I don’t know if I’ll ever learn to identify raptors.
I look through the raptors on my life list — red-tailed hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, broad-winged hawk and a few others — and most of them are on the list only because they were pointed out by one of the experts at the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory.
In some cases, I might have seen the raptor on my own, but I never would have been able to identify it.
More often, Erik Bruhnke, or one of the other naturalists, has spotted the bird long before I knew it existed and identified it when it still wasn’t much more than a speck in the horizon.
“There’s a red-tailed hawk,” he’ll alert visitors, and then offer precise directions about where to point our binoculars and spotting scopes.
Such was the case on Monday, when I paid a midmorning visit to Hawk Ridge. The largest waves of migrating hawks have passed through, but there’s still plenty of activity. And I had hopes of seeing one of the later migrants: a northern goshawk or golden eagle.
One of my many failings as a birder is a lack of patience. There wasn’t much going on when I arrived, and I got itchy feet. So I spent 90 minutes or so hiking the trails that wind around Hawk Ridge and connect it to Amity Creek and still more trails.
When I got back to the ridge around noon, things had picked up. Erik quickly pointed out a bald eagle, followed by two or three red-tails, and a broad-winged hawk and a sharp-shinned hawk, as well as a flock of robins hurrying through.
Two or three more red-tails would come through every minute or so.
I asked Erik about northern goshawks and golden eagles. They were on my list because I’d never seen either one. Yes, northern goshawks could definitely be seen at this time of October, he said. Peak time for golden eagles is around Halloween.
Like the hawks, I was thinking about lunch, and I started to head toward my car. But I was still within earshot when I heard Erik say, “Northern goshawk overhead.”
I looked up, and by this time it was directly over my head, and clearly visible to the naked eye. My first impression was that it was flying lower and faster than the other raptors I’d seen. It made me think of an arrow shot from a bow. This probably isn’t what I would think if I were more familiar with northern goshawks, but it’s what first came to mind.
I circled back to the group, and a young woman spotted a second goshawk following the same course.
So in about 30 minutes spent actually on the ridge, I saw one lifer, twice.
Here’s a photo of a northern goshawk from the National Audubon Society:
Naturalists and volunteers are at Hawk Ridge daily through Oct. 31. You can learn more about it here:
And while you’re at it, you can learn about Erik Bruhnke’s Naturally Avian birding tours and photography here:
Your bird photos and stories always welcome at: firstname.lastname@example.org.