The Talking Stick Blog

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Naturalist Blog: Hawk Watching

Can You Do This for a Job?

October 11, 2011: The naturalist workshop moved to Fort Washington State Park this week to explore the trails and to take part in the Militia Hill Hawk Watch. Volunteers at the Hawk Watch have been compiling data about the migrating raptors that fly over Fort Washington for the past 25 years. They have seen over 22,000 raptors so far this year.

Several volunteers were on the platform to greet us, and they were excitedly looking skyward as we walked up. A golden eagle happened to be overhead, a rare sighting (there have been 58 seen since 1988).

This was an exciting start to a wonderful afternoon of birding and observing the wildlife around the Hawk Watch platform. Jamie Stewart, one of the organizers of the Hawk Watch, briefed us on the basic body and wing shapes of the three main types of raptors and showed us the data sheet volunteers use to record hourly totals, as well as wind speed and direction, cloud cover, and temperature. (To see a picture of the golden eagle we saw and to see the daily hawk totals for this September and October, click here.)

Ruth Pfeffer, another volunteer, identified the feather that one of our participants found shortly after we arrived at the park. It came from a great horned owl, and Jamie told us that a pair had nested in the park this year.

For the next hour plus, I heard occasional comments of “This is so cool” amidst exclamations of spotting something in the sky or something on the ground. Thanks to the very informative hawk watch volunteers, we soon learned how to identify vultures and red-tailed hawks. While with them, we also saw a red-shouldered hawk, an immature bald eagle, and a kestrel.

When we weren’t spotting hawks, we found plenty to observe at the feeders set up below the hawk watch platform. A groundhog feasted on fallen seed, oblivious to the birds flying back and forth around him. A squirrel tried to provoke him but hopped away when the groundhog reacted. Later the groundhog hung over the edge of a birdbath to get a drink (see photo).

At the feeders, we observed sparrows, finches, titmice, blue jays, nuthatches, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers, mourning doves, and chickadees. We also saw an occasional butterfly and a chipmunk.

One participant wanted to explore the pine grove area where the great horned owls nested, so we took a quick walk through the field below the platform and found a wonderful section of pines with no understory, just a carpet of needles. When we sat down on the needles, we discovered a fungus that looks like coral. Some of us sketched it and others took photographs.

Several participants observed that this area was perfect for constructing a fairy house, and in the final ten minutes of the workshop, they worked together to assemble as much as they could of the basic structure.

All in all, a perfect afternoon of discovery!

-- Paige

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