The return of familiar songs and soaring

Adult male Red-winged Blackbird

There was snow on the ground yesterday morning but today started out warmer than it had been for the last week and it just got better from there! The forecast calls for 50’s and 60’s all week with plenty of sunshine and the occasional rain. Rain is fine because we need it for things to start growing and to wash off the roads that are still white with salt.

When Jaycie and I headed out for the bus this morning there was a hawk soaring in the sky and he glided from west to east upon the breeze as we watched. I told her that I gauge the arrival of spring by when I see the first turkey vulture because they don’t stick around our area all winter. When turkey vultures return and start gliding through the skies on their huge wings searching for roadkill and carcasses, then I believe that spring is truly on its way.

Turkey vulture

A few hours after Jaycie got on the bus, a turkey vulture soared over the trees across the road and I smiled feeling as if the universe had heard my words this morning. Now that I’ve seen those familiar scavengers soaring in the sky I’m certain that spring is coming and that this nice weather isn’t just some cruel trick. I spent the morning working on my writing projects inside but by noon, I couldn’t resist the call of the beautiful outdoors any longer. I got Jazzmin strapped in her backpack, tied up my sneakers and grabbed a light sweatshirt because while it was 53, the wind gusts were making it a bit cool to go without a coat.

As Jazzmin and I walked, I heard the familiar songs of birds that had returned from their winter vacation to the south. I heard the songs of robins, red-winged blackbirds and killdeers. Although the “Winter Wonderland” song states “gone away is the bluebird” a few of my bluebirds never left and I heard their song all winter long. Now that it’s warmer, there will be more bugs around for the bluebirds to eat and they will be more plentiful,  which always makes me happy.

Eastern Bluebird

I feel a special connection to all the birds that frequent my feeders through the winter and into the spring and who make their homes on my property. Just through watching and listening to the birds in my yard an on our walks, I’ve learned to identify various species by their song, size and plumage. Quite often I hear birds but don’t see them and I feel a small surge of satisfaction that I can recognize them just by their song. I’m still not good at identifying the different types of hawks I see around because they’re not really fond of close observation, but eventually I’ll sort them out too.

Northern Goshawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Sharp-shinned hawk

Red-shouldered hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Right now I’m just enjoying the return of the familiar songs and soaring of spring!

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Counting Hawks

red tailed hawk in flight

Ever since my father died in 2009, I’ve paid close attention to the sky. I think of him and miss him every time I see the moon because it was special to both of us. Sometimes when I see it in the sky I say, “Hey, Dad” and smile because I know he’s listening.

I also look to the sky for something else: hawks. For me, hawks are a sign that my father, my ancestors, and the universe are watching over me, guiding me, and helping me on my path. I often ask to see a hawk sitting or flying as an answer to a specific question or problem I’m having and quite often, I see the hawk in response. Sometimes I see hawks when I’m feeling especially down and just the sight of their powerful, regal, feathered form is enough to reassure me that the universe hasn’t abandoned me.

While I’ve paid closer attention to seeing hawks and purposely started looking for them over the past few years, it wasn’t until last spring that I decided to start counting how many I see a day. I tend to see more when I’m out driving, but there are days when they fly right over my front yard at the exact moment I look out the window and to me, that’s never coincidence. In the summer when I’m working at my desk, I have the window next to me open and I quite often hear a hawk cry in the sky and I then go dashing out onto my deck. When I look up, I quickly see the hawk (sometimes there’s more than one) and I thank them for making themselves known to me.

In my years of hawk spotting, I’ve learned to tell the difference between hawks, crows, and turkey vultures. They each have a unique shape, size and style of flying. While many people seem to mistake turkey vultures for eagles due to their size, I know by now that most clusters of broad-winged, soaring birds in this region are turkey vultures. It’s amazing what one can learn just by looking up into the sky every day.

I see the highest number of hawks when I’m driving out to New England on my road trips. I’m sure that has to do with it being an almost 7-hour drive over 420 miles, much of it through heavily treed and hilly terrain. Last summer, the most hawks I saw was around 20 during the drive out with my girls in August for our vacation on Plum Island. Seeing 20 hawks felt pretty impressive to me and I figured that was probably the highest number I’d ever see. My most recent trip to New England proved me wrong.

As I headed out last Wednesday morning to drop Jazzmin at the boarders before getting on the thruway, I didn’t see any hawks until I realized I’d forgotten my ticket to the MCNAA Anniversary Dinner and turned around to return home. Shortly after I turned onto my unexpected detour home, I saw a hawk sitting in a tree and I knew that for whatever reason, I was meant to go back home. Later on in that same return trip home I drove by an open field and saw three hawks circling together above it. I’m certain that my unexpected delay happened for a reason and that it was protecting me from something that would’ve happened if I’d remembered the ticket and not had to double back.

Once I had the ticket, I headed back out, dropped Jazzmin off, grabbed my usual Dunkin Donuts coffee and breakfast sandwich, and got onto the thruway heading east. Shortly after I merged into traffic, a great blue heron flew lazily above me and I took that as a good omen that I was heading out at just the right time. Within a half hour of driving, I saw my first hawk and the counting continued.

I drive past Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge on my trip and while I usually see geese, ducks, and perhaps a heron, I’ve never seen anything that I couldn’t see just by looking out my back window at home. As I neared the refuge, I saw a bird with a large wing span fly over the overpass, through the trees and into the refuge area and I thought at first that it was a heron. Driving closer, I realized it didn’t have the long neck of a heron and I could tell by the way that it was flying that it wasn’t a turkey vulture either. Much to my thrilled amazement, I realized by its wing span and shape that it was an eagle of some type, either a golden eagle or a juvenile bald eagle because they look very similar (bald eagles don’t get their full adult plumage including white heads until around 5 years old). It flew majestically over the thruway as I passed under it and I felt truly blessed to have seen it!

With my spirits newly lifted, I continued my hawk counting and by the time I reached my hotel in New Hampshire, the final number was astounding. I’d seen 61 hawks that drive! They’d been sitting on poles, in tree branches, and soaring through the sky throughout the drive, sometimes in groups of up to three hawks. It was a lovely, mostly sunny day so I’m sure it was great for hunting but in all my trips out there since I started counting, I’d never seen so many! I took that number as an extremely positive sign and seeing the eagle was an added bonus!

I continued to count daily hawks while visiting New England and there was only one day when I didn’t see any hawks. It was an especially dreary, snowy day so I don’t blame the hawks for seeking shelter out of sight. I counted hawks on my drive home and I’m sure I missed some while I was navigating Monday morning traffic, but I counted 15 by the time I was almost at the exit for Canandaigua.

When I neared the exit I said aloud “If I see one more hawk that will make it 16, the reverse of the 61 I saw on the way out.” As I entered the exit and began to loop around, I spotted a red-tailed hawk flying up from the ground and just as I neared, he flew up and landed atop one of the directional signs pointing around the bend. If I needed proof that the universe was always listening to me, I received it quite vividly in that moment! I was so grateful and pleased that I smiled, laughed, and thanked the universe for my unfailingly faithful feathered guides and guardians.