Day By Day

Friday, October 21, 2005

A Day On Hawk Mountain

On Wednesday “She Who Must Not Be Named” had a girl’s day out. It started early in the morning when she and a few friends went walking and talking on a course a few miles from our place. Then immediately she got home, she and some other women took off for lunch. Lunch! At 8:30 am? Well…, yes. A group of them drove about a hundred miles to eat in a restaurant located in a major upscale shopping area not far from Philly. The lunch was just an excuse for a shopping trip. They drove and talked, and ate and talked, and mostly they shopped and talked. What, I wondered, did they find to talk about?

She didn’t get home until about 7:30 pm., and was still on a shopping buzz and, incidentally, eager to discuss some home improvement ideas she had picked up [so that’s what they were talking about]. The upshot of it is, she wants a new counter top in the kitchen and a new hardwood floor in the living/dining rooms. To pay for them she’s willing to give up the trip to Australia and New Zealand to visit her sister. Done! Sold! Some people enjoy travel. I don’t. To me traveling is an endless sequence of expensive annoyances. Don’t get me wrong. I like being elsewhere, and I like her sister. It’s just the getting there and getting back that bothers me.

So what did I do while she talked and shopped and planned?

Wednesday was a beautiful day. Bright sun, temps in the seventies, pretty good visibility, strong breeze, fall foliage coming out – a perfect day for a boy [OK, an old man] and his camera.

In the morning I drove down to the Schuylkill and walked along its banks for a while photographing trees and streams. At the time I thought the pictures would be spectacular – they weren’t. Cameras just can’t catch the subtleties of light and depth that your eyes see. Everything looked dull and flat compared to actually being there.

Then, since it was nearby, I traipsed along the Appalachian Trail for a while and took a few shots. Nothing particularly good, though.

Finally I headed for Hawk Mountain for some hot raptor action and found it!

Wednesday was a great day for birding. We are now well into the migration season for eastern raptors. Different birds migrate at different times, and right now is the peak for sharpies [sharp-shinned hawks] and Coopers hawks. The sanctuary lies right smack-dab along the migration route where two mountain ranges converge, and on a good day you can see thousands of raptors and other assorted species. Wednesday was fair to middling.

I drove up to the summit, found a place to park [not easy during migration season, but possible on a weekday], renewed my membership, and hit the trails. Stopped for a while at the South lookout to chat with a few people I knew from past seasons. One thing about birding is that it attracts really nice people. Everybody was enjoying themselves. Then I headed for the fabled North Lookout. Funny, the express route seemed a lot steeper than I remembered from past seasons. I was huffing and puffing when I got to the top. Maybe I’m just getting old. Nah!

The place was packed. Lots of people having a wonderful time staring off into the sky. Here’s a picture [above]. No sooner had I got there than a bald eagle plowed by on the left. Good omen! I settled in and started to scan the sky. There were lots of birds, but they were flying individually – not in clusters like broad-wings. That meant that for long stretches of time you had to stay alert. Around two in the afternoon even the pros who were keeping an official count were getting frustrated. As one woman put it – “too many damn birds going too many directions.” Fortunately, there were plenty of eyes looking for them, and there was a constant stream of calls – “bird over Hunters, moving fast”; bird over Donut”; “sharpie below the horizon, slope of one”; “bird two glasses up over Pinnacle”. And with each call the pros or talented amateurs would identify the species and record it.

There were slack periods too, when people could sit and chat. Hawk Mountain at migration time attracts hard core birders from all over the world and it is interesting to listen in as people recount spectacular sightings they had in Botswana, in Mexico, in Wyoming, in British Columbia and elsewhere. A couple of well-traveled gentlemen got into a long debate as to which continent had the ugliest vultures. They finally agreed on Africa.

There were a couple of memorable sightings. One bald eagle flew by no more than a hundred feet in front of the lookout, taking his time and giving us a good look. There were lots of bugs in the air too, so we had several chances to watch sharpies darting around snapping them up. Not everyone was enthralled. Once, after a sharpie suddenly came up out of nowhere and passed about twenty feet directly over me, I heard a voice from behind say, “Wow, honey, did you see that?” to which a woman replied wearily, “you look at the birds dear, I’ll look later.” I looked back to see a man staring raptly into the sky while beside him a woman stretched out [uncomfortably, I would think] over the rocks, hat pulled down over her face, trying to catch some Z’s. A couple hours later, as I was leaving, I saw her doing an exercise routine while her companion still sat immobile, raptly scanning the skies.

Different folks…, different strokes.

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