Hawk Watching September 26, 2009Posted by ourfriendben in critters, wit and wisdom.
Tags: autumn migration, Hawk Mountain, hawks, poems, raptors
This is the time of the great autumn migration, when hawks, eagles, falcons, and other birds (and monarch butterflies) migrate in their thousands over the Kittatinny Ridge in Pennsylvania on their long flight south for the winter. At Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, which is part of the Kittatinny Ridge, on a good day you can see an awe-inspiring number of thrilling birds of prey (collectively known as raptors), and it’s always exciting to see the monarchs drift past like flakes of living fire.
The reason the raptors and others follow the Kittatinny like an aerial road is that the ridge produces thermals, currents of warm air that can bear the birds and butterflies along almost effortlessly. They can glide on the thermals rather than having to constantly flap their wings, so by riding the thermals they save precious energy for the arduous flight.
To see a raptor swept up by a thermal is amazing. You’re watching a hawk, let’s say, flying along, when it suddenly shoots up into the air, in seconds becoming a mere speck in the sky before disappearing from view completely. Whoa! Where did it go?!!
Another thing about birds of prey: Like people, they have what are known as sighted brains, because for both, sight is the primary sense and it’s through sight that we receive most of our information. Sitting at North Lookout, the highest overview at Hawk Mountain, and looking way, way out at the patchwork of farms and forest spreading out below, our friend Ben can only imagine the scene from a hawk’s eye view.
One last thing before we get to the “art part” of this post: Much of the language used about raptors dates back to the days of falconry. When a falcon or other bird of prey drops down from the sky onto its prey, it’s said to “stoop.”
This poem commemorates a beloved relative who, in the autumn of the year, made the final migration that awaits us all.
(Once again, sorry about the spacing between lines. I don’t know why WordPress does this or how to fix it. Please bear with me!)
Through the sighted brain of a bird,
Movement or light, pressure of wind
Carries you to my boundaries.
Over ragged amaranth stalks
A Cooper’s hawk circles and stoops.
Now that the ground is conversational
And trees have lost all but the highest tones,
You’re brought to mind, stark Northern bird
Swept on the ridge and hurled
Up the warm air from this sighted world.