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Chronicling the local hawkwatch

The fall hawkwatch season up on Pack Monadnock ends tomorrow, Nov. 15.

I don’t get up there a lot, and mostly my experience of the watch is vicarious as I read the daily narrative that Audubon’s hawkwatcher Henry Walters files along with the daily count data.

This is the third year that Henry has staffed the hawkwatch, and he has earned a following for his narratives as well as his hawk-spotting skills and good company.

Here are some Henry reports from the season soon to end — excerpts only. The full reports are available at www.hawkcount.org under Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory.

Sept. 1. “Hawkwatchers took up arms against the encroaching spruces and felled a few, preserving the view from the Observatory platform for another year. Many thanks as well to Rick Blanchette and his sawyers from Friends of the Wapack.” (Rain and fog / 1 Broad-winged Hawk counted.)

Sept. 12. “Steam, followed by thunderstorms, followed by sun, followed by drenching rain. Sky threw the book at us today. No chance to see anything.”

Sept. 15 (1,083 hawks). “On a day when 14,500 Broad-wings were seen 30 miles to our south, our 1,000-plus might seem like short change, but they were beauties, every one. The flight was not high, despite the sunshine, and multiple kettles formed just in front of us or right above, birds pulled up overhead in twos and threes and 10s. If you’ve watched your windshield blown dry in an automatic car wash, you’ve got the right image.”

Sept. 17 (2,837 hawks). “Better than the murmurs and shouts, the ‘Ooo-eee’s and ‘Oh wow’s, were the rapt silences that settled over all assembled, watching the Broad-wings build in a thermal like a thunderhead. Standing there one beside another, being dumbstruck all together, feeling the place and moment come to a head in a single pocket of sky, we made a swirling, buoyant lift of our own.”

Sept. 19 (1,900 hawks). “Learned raptor biologists disguised as sixth-graders from Mountain Shadows School of Dublin sorted out the accipiters from the buteos, took detailed notes on the weather, sketched the lay of the land, and whooped like the banshee when a kettle of Broad-wings appeared in the east.”

Sept. 27 (237 hawks). “It was decided that today we would honor the Spanish language by calling out all birds in that loving tongue. None of the hawkwatchers could claim to be fluent, but, incredibly, we had surprise visitors in the course of the afternoon from Valencia (Spain), Guatemala, and Puerto Rico. (Join us next Friday when we celebrate the scientific tradition by calling out all birds in Latin. Pope Francis is expected to make an appearance and feed the birds. Study up.)”

Oct. 1 (91 hawks). “Spaghetti Westerns, spineless Congressmen, and the sourdough pancakes of one’s Alaskan boyhood were topics broached in the lulls between birds.”

Oct. 8 (191 hawks). “What impeccable timing for the day’s sixth Peregrine Falcon, reflective moon in late-afternoon light, being also Pack’s 10,000th migrant raptor of the fall. (That’s the number the Chinese pick when they’re looking to invoke Infinity.) Raptors without end — collectively, and each by each, spanning two hemispheres, of Earth, of mind.”

Oct. 17 (36 hawks). “First bird of the morning, putting a rent in seven feet of sky, a sub-adult Golden Eagle worked its way toward us at close range, golden hackles catching the light just right. The bird battled the wind well to within a few hundred yards of the peak before sinking down to ride the ridge below eye-level and out of sight. The only thing that felt wrong was the lovely weather: ‘We didn’t suffer enough for that one,’ said Al.”

Oct. 23 (61 hawks). “Late-season buteos taking control of the skies: Red-tails with heads glancing this way and that, their bodies trued to their one southward bearing; Red-shoulders stretching their wings forward like celebrities trying to quiet an adoring crowd. Great day for Cooper’s Hawks as well, individually and in pairs: one dive-bombing a harrier, another harassing a Red-shoulder, and a third, a young bird, being pursued at full tilt by a raven for more than a mile across the horizon.”

Nov. 1 (1 hawk). “Powerful wind and rain this morning, knocking down a couple large spruces across the auto road. A single sharp-shin thrown backward like leaf-litter. A mystery how he got up so high in the first place.”

Nov. 3 (81 hawks). “The west wind blew straight out of Idaho today and with it a record-tying three golden eagles. All sub-adults and all excellent looks. But how many Goldens would you trade for a record-breaking Red-tailed Hawk day? We had 68 — breaking the Pack record by 15! — all of them with places to be, getting out of town before their meals freeze like gingerbread cookies in the cold wind.”

Nov. 11 (11 hawks). “Snow-capped Lafayette winked on and off like a lighthouse beacon as the sun came and went ... Adult and immature Bald Eagles, the latter caught on camera staring over his shoulder at us, as if to say, ‘And you, shivering there, won’t you be coming, too?’”

Another season comes to a close, honoring the wild ones.

Backyard Birder by Francie Von Mertens appears every other week in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

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