It has been awhile....a great while. Pete Dunne still remembers Sept 1st, 1976....as he stood alone on a table he constructed. There he was....24 years old, a pair of Leitz Binoculars ...cutoffs and a tee. Life was simple back then and so was the Cape May Hawk Watch. It has grown; since. That article always reminds me of how things begun, every time I visit Cape May and stand on that lovely platform now.
Now, here I lie, or walk....or more appropriately 'sit' in my old webbed-back chair I got from Deb's former mother-in-law. A hand-me-down none-the less, but better than a rickety table. I share my time between the east and west coast and right now, Here Lies Tubac Hawk Watch, in southeast Arizona......I am going to lay out the scene for you here, so you get an idea.
There are two tents in a large field, with a table under one of the tents. Stretched across one tent, towards the rear...is a banner showing the main hawk species found here. The highlight, is the Common Black Hawk, or perhaps the Zone Tailed. On the chain link fence is a board strapped with a tie-down and electric tape, is the board with a count from Yesterday and a Season total. The hawk watch season here is the entire month of March.
The counter is "Pete"....How odd is that, another Pete, but a different Pete. If you look at the video he is the one with a hat, pony tail, white tee, and jeans. His green Tacoma truck is in back and many times he counts from being perched on the tail of the truck. Pete is not a young buck ....not like the hawk counters at Cape May but a seasoned birder who just happens to love doing this kind of thing. He has been doing this since 2013 but the Hawk Watch has stayed about the same, just a western....low-keyed thing. Not going to change much and shouldn't ....for if it works, why change it?
Today, Wednesday the 3rd of March, had us warm to the low 80's with no wind in the morning. The sky, as you can see was blue with scattered clouds. Us, who all participate in this count.... scan the skies. When facing south, as the hawks approach.....we first catch a 'speck' of a glimpse with our binoculars, with that speck being miles away. The 'see-er' will yell out....got one. And then point out where along the horizon in comparison to the to tree line is the approach hawk. Early in the season it is just a 'one or two' thing. The hawks soar in the thermals and head 'north' for the summer. Pete will ramble on with some odd statement or two....pull up his bins and put the official stamp of ID on the hawk)s). He will keep track on his clip-board while another lady will enter into her phone. Sometimes the two do not mesh, as was the case this morning. I was chatting with a few others and staring at the board and I initially asked' ..."Any Black Hawks yet"...with a reply that yes, ...Tuesday there were two, and yet the board showed NONE for Tuesday. Thus, we found the discrepancy and the lady fixed. Apparently her program has Black Hawk and Zone-tailed all the way below all others, including the Unknown category, so something got screwed up in the official transfer. But the paper clip board ruled, and the board was updated to show 2.
But how about today.....? Nothing so far....one red-tail I believe. We talked....
Then a lady started to point out towards the west hills. A few miles away. Way up in the sky were a pair of hawks riding the thermals. They rode and rode....and north they went. Pete Id'd them as Common Black Hawks by the tail, body shape and what he said was a slight 'white' in the tail representing the tail band. .....Hmmmm..."Right, I told myself, from that far off?' I could almost see the black let alone the white they were so far away but hey, Pete has been doing this for a few years now as he spends every day in March....every day....every single day....for FREE (Hear that Cape May)....from 9-4, counting Hawks. So when Pete saids. Common Black hawk, yeah...I believe him. Actually they did look like Black Hawks as the next group of 4 played out.
Further south, approaching us....were a group of 4. "I" actually spotted these and if you look at the video, the trees way far back was the point of first sight. But the Hawks were much further away and couldn't be seen with the naked eye.... My 10x bins came in handy. Two were soaring above two others. The differences were obvious between the two on top (Red-Tails) and the two on the bottom (Black Hawks), so yes, Pete was right.
The day progressed....a couple of Coopers who breed around this parts (more than that do but these two just managed to show themselves) flew into the bushes on the east nearer the Santa Cruz River. Then a Red-Tailed came right near us and perched on a pole as if saying 'count me, count me'... But no, sadly....no count. The Hawk Watch only counts migrants coming from the south, up to the northern summer homes. A local yocal like the Red-tail gets no respect around here.
About a half hour more ....much closer and just in the open field came a low soaring Common Black Hawk. No ID really needed on this as it is very obvious it is a black hawk.
The 'black under' and the 'white band' at the tail is just a natural give-away. .....beautiful view. I was talking to a lady afterwards as I ran into her later on that day in another birding locale and was talking about it. She was there, but nature called her prior to that sighting and she, well.....she missed 'that target'... But I saw it....fantastic.
Like Cape May, there are two Pete's. Unlike Cape May, Tubac offers no 'super platform' stocked like a trout farm, tithering with scopes and binoculars. No young naturalists there to guide people the novice and no paid staff. Being here in Tubac..... you have a small community of birders, much like we find in the Forsythe Saturday Bird Walks. A group of people who embrace birding and yet, don't need the hype to bird, or to Hawk Watch in this case. Now, I must admit...when I first came to Jersey and ventured to the Cape May Platform, it was like a kid going into a baseball stadium for the first time. Utter Awe, simply utter awe. Yes, the platform at Cape May is simply inspiring to know that you made it to the 'big leagues', sort of speaking. But likewise if one ventures to Hawk Watch in PA. No platform other than what Mother Nature provides as one perches on the rocks. So Tubac, ....well, just another version of 'the' platform. Below is Hawk Count / Tubac and notice the column representing the species are not nearly that of what we find in Jersey. Yes, Jersey itself, be it Cape May or our own area in AAS, has a nice number of species to keep at eye out for. Again, each their own.