The thrill of bird watching in autumn might suddenly arrive from over the horizon when any number of a wide variety of raptors appears in flights of migration, taking wing a day or two after the arrival of a high pressure system and cold front and driven by a northwesterly wind.
The sight of their soaring numbers to catch a ride on thermals rising up from Earth warmed with the morning sun is easily recognized as the iconic migrating pilgrimage.
The peak performance in numbers and variety of species can include a number of hawk varieties including the Cooper’s hawk, red-tailed, red-shouldered, rough-legged, Northern harriers, and fish hawks like the osprey — the subject of my drawing as seen from the view of nesting towers outside my living room window.
Often the best viewing time is after 8:00 in the morning, seen from a high hill or a prominent point such as my new home right on the shoreline of Buzzards Bay. I will be the first to know when migration begins for the osprey family there on the tall wooden platform where all summer long we have enjoyed watching a fledgling raised by two parents, fed by the mother with food brought by the father.
The most important of all for the fledgling has been learning to fly by imitation and to fend for itself in preparation for a migration journey of up to 2,500 miles or more. When that time comes with the dawn of the first day, as in my illustration, it is my opinion the fledgling will take a cue from the mother as she normally departs before her mate and may not be joined with him until next spring.
Today, technology makes it easier to follow the path of migrating birds because satellite and G.P.S. are gradually replaced by new monitoring and cellular tags that get smaller and lighter every year, thanks to battery improvements and solar powered options. Tracking the first movement of a fledgling may be erratic as they often first experiment and explore the neighborhood with a test of wings in distance and direction to get back home.
Traditional stopping points along the Atlantic Flyway have been tracked to be first along the Connecticut shoreline near Old Lyme, then past the mouth of the Hudson River toward Sandy Point, New Jersey, and ultimately a major build up in numbers at Cape May, New Jersey, similar to other hawk migrations.
After crossing the Chesapeake and further south past the Florida Everglades and Key West, the resolve in direction and distance seems to have wavered and waned in recent years, possibly due to global climate change. Some are now spotted staying for the winter in the wetlands of Cuba, but others still go as far as along the Amazon River in Brazil or even in Venezuela.
Such monitoring of migration movements and patterns may very well shed light on measurement of the variation and environmental health of raptor populations.
For the rest of us who remain satisfied to stay where we are, we are content enough to be rewarded by observing the dramatic daily deciduous transformation.
Looking skyward often reminds me of the prayer “I shall lift mine eyes unto the hills, whence cometh my help“, and this experience may be amplified with a good pair of binoculars.
Recently across Little Bay in Fairhaven, there appeared in the distance the seasonal vision of hundreds of hawks circling together until boiling up to dissipate into the distance. As in the
nostalgic seasonal refrain “the falling leaves drift past my window”, looking across the water where changing tides measure the transition in time, the end of one planetary cycle in the heavens leads to the beginning of another on Earth, soon to be anticipated and celebrated in keeping with the coming holidays.
By George B. Emmons