Wet Wild Duluth Bird Trip

That's our wind swept field trip from this past Saturday. One of the fun things about leading trips to Hawk Ridge in Duluth, MN is that when the weather is right and you get winds out of the northwest, you get a fabulous trip with gorgeous weather and see thousands of hawks. Alas, you cannot as of yet demand these days from Mother Nature and I had a reminder of that on Saturday when I led a trip with Stan Tekiela. Weather prediction: rain and winds out of the southeast.

It was raining at Frank Taylor's hawk banding station, our first stop. I warned our group that on wet and rainy days, those are guaranteed peregrine falcon days. Sure, we wouldn't see the thousands of hawks flying over in migration that Duluth is known for, but boy howdy, these types of days guarantee a peregrine sighting. They are a bird that relies more on powered flight and can fly in any type of weather, unlike the the other hawks that are looking to glide on thermals. Little did I know how right I would be this day. When we arrived, we found a group huddled around a passage peregrine falcon female that had just come into the nets.

When they took her out of the nets, it was discovered that she had a broken leg--that's not how I wanted our group to get their guaranteed peregrine on a rainy day. Fortunately, several members of the Minnesota Falconers Association were at Frank's blind and talents were available for triage. Thanks to some painter's tape, a stick, panty hose, and a falconer's hood, her leg was set, she was secure to avoid further injury, and she was ready to go to a rehab facility. Since our group was heading back to the Twin Cities that day, we offered to take her to The Raptor Center on our way home. Wow! A bird trip and injured bird transport service all in one! I'll find out on Tuesday when I volunteer at TRC if she is still alive. The break looked to be a few days old and she was very thin, you could feel her sharp keel.

The falconers had put a hood on her to keep her calm. When birds can't see what's going on or if they are in the dark, they stay calm and relaxed. She worked off her hood, but fortunately we had a box with a lid so she could stay in a dark spot and be calm. Note how light her head is? I think that is a tundrius subspecies of peregrine, meaning she was probably hatched in or near the Arctic. No one can know for sure since she didn't have a band, but considering that it's migration and the tundrius is a migratory subspecies and a paler form, it is a good guess. Hope she makes it, but if not, at least she didn't have to starve and suffer for several days before finally coming to an end.

Despite the pouring rain, some sharp-shinned hawks did come into the nets, including this beautiful adult. I was glad that our group got to experience watching at least one bird fly into the nets.

Okay, is this not the most adorable photo of Hasty Brook? At one point there were two sharp-shins and Frank gave one to me to hold while he got the blinds back up and he was picking who would be the lucky ones to release them. I gave Hasty Brook the hawk to hold for a minute. Look at the excitement in those eyes.

And I made sure everyone in our group had a chance to stop and smell the birds. It's not every day that you have a chance to smell a wet bird. I love the way birds smell.

Frank was so gracious to show us around and how his nets are set up despite the rain. I also have to say that the people in our group were real troopers to put with it at well.

Here are some members of our group releasing a couple of sharp-shinned hawks in the rain.

After Frank's blind, we headed to Hawk Ridge proper and the sun came out just as we arrived--a chance to dry out. We got to see some hawk movement and several white-throated sparrows hanging around the bushes. I have to give some major bonus points to the staff at Hawk Ridge this year. They have shirts...in girl sizes... and they look cute. I highly recommend checking out their gift shop--if not for helping support the Ridge, if in support of cute bird shirts for girls that flatter our figures.

Just as our group was about to leave, one of the Hawk Ridge staff told me that a red-tailed hawk was coming out from their banding station and our group could have a chance to see that up close. Though we didn't see a ton of species, we were getting to see some up close view of some really awesome hawks. I got this shot of the hawk being released. I love the few feathers hanging in the air as the bird flies away.

From Hawk Ridge, we headed down to Park Point. The clouds came in and the winds were high off of Lake Superior. The great thing about Park Point is that usually when the weather is crap at the Ridge, the birding is great along the shore.

We did find some black-bellied plovers in fall plumage running around on the beach of Lake Superior. When we first spotted them, we weren't sure if they were black-bellied plovers or American golden plovers--the look similar and both are possible this time of year. Eventually, they flew and we could see their "black armpits" confirming them as black-bellied plovers.

Again, I have to stress what troopers our participants were. It's not easy to go running hither and yon in a rainy day looking for birds, but they stuck with us, made several jokes, saw some cool birds, and help transport an injured falcon to medical help. Job well done in my book.