Last Thursday I put on my long underwear for the first time this fall. I wasn't searching for the first patch of snow to ski on or trying to get to Cutthroat Pass on my mountain bike for one last time this season. I was going to Chelan Ridge as part of a Methow Conservancy field trip to witness the great hawk migration that has been observed by Kent Woodruff and his field crew for the past 17 years. As Kent will mention, it has actually been occurring for more than 17 years (maybe 17,000 years?), but we have only been observing and counting the birds as they begin their arduous journey in relatively recent times.
|Jane's injured merlin found in a road.|
The field trip had an unusual beginning with member Jane Gilbertsen showing up at the TwispWorks parking lot with a small cowering raptor in a cat carrier. She had rescued what was determined to be an injured adult female merlin from the middle of East County Road. Merlins are small falcons that inhabit northern forests and plains and are approximately the size of pigeons. This particular merlin was a dark rich chocolate brown on its back and cap with brown streaks across her chest, which is typical coloring for the female. A male would be more of a slate blue across his back and cap. The little merlin was fed some fresh elk meat, which she ate voraciously. She was ultimately sent in a convoy down to WSU to hopefully be rehabilitated by specialists.
Following the winding bumpy Black Canyon Road up to Chelan Ridge at almost 6,000 feet in elevation, the tour began with a hike up towards the high observation points where biologists are staked out all day to identify and count individual birds. After discussing the joint program between Hawkwatch International and the U.S. Forest Service that has collected invaluable qualitative and quantitative data about these birds, the group made its way towards the blinds. There are two blinds on Chelan Ridge where other biologists utilize an intricate system of nets and lures to attract migrating hawks. When hawks have been captured in the nests, valuable information is documented about not only their gender and species, but also their size and body condition. They are banded around their leg with a metal band that has a uniquely coded stamp that can be interpreted through a database by any birders or biologists in North or South America.
|Chelan Ridge educator Carla Jo with a "sharpie"|
The first bird captured in the blind on Thursday was a sharp-shinned hawk. "Sharpies" are an accipiter and the smallest hawks to reside in North America. Their preferred habitat is broad-leafed or coniferous forests. Often mistaken for their larger cousin, the Cooper's hawk, the compact sharpies are the size of doves and fly with what looks like "shrugged shoulders".
Carla Jo showing the wingspan of the northern goshawk
The final highlight of this exciting day came when the biologists in the blind presented a northern goshawk, a relatively uncommon bird to be caught on Chelan Ridge. The goshawk is a very powerful raptor of northern forests. Despite the fact that it is the largest of the accipiters, goshawks can fly with great agility through dense stands of trees, taking prey as large as snowshoe hares or merlins. Northern goshawks are often used in falconry and revered in many cultures as a sign of strength. Attila the Hun was claimed to have worn the image of a goshawk on his helmet.
It was a wonderful way to spend a fall day with Methow Conservancy supporters and the inspiring and committed biologists that are a part of the Chelan Ridge Hawk Watch project. Their intimate knowlege of their subjects and their infectious attitudes as enthusiastic interpreters made our experience even more enjoyable.
|Fieldtrip participant, David, preparing to release a goshawk.|
|Fieldtrip participant, Helmet preparing to release a sharp-shinned hawk.|