Towards the eastern edge of Skyline Parkway is Hawk’s Ridge. I’d never been before, and didn’t really know what to expect. Nate and I arrived around 10:30 to find parking already crowded along the road. Walking up from our parking place, we could already tell that this was a hot-spot for some really serious birders.
There were probably 15-20 people gathered around a trailer full of raptor-related information, guides and keepsakes. There was a sign telling us that this is a Globally Important Bird Area.
There was a wooden overlook, but signs directed people not to approach it. Two people were up there with a variety of binoculars and telescopes. And I’m not sure, but I think they might have even had tranquilizer guns lined up along the rails. One of them was using a walkie-talkie, communicating with someone at an undisclosed location.
This scene reminded me a lot of the group of khaki-hatted-geyser-enthusiasts we happened upon at Yellowstone a while back. You’ve reached a whole different level of enthusiasm when you communicate with other hobbyists via 2-way radio. I kind of find it weirdly funny, perfect material for a mockumentary, but I also have some respect for their dedication. After all, while all the busloads of tourists were gawking at Old Faithful, we never would have found the more elusive Beehive Geyser if we had not been invited to follow a group of fishing-vest-clad, notebook-toting semi-scientists. I think if I ever go back to sociology, I would definitely center my research on niche hobbyists.
Back to Hawk’s Ridge: according to their website, this lookout deck is occupied by the Hawk Counters, and they aren’t to be interrupted. “You will also notice the hawk counters at the main overlook; however, they are searching the sky & counting the thousands of raptors (and songbirds) that fly past Hawk Ridge, so please direct any questions/comments to a naturalist or a volunteer.” In other words, they are way too busy to talk to anyone but the guy on the other end of that radio. Lucky thing that the trailer was staffed by at least 4 naturalists/volunteers.
We did get to witness two people adopt and release raptors. They were pretty small little birds, about the size of an ice-cream cone. Once the birds had been banded, it was time for lots of photos before the dramatic release.
Here he goes! Everyone can barely contain their excitement!
Meanwhile, the Hawk Counters are neither interested nor phased by the releasing. Which is good, because whatever they’re up to is of Global Importance, and they shouldn’t be distracted by a group of overly animated amateurs.
Okay, I like birds. However, I think the Beehive Geyser was more exciting. According to the website: “The “Big Days”, when we can get tens of thousands of Broad-winged Hawks flying over, generally occur from September 10-25.” Really?? Tens of Thousands? We were within that time frame, and I was picturing swarms, or at least that we’d be able to see a good half-dozen of something flying. But all we saw were the two little hawklettes that someone paid to set a-flying. Is it possible that this huge number of birds is invisible to the naked eye? If we had brought along some really powerful binoculars, would we have been completely awe-struck? I don’t know, maybe.
I’m not saying Hawk’s Ridge isn’t worth visiting, though- maybe you’d have more patience to stick around and look for hawks. Or maybe, like us, you’d find the people-watching even more interesting than the potential raptor sightings.