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On The Winds Of Autumn

Jerry Deboer highlights local places for great sites.

Generally my passion and enjoyment of the outdoors sets me apart from the mainstream. While conversations so often drift towards politics, investing or football, I’m the guy that would much rather be talking about snakes, birds or kayaking.

Yet, there are times when we find common ground. The conversation starts like this, “Hey Jerry, I heard you know a lot about birds!” I respond, “Well, I wouldn’t say a lot, but yeah, I enjoy seeing them, learning about them, and photographing them.”  They’d come back with, “Wow, that’s cool. Hey, I saw a hawk the other day on the side of the road. I couldn’t believe how big it was! At first I thought it was an eagle! Man, it was really neat!”

They are called birds of prey or raptors because they must find, seize and kill in order to survive.

Perhaps it is their magnificent vision, hearing or sheer speed and power that impress us, but for most of us, a sighting of a magnificent raptor in flight humbles us.

Though a sighting of a single hawk or eagle can illicit great emotion in a person, few people realize that there are times of the year when you can see not just one or two hawks, but hundreds or even thousands in a day! On September 15, 2003, observers at Hawk Ridge in Duluth,
Minnesota tallied 101,716 broad-winged hawks in a single day. Can you imagine the sight that must have been? What about the 743 bald eagles seen on Nov. 22, 1994? Those kinds of numbers are mind-boggling!

While those numbers represent record highs seen at one of the premier hawk watching sights in the country, good numbers of birds can be seen much closer to home. Concordia College in Ozaukee County has tallied up impressive numbers over the years, as have the counters at Illinois Beach State Park not too far south of the state line. Even closer to home are the large open fields hugging the lake at . While no official counts occur there, it’s the best opportunity in the county to witness this amazing spectacle.

Weather conditions are critical to see a good flight, as the birds are most likely to be seen along the lake on west winds. While the west winds push the birds towards the lake, flying over open water is not something they like to do, so they continue south hugging the shore. Westerly winds from fifteen to thirty miles per hour provide prime conditions for viewing.

Migrant raptors stick to pretty reliable schedules. Broad-winged hawks represent the best opportunity to see thousands of birds in a day and will usually be passing by from mid-September to early October.

Peregrine falcons pass through in late September to early October and large raptors like red-tailed hawk, rough-legged hawks and eagles are still later in the fall. Over the course of a season, a dozen or more species of raptors might be seen.

If you’re looking for a way to enjoy the coming fall months and it happens to be a day when there’s some stiff westerly winds, grab your binoculars and head to the lakeshore at Cliffside and hugging the lake at Cliffside Park. While no official counts occur there, it’s the best opportunity in the county to witness this amazing spectacle.

Weather conditions are critical to see a good flight, as the birds are most likely to be seen along the lake on west winds. While the west winds push the birds towards the lake, flying over open water is not something they like to do, so they continue south hugging the shore. Westerly winds from fifteen to thirty miles per hour provide prime conditions for viewing.

Migrant raptors stick to pretty reliable schedules. Broad-winged hawks represent the best opportunity to see thousands of birds in a day and will usually be passing by from mid-September to early October. Peregrine falcons pass through in late September to early October and large raptors like red-tailed hawk, rough-legged hawks and eagles are still later in the fall. Over the course of a season, a dozen or more species of raptors might be seen.

If you’re looking for a way to enjoy the coming fall months and it happens to be a day when there’s some stiff westerly winds, grab your binoculars and head to the lakeshore at Cliffside and keep your eye to the sky. No telling what you might see!

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