Each spring and fall, at hundreds of sites across North America, volunteers participate in hawk watches. Despite the name, it is not only hawks that are observed, but all day-time raptors, including hawks, eagles, falcons, vultures, kites and Osprey.
It has been known for some time, that in particular locations certain features of geography result in concentrations of migrating raptors. Most raptors are well equipped for gliding, which is most efficient on rising air currents. The geography creates such currents and the raptors are able to read the landscape and chose the most efficient routes.
Many of these sites are situated where the prevailing winds encounter a mountain ridge which forces the air upward. In places where such geography is scarce, the raptors will alter course to ensure making full use of those that are available, thus concentrating them in these locations.
Unfortunately, in B.C., there are many such ridges, and this concentration effect is not as pronounced. I have been unable to locate any raptor concentrations around Nakusp.
Near Castlegar, however, the terrain is a little more open and offers fewer options to the migrating raptors. Robson resident, Michael McMann has been observing raptors in and around Castlegar for several years and he has located two or three good hawk watch sites.
A couple of weeks ago, I went down to spend a few hours with him at one of these sites. We went to the site, not far from the Castlegar airport, and made ourselves comfortable. We had chairs, binoculars, spotting scopes, and of course, lunch!
Unlike some of the other migrating birds that seem to be in a hurry to get to their wintering grounds, raptors move in a fairly leisurely manner. If weather and flying conditions aren’t to their liking, then they simply stop and wait till tomorrow.
If hawk watchers pick the wrong day, it can be pretty boring staring up at empty skies. But Michael has been studying the weather patterns and how they affect migration conditions; he was fairly confident we would see some birds this day, but he didn’t expect it to be as good as some.
It was 10:00 a.m. when we got out of the cars and began the watch. By noon we had 11 raptors on our list, not fabulous, but at least we weren’t getting skunked! Things picked up slightly over the next couple of hours, and by 2:00 p.m. we had seen 40. While this number is not exceptional, one particular bird made the whole day worthwhile.
At about 1:30 we had a small hawk in our scopes. It was shaped similarly to a Red-tailed Hawk, but seemed too small. After watching it for a few seconds, it banked and prominent tail bands became evident. Immediately we knew we had a Broad-winged Hawk.
In eastern North America this is a common hawk, but not so in the west. I have seen this species only once before in B.C.
Over the four hour period that we watched, we saw the following species: Sharp-shinned Hawk – 10; Cooper’s Hawk – 9; Red-tailed Hawk – 6; Turkey Vulture – 3; Northern Goshawk – 2; Northern Harrier – 1; Merlin – 1; Peregrine Falcon – 1; Broad-winged Hawk – 1; plus 5 others that were a little too distant to accurately indentify.
Now, if I could only find a site closer to Nakusp……….