The first month of counting hawks and living in Cut Bank, MT is coming to a close with at least a hundred new experiences and hopefully many more to come. Raptor identification has been a great skill and process that I feel myself becoming more comfortable with every single day, all thanks to the great mentors and birders that have passed along knowledge, skills, and experiences here in Cut Bank.
I remember on the drive out I tried using my Sibley a handful of times to identify any raptors we spotted along the interstate. Driving by the thousands of telephone poles and rolling fields of Ohio and Indiana almost all birds looked the same; I would end up puzzled as the features that I did pick up on pointed to a number of different birds, and frequently concluded “maybe a red-tail?” and sort of moved on – except for turkey vultures. They have a special spot as they were the one raptor I knew before applying for a position with HawkWatch International for the season.
Since the first day I stepped foot at the count site here in Cut Bank, I can feel my identification skills develop with each spotted raptor. It is so interesting how each bird begins to take on its own “look” and “personality” forming a fluid profile that helps make an identification with the fleeting moments or miles between the observer and bird.
It has been a treat to see the hundreds of Swainson’s Hawks come in waves and kettles across the horizon, seemingly disappearing and appearing out of thin air. The Red-tailed Hawks are also a beauty in flight, the past few weeks I have been welcomed each morning by one calling across the way to the north. One of my favorite local birds has been the Osprey that hunts the coulee on a nearly daily basis for the past month. It always feels like a victory being able to see it come back with a giant fish!
I am excited for what the next month holds here at the watch and can’t wait to view some Rough-legged and Harlan’s Hawks!
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