

I’ve seen kettles of several hundred birds at a time, possibly as many as a thousand hawks once or twice. As broadwings head south and near their wintering grounds, the flocks grow ever larger, and in Veracruz, Mexico, and sometimes even in Corpus Christi, Texas, the size of the kettles number more than 100,000 hawks. Yes, you read that right, and it’s not a finger fumble on my part.

Tomorrow, I’ll report on a few of the non-hawks I saw on the hawkwatch.


Cathy said...

Oh yea!! You got to see your hawks. By the look of teh picture, you had a blast.

jeannette said...

That would be awesome to see a kettle of a few hundred hawks!