October Update

As the end of October soon approaches I have found myself surprised at how fast the time has gone by and how quickly the composition of migrants has shifted. The skies here are no longer dominated by the somewhat chaotic, but absolutely beautiful kettles of Swainson’s hawks. They are now filled with the elegant, arctic-breeding rough-legged hawks. Many rough-legged migrants have been taking their time to hover hunt the nearby fields and coulee in hopes of a convenient meal while passing through, showing me a lovely display of their gorgeous plumage as they fan their tails and wings wide as they stay locked in place midair. 

There were a few exciting days earlier this month where the red-tailed hawks took flight in great numbers (many taking their time and frequenting the local fields or perched on poles waiting for the perfect moment to take flight). I hope to still see some more Harlan’s hawks as well; we have seen a fair number, but usually no more than a handful or so in one day. 

It was interesting seeing the waterfowl start making their way south as well. The tundra swan and sandhill cranes have been some of my favorites to learn with their unique bugles and calls that can be unmistakably recognized in the distance and overhead.

I’ve had a small sample of the charismatic winds and chilly temperatures of Cut Bank. I know they are nowhere near a Montana winter yet, but definitely a good enough taste for a Virginian that loves the heat. I experienced my first snow in October which did not stay for too long in Cut Bank, but has kept the mountains in Glacier with a beautiful snow-cladded appearance.

I am looking forward to what the last week or two has in store for the migrants!

September Update

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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