October 8, 2006
Saturday at the Hawk Watch
Yesterday I decided to head up to the Soddy Mountain Hawk Lookout - just north of Chattanooga. When I arrived, a fellow by the name of Harold Birch was sitting alone in a lawn chair eyeing the sky with his binoculars. The weather was beautiful with bright blue skies and temperatures in the low 70s.
Although the weather was gorgeous, bright blue cloudless skies are not ideal for hawk watching. Ideally, some white puffy clouds create contrast that allows you to spot the birds high in the sky. In two hours we saw several dozen birds including Sharp Shinned Hawks (aka "Sharpies") and two juvenile Red Tailed Hawks. The Red Tails were an unexpected surprise because they generally don't start migrating until late October or November - usually after a cold front that brings some of the season's coolest temperatures accompanied by stiff breezes out of the north or northwest.
Hawk watching takes both patience and practice, and when it comes to bird watching (including hawk watching!) there is no substitute for time spent in the field. After spending time birding - preferably with someone who can teach you some identification tips - things start to come together. Many birders can identify a species at a quick glance - just by sizing up a birds GISS (pronounced GIZ). According to the New Jersey Audubon Society:
"GISS is a brand of identification that borders on magic and allows practitioners to pin names to birds that are flying at the limit of conjecture. But itís not magic. Its foundation is anchored in the corporal world and the words underlying the acronym. GISSóGeneral Impression of Size and Shape. Add the element of motion, the idiosyncratic manner in which birds fly and you, too, will be able to amaze your friends with your skills."
If you have an interest in learning more about hawk identification, there are two excellent books on the subject. The first and best guide is Hawks in Flight by Pete Dunne, David Sibley, and Clay Sutton. Another resource is a new publication entitled Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors in Flight by Jerry Liguori.
What does all this have to do with hiking? Well, the Soddy Mountain Hawk Lookout is just a stone's throw from the Cumberland Trail! Come back and visit tomorrow for information about that great trail. In the meanwhile, for more information about birding in Tennessee - visit the Tennessee Ornithological Society website.
Natural History | By Jeffrey Hunter | 12:46 PM