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a blog by and for Utah Birders

Season of the Hawks

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Thursday, September 26, 2013 

Mid September means a lot of different things depending on who you ask. The leaves are changing, the days are getting shorter, there's a crispness in the evening air that says Autumn is arriving. But the one thing that makes it the most exciting is obvious. Pumpkin spice cappuccinos you're asking? No. Wrong blog for that. I'm talking about the activity that begs you to sit in the mountains all day with nothing but your binos and snacks (The Sommerfields bring at least 2 theater size Twizzlers packs so do yourself a favor and find out where they are). All you have to do is sit there with your eyes to the sky and wait for the action to come to you. I'm talking of course about Raptor migration. And this September has been as memorable as any for me. 

I spent the weekend of 9/14-9/15 hawk watching with Jerry Liguori. If you've ever watched hawks with Jerry then you know it is an incredible learning experience. He takes expertise to a level I have never witnessed. His ability to pick out distant specks and not only know what they are but be able to very clearly explain why and what he sees, is second to none. On 9/15 we went to the Goshutes HawkWatch International location in Nevada. I had never been there before and what I saw amazed me. It was about a one hour hike from the parking lot - and not by any means an easy one - up to their camp. Field techs stay up here (with some coming and going) for the whole hawkwatch season - which I'm told extends into early November. During a typical day, they set traps out using live bait (pigeons, starlings, house sparrows) so that as the raptors migrate past they may strike at the "easy" prey. Then the techs, hidden in a nearby blind are able to release traps to catch the raptors when they are striking. The techs record data, band the birds, and release them back into the wild. It is an efficient operation and they go to great care to avoid trauma as much as possible and they clearly respect the birds and their position handling them. They are very welcoming to the public and wanted to make sure I had an enjoyable experience up there. The weather was a bit cloudy for much of the day but in spite of that we saw around 80 raptors which they say is a slow day. To me it was awesome. I took a lot of pictures, some of my favorites of which I've shared below. Amongst the highlights, we saw a pair of young Northern Goshawks chasing each other around, a close zip by of a Peregrine Falcon, a Prairie Falcon that was caught and banded, and a ton of Sharpies. The best part was just being in a place where hawks were moving with a bunch of good people to watch them with and learn from. I hope to get back up there this year (and in years to come) and highly recommend visiting to all who read this.  

On 9/21, Jerry and I hosted a hawkwatch trip at Bountiful Peak. The wind was whipping and the conditions weren't great, but we saw a handful of birds with our group and everyone learned a lot and had a good time. I've also shared a couple of pictures from that trip below. 

Good Hawkwatching.   

The west view from the Goshutes

A tech teaches me how to hold a hawk with my bare hand

First time holding a hawk

Preparing to set it free

Awkward moment where I almost got taloned  

Fly Free!

Either I just released a hawk or a jump shot, not sure (Jerry Liguori in the photobomb)

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Turkey Vulture through the fog

Prairie Falcon

Northern Harrier

American Kestrel

One of the blinds 

Cooper's Hawk

The group at Bountiful Peak

The view from Bountiful Peak


Blogger Bryce said...

Glad you got to see the Goshutes Jeff. I bet it was great watching the migration with Jerry. That guy knows his raptors. More than anyone in North America. Period.

September 26, 2013 at 9:49 PM  
Blogger Jonafriendj said...

I saw in the log books that I had just barley missed you guys. What an amazing place. You got some good pictures!

September 27, 2013 at 3:24 PM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

Jeff & Bryce

I appreciate the compliment, it is very nice to hear that you regard me in that way.

September 27, 2013 at 6:07 PM  

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