Hawk Ridge and hawk neck

Hawk Ridge is a nature preserve on a high ridge overlooking Lake Superior near Duluth, Minn. It attracts many tourists during September and October because hundreds of thousands of hawks pass by overhead migrating from Canada to the United States, Central and South America. Hawks descending from Canada avoid flying over Lake Superior because of its size. Therefore, they skirt the western edge of the lake in huge numbers. Sept. 15, the old record of 49,615 hawks passing over one day was shattered when 102,329 detectable hawks flew over. Many species were seen that day, but the vast majority were broad-winged hawks riding the thermal air currents and updrafts produced by the topography and pushed by northern wind. The broad-winged hawk is small for its North American family tree of Buteo. It’s a forest-living raptor that feeds on small rodents, amphibians, reptiles and an occasional young bird. Broad-winged hawks spend the winter in South America and migrate in large numbers. When riding the thermals, they circle with the air currents; this is called kettling. Often, dozens or hundreds of them kettle in the same thermal. Other hawks you can see flying over Hawk Ridge are turkey vulture, osprey, bald eagle, northern harrier, sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper’s hawk, northern goshawk, red-tailed hawk, rough-legged hawk, golden eagle, red-shouldered hawk, Swainson’s hawk, American kestrel, merlin, peregrine falcon, and an occasional gyrfalcon. By the way, the American kestrel and the merlin are also falcons. Hawk watching now occurs during the spring migration, too, at Hawk Ridge. Hawk counting at Hawk Ridge becomes part of the research data gathered at the preserve along with data from their hawk banding program. More than 3,000 hawks are banded each year. Richard and Pam Hamilton from Harvard, Ill., visited Hawk Ridge just one day after the record was set on Sept. 15. “We were disappointed to miss the record day,” said Pam, “but we still saw many a hawk, and we enjoyed watching the Hawk Ridge banding program.” Richard and Pam are hawk banders at the Sand Bluff Bird Observatory at Colored Sands Forest Preserve near Shirland, Ill. They’ve been banding hawks there for more than 20 years. Pam delighted in the fact that at Hawk Ridge, the banders not only had to scan the skies for potential hawks to capture, they also had to watch the slopes beneath them because northern harriers usually fly no higher than 20 feet above the ground. “It was like battling two fronts,” said Pam. I asked Pam if she got warbler neck or hawk neck from looking at the hawks. She just looked at me, confused. There is a condition birders call warbler neck. It’s a soreness and fatigue you get from looking to the treetops, trying to observe warblers. Then there is hawk neck, a similar condition you can get sky watching for hawks. Some say both conditions are the same. But many argue that although the warbler is a much slighter bird, he is harder and more frustrating to follow; therefore, the condition is more severe. Personally, I think warbler neck is worse, but hawk neck sounds more masculine and a more appealing thing to suffer if you’re a man, of course. Does a man want a bumper sticker on his vehicle that says, “Gone Hawking,” or does he want one that says, “Gone Warblering”? Would Steven Hawking be as popular as he is if his name were Steven Warblering? For more information, type in “Hawk Ridge” on your computer Web engine. Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associate’s degree in science and a bachelor’s in fine arts. Rod is a member of the Audubon Society, the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and Rockford Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

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