Was it a dream that I saw more Rough-legged Hawks in one day than I'll probably ever see again in a year? Was it my imagination that I watched them soar and hover, glide and hang, showing off their magnificent hunting prowess? Raptors that were tiny blips in my binoculars, invisible to the naked eye, became clear within the focus of a borrowed spotting scope*. Will I be able to retain the memory of these beauties, so that if perchance I see one again I will be able to identify it? Yes, I and my birding friends watched these hawks steer with their wings and stall with their tails, their heads constantly in motion, scanning the ground below for prey. Yes, I pondered the fact that we needed high-powered magnification devices to be able to see them well from afar, to make out their field marks and their coloring, all the while knowing that the eyesight of these avian masterpieces was probably far better than any of our scopes.
Light-morph Rough-legged Hawk hunting over open field near the Wilds in Cumberland, Ohio. Black "wrist" patches are the diagnostic field mark of this raptor.
The wind and the cold of the day was real - yes, I remember that. And we all stood outside and endured it, dashing from one location to the next, hopping in and out of our cars, all for the chance to see something as wonderful as a Bald Eagle, for the faintest hope of seeing a Golden Eagle. Being that it was my second Bald Eagle sighting in a week, it made up for missing out on the Golden. Sweet little Bluebirds brightened the dreary landscape, of that I am sure. Later, a Northern Shrike echoed the slate gray sky. How gratifying that the last bird seen on this trip was an addition to my life list, a wonderful way to close out the day.
Birders braving the cold - hardy souls, every one of them. A total of 120 such hardy souls gathered together on this day.
Birding Saturday morphed into Birding Sunday when I awoke to fill the feeders and stood outside for thirty-plus minutes, listening to the birds wake up. The songs of Tufted Titmice and Eastern Towhees rang clear and strong, and White-breasted Nuthatches surrounded me on all sides. It had the faintest feel of a summer dawn chorus, and reminded me that I should get up early more often. A Carolina Wren approached me cautiously, curiously, wanting to sample the bird dough that I had just put out, but not quite trusting enough to come to it while I was standing so close at hand.
Out the door I went after lunch, down the road to help a friend with his work at banding his feeder birds*. We recorded data that will contribute to his ongoing research, and I got to learn about aging and sexing Goldfinches, the proper way to release a bird, and how cranky birds can get when they get caught in a mist net, among other things.
The crankiest of them all still seems like a figment of my imagination. Her high-pitched squeals of displeasure echo in my mind, a sound I'll not soon forget.
Getting toes untangled. Who's foot could this be?
One unhappy Pileated Woodpecker, cursing the net that caught her
One thing I already knew to be true, without anyone having to teach it to me - the experience of a bird in the hand is priceless, no matter how fleeting.
American Goldfinch and Dark-eyed Junco being held in "photographer's pose."
* My heartfelt thanks go out to Julie Z. for letting me use her extra scope whilst birding at the Wilds, and to Bob P. for letting me observe and participate in his weekly banding effort. And thanks to ALL of my birding friends who are helping nature become a bigger and better part of my life.