Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ridge Lift

It's Autumn in New York and so much is going on. When Ed walked to the mailbox this morning a huge flock of geese lifted off the river, darkening the sky overhead, and honking up a storm. They headed off toward the Southwest still low , noisy and disorganized. It would have made a great picture, but all Ed had was the outgoing mail. Later when I went out, I did have the camera, but the V of geese that flew over me was so high that the birds were almost too tiny to see.

Hunting season is coming up and we always close the gate on the lane that leads to the back to cut down on uninvited visitors. We took the opportunity to drive around and gaze at the panorama of Autumn color. From the high meadow there is a three hundred sixty degree view, and today it was breathtaking. Heavy clouds cast wide shadows across the hills that line our valley. The combination of brightly colored trees in full sun and muted Fall colors in the shadows was memorable.

When we got to this view of the ridge we stopped in our tracks. A huge kettle of birds, perhaps 30, were circling above the ridge. As we stood and watched them, we never once saw a bird flap its wings. Minor trim changes to wing and tail feathers effortlessly moved the group along the ridge. Wind from the Northwest struck the ridge and shot up into the air. The hawks rode rising air currents allowing the wind to do the work necessary for flight. The entire group moved along above the ridge. As the birds looked for lift the circles changed in size from wide to narrow. When the circle was narrow the birds seemed to be moving incredibly fast and it was dizzying to watch . When the circle broadened the group separated. One hawk would find the lift and the others moved in its direction. We watched the circling hawks until they disappeared from view in the distance.

Curious, we checked some of our books to see if we could guess what kind of birds put on this fabulous show. After consulting the schedule for viewing hawks in Marie Winn's "Red Tails In Love", Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Bald Eagle,and Northern Harrier seemed to be possibilities.

Turkey vultures kettle too, but the rocking motion they usually display was totally absent from today's birds. The Osprey's wings bend down when they glide. Today's birds sometimes flew on plank like wings. No white heads or tails were noticed and I don't think I've ever heard of a kettle of Bald Eagles. My Peterson Field Guide for hawks lists the Northern Harrier as the only member of the genus Circus in North America. They are literally named for their habit of flying in circles. At a wing span of 43 to 48 inches the size seems about right.

In the end we don't have to know what kind of birds they were. It was the way the circle of birds soared on the wind so effortlessly that was so incredibly exciting. This afternoon the skies have cleared. The air mass that carried the birds is past. It's already chilly in the shade. Without the clouds the temperature will drop tonight.

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