Monday, 11 May 2009

HawkWatch, Golden Gate

Turkey Vulture

I have surveyed raptors too. The fall, as the Americans call it (and we used to), of 2002 found me on Hawk Hill in the company of a diverse crew, all looking for that speck on the horizon to turn into another blip on the ever-rising tally of birds migrating south. I had acquired the taste for this back in 1997 on a visit to Derby Hill near Oswego, NY. Then, I merely observed the participants calling out “Sharpie”, “TV” or whatever at the speck’s appearance. I asked one of them how he could be so sure. “Oh, it gets easier after the first million,” he replied.

Now it was my turn but I still needed a good binocular-filling view to be sure of my identification. We watched north, east, west and, less logically, south. One person recorded each quadrant and several scanned. Frequently the fifth quadrant, straight overhead, caught us out. How could any bird sneak up to take us so unawares?

On the days that weren't fogbound, that is. This being San Francisco we had a couple of sock-ins early in the season. Then there was nothing for it but to bird the Marin Headlands and Rodeo Lagoon.

We had some highlights, mainly among the passerines. The first August watch produced western tanager and the second elegant tern. We also had a broad-winged hawk and a regular white turkey vulture. But it was the constant passage of these winged killers that seemed most impressive of all – so far to go, and all of it to do back again in the spring.

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