Still without beating their wings they glide, descending slowly, until they enter another thermal, until once more they feel a lift. Then they circle again riding another aerial elevator to the clouds.
For a birder this is a time for bird watching at its most comfortable, its most leisurely. A warm temperature, a blue sky with scattered clouds overhead, and hawks circling and drifting by. Not a single red-tailed hawk in its nesting territory as during the summer, or a pair or even a family of red-tailed hawks. This is a parade of hawks going by.
There are places where the parade is continuous, actually a stream of hawks. But those are places where topography of the land creates continuous updrafts that the hawks take advantage of. Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania, Duluth, Minnesota, Cape May, New Jersey are such sites. But I’m thinking about hawks passing over farm country, open fields and scattered wood lots, where I live or a place like it.
From one location in a farmed area I’ve seen a dozen red-tailed hawks go overhead, riding on the air. I’ve seen northern harriers. I’ve seen Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks, hawks with shorter wings that don’t usually soar but will when migrating and the wind and weather are right.
I’ve seen a flock of broad-winged hawks. When flying across the sky they were scattered but when they got in a thermal they created a circling column of birds. Birders call such a column a kettle of hawks.
Once I saw a kettle of broad-wings descending late one afternoon into a woods, going to roost. I returned at dawn the next day and waited. The hawks didn’t come out of the trees until the sun was well up. Then they rose as they had gone to roost, flying in a circle, building another kettle of birds in the sky.
While watching for hawks there may be other birds passing, taking advantage of the fair weather and the wind. Vultures and eagles will soar by like hawks, rising in the thermals, gliding slowly down between them.
Flocks of geese or ducks or sandhill cranes may go over, hurrying past, it seems, with continuously beating wings.
There may be a flock of red-winged blackbirds or grackles, so many birds that from a distance a flock looks like a wispy smudge of smoke. These flocks, too, may swirl about but not riding a thermal. They’re getting ready to land. And they will land in a field of corn, much to the displeasure of the farmer who owns the field, or in a pasture or harvested hay field.
So on those September days that are as blue as any in October, when the weather is warm and the wind is from the north, I recommend going out in the country and looking to the sky. Maybe I’ll see you there.