Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Hawk Ridge

Today, for the first time in my life, I volunteered to take an hour bus ride with 27 fifth graders on a field trip. I was doing it for my own selfish reasons, however. After all, we were going to Hawk Ridge, a nationally known birding area that, although it is so close, I had never visited during fall migration.

The good folks at Hawk Ridge have a program where they come to fourth grade classes in the spring and give talks about raptors, usually showing a captive owl or two. Then in the fall, they invite the fifth grade classes, all expenses paid, to come to Hawk Ridge to see migrating raptors and hopefully, get to see a banded one being released.

We got really lucky. We got to see not one, but two juvenile sharp shinned hawks, about the size of blue jays, be released after banding. One lucky girl from the class got to hold the first hawk and release it. The look on her face was precious.

Isn't that bird just a beauty? Those talons, that look in its eyes. I had only seen one or two sharp shinned hawks in my life, so this was a real treat.

The funny thing was, they keep the birds in a cylindrical container after banding to keep them calm. The cylindrical container this bird was held in was...

...two very old STEEL beer cans, Red White and Blue brand, duct taped together!

Both hawks flew away rapidly, apparently glad to flee their recycled confines.

During the course of the class, I kept scanning the skies with my binoculars and was amazed at how many hawks appeared, soaring, riding the thermals. I could hardly tell species, even with binoculars, but there were quite a few accipiters, probably mostly sharp shinned hawks judging by size, and a few buteos. I did learn a bit about how to identify groups of hawks by their flight patterns, and also how they managed to count individual hawks flying over. Apparently there is one narrow point where they leave the thermals, and at this point they fly by in almost a straight line, so individuals can be counted, and presumably identified by experts.

And I kept looking over Lake Superior. The sky was cloudy, and the lake a steel blue gray in sharp contrast to the warm fall colors around the shore. It was beautiful, but as I got my camera out to take a picture, I got the dreaded "replace batteries NOW" message. My replacement batteries, which I had grabbed off my desk at work without testing, did not work either. Rats.

All in all, I thought it was a great field trip and a wonderful opportunity for the kids. But...I was the only parent who went along. I thought other, more normal parents went on class field trips all the time. Was I wrong in that assumption, or do most parents simply not care about anything to do with nature?


Lynne said...

You were the only parent that went? Are you kidding me? I would have given anything to join my kids on a trip like that. I did as many field trips as I could when the kids were younger. I'll miss you on Saturday but I'm glad you got to go with Calvin. I can't wait!

LBP said...

Hello! I just stumbled onto your blog and have had lovely time reading through your posts!

I too, am a gardner in SW Virginia.

Nice to "meet" you! :)

momadness said...

Deb, that was so interesting. The hawks are super. Do you know here in kc a nature center had to superglue feathers from one horned owl into another one whose flight feathers had been damaged-possibly by chemical sludge, (oh Jeez)-they also used bamboo shoots, but it was successful and they let him go just a day or two ago and he was fine. I was so glad!

Deb said...

Lynne- I thought there might be at least one or two parents like you in a class of 27! I can't believe I was the only one. I did my part in the learning process by pointing out, as the naturalist was explaining how to identify vultures, that there were a few of them circling just behind here.

I'm half entertaining the idea of taking all three kids up to Hawk Ridge on Saturday, while The Hermit is out in a duck blind. It would be fun to run into each other up there!

LBP- Nice to meet you too! Stop by anytime and make yourself comfortable here! :)

Momadness- Sounds kinda like Red Green meets raptor rehabilitation--minus the duct tape. Glad the owl turned out okay!

Actually, if I had followed my first passion in biology, I would probably be up there at Hawk Ridge banding raptors, instead of stocking walleyes. Maybe in a second life.

Larry said...

That's great to be able to go on a field trip that was just as interesting to you as it was to the kids.-I'm glad to see that they chose such a program for a field trip.-Hopefully it is planting seeds for the future of the children.

Deb said...

Larry- We are very fortunate that Hawk Ridge got a generous grant for this school program...our district is really strapped for funds, so any field trip with all expenses paid is attractive. I saw some looks of wonder in those kids, and I hope it grows. My own son, he already knows I'm a bird nut and birding is just a way of life around here. :)

Thunder Dave said...

What a pretty bird!
I remember my first field trip as a parent. It was a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo. That was a while ago though, thanks for bringing the memory back to me!

Deb said...

Thunder Dave- I think I was perfectly matched for this field trip. That sharp shinned hawk was beautiful.