And Then – There Were Hawks
By: Nan Dietert
By: Nan Dietert
It was Friday, about 12 o’clock, noon, and we were at Indian Point Park on the edge of Corpus Christi Bay showing a few birds to a friend. We had already loaded up and we were driving out of the park. Our friend was “quite taken” with the Great Blue Herons, so we stopped to observe a young second year bird who was putting on quite a show. Realizing that he could “push” four White Ibis off of his hunting grounds by crouching, flaring out his wings, lofting all his feathers to become larger than life, and walking toward his unwelcome neighbors in a threatening manner, he managed to control an entire small peninsula of land. Full of pride, he suddenly came to a halt, craned his head over to one side – and turning an eye skyward – froze. “What is he looking at?” I exclaimed. I couldn’t see over the roof of the car, but finally I got my head out of the window far enough to see a large kettle of hawks above us. “Out of the car, out of the car, everyone get out of the car as fast as you can!” I hollered. Our friend was hopelessly trapped in her seat belt, but finally managed a fairly graceful exit. Directly above us, was a kettle of a hundred and twenty Broad-winged Hawks and about twenty-four Anhingas. They were kettling, as hawk watchers call it – swirling around in a thermal or a rising column of hot air – trying to gain height. They were too far to the south. They had ridden a slightly unfavorable current too long and now they were caught on the edge of the bay. There are no thermals over large bodies of water and most hawks avoid the water by seeking routes that steer them well clear of it. But these had misjudged. They were seeking altitude and an upper air stream with a more westerly or northwesterly course. When they got further inland, they would seek another thermal and find another stream of air heading south again. We were the recipients of their miscalculation. Usually you must travel farther inland yourself, to have a good chance of seeing migrating raptors and that’s precisely what was scheduled for the next day.
Saturday, September 26 was the annual Hawk Migration Trip on the Fennessey Ranch. Located just six miles south of Refugio and situated along the Mission River, it is on the main flyway for migrating raptors.
Saturday’s weather seemed favorable; we were still on the heels of a cold-front. We started the morning off in a wetland and quickly spotted an adult Bald Eagle only a few hundred feet away. It was the first one seen on the ranch since our successful breeding pair left in early April. It was a good beginning and I hoped a good omen. By 9 AM the thermals were beginning to rise and we headed towards the river. As we drove, we began to discover roosting Broad-winged Hawks. Just a few at first, and then swarms of them began to lift-off and rise. They formed kettles and began to stream-out as they found their train rides south. They were all around us. Which way to look was the question? To stop or to move to more open ground was the problem. “How to estimate…?” I asked myself. Less than a thousand – would be my gut feeling. That Saturday, somewhere between five to eight hundred Broad-winged Hawks had spent the night along the Mission River on the Fennessey Ranch and lifted-off on top of us! Folks, it doesn’t get much better than that! Go birding!