Sunday, October 5, 2008

Hawk Weekend at Hawk Ridge

Yesterday was a beautiful. In Minnesota at this time of the year it is important to take advantage of any good weather that you get because it may be the last good weather that you get for the year. So I decided to run up to Hawk Ridge in Duluth, MN for the day. I have not worked on the pics that I took yesterday yet but I have decided to take a bit of a break from July and to post the pics that I took at Hawk Weekend at Hawk Ridge now.
Hawk Ridge sits under a sort of bottle neck for the Mississippi Flyway. During the fall migration raptors coming from the north do not like to fly over Lake Superior. They are trying to conserve energy for their long migration flight, some will migrate to the southern tip of South America, so they look for thermals and wind currents to help them fly. Thermals are air currents created by hot air, heated by the ground, rising up into the atmosphere. Raptors, like the immature bald eagle pictured above, ride these thermals high up into the sky and then glide for miles with out having to flap their wings and expend vital energy.
It is theorized that for every mile a raptor rises in a thermal it gains 7 miles of gliding. However the cold water of Lake Superior do not produce any warm air so there are no thermals to ride out over the lake. That is why raptors, like this merlin, skirt the lake and travel down the coastline and right over Hawk Ridge.
Depending on the weather and time of the year it is possible to see hundreds and even thousands or raptors in one day. This year the big day was September 15th, 4 days before I went up. After a rainy weekend the weather cleared and over 22000 birds were counted. The record for Hawk Ridge is about 106,000 in one day, there were special conditions that year with the remnants of a hurricane pushing the birds from the eastern half of the continent west. Most of the birds on the big days are broadwing hawks who travel in large groups called a kettle. Other birds like the merlin above usually travel alone or possibly in small groups.
The Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory uses this phenomenon to study raptor migration. They sponsor counters who count the number of raptors that fly over by species each day, often also detailing if the bird is an immature or an adult. They also work with several groups that trap and band raptors as the travel by. This merlin was one of a few birds banded on September 20th while I was there.
The Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory also uses this time of year to help educate the public about our raptor friends. Besides for Hawk Weekend, which is the advertised weekend celebration. They also have education staff and volunteers who do educational programs and help people at the ridge to spot and ID birds. People who visit Hawk Ridge on the weekends during September and October may also get the opportunity to view some of the banded raptors close up and personal.
Banded raptors are often sent down to the ridge so that the educational staff can use in short programs. Visitors have the opportunity to adopt these birds, for a small fee which helps to fund the observatory, and release them back into the wild at the end of the program. Unfortunately the list on the 20th was so long I decided to wait and try to adopt a bird on another trip up their.
Hawk Ridge was established as a nature reserve by the city of Duluth back in 1972. The city, with funds donated by the Duluth Audubon Society through a loan from the Nature Conservancy, purchased and set aside 115 acres for the reserve and then added a 200 acre buffer zone the following year. The land and trails are managed by the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory and are full of wildlife besides raptor, like the white-thoated sparrow above.
Expanding their mission beyond just raptors some of the banding stations also have mist nets up to capture and band migrating passerines. These birds are also up for adoption. Because they are less expensive to adopt many people adopt these birds for their children. It is magical to watch the kids stand there with the bird in their hand and then watch them smile as it take off into the sky.
It was pretty cool that they caught an ovenbird since it is usually pretty difficult to get pictures of these birds. Unfortunately this little guy does not have a very good chance of surviving migration. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, studies show that half of all adult ovenbirds die each year with the oldest known ovenbird being only 7 years old.
Since I am a member of the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, I was able to go down and tour one of the banding station. It was great to go down and take a look at the operation. They were looking for volunteers before the season began and I contemplated participating but I just did not have the time to spend up in Duluth, but I may volunteer next year, if I get a chance, and it was good to see how things work.
They did not trap any raptors while I was down at the banding station but they did have a couple of passerines including this palm warbler. There was one young person who was in our group and we decided to let him release both birds.
There is still time to get in on the fun up at Hawk Ridge. I believe that they do education on weekends through October. If you have the opportunity then I definitely recommend the trip. If Duluth is just too far away then please consider helping them out by becoming a member or adopting a bird online.


Shelley said...

I have fallen in love with that Merlin - loved seeing your close up shots of him!

Leedra said...

These photos are great. I am glad you post daily, I love your photographs. Sometimes I think I over do it, because I have so many photographs. I hope I have enough to make it through the winter with. I probably should slow down some, and just post one a day, no matter what.