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Master Naturalists: Hawk Watch raptors draw admirers

By Paul and Mary Meredith
Oct. 25, 2012 at 5:25 a.m.

This 1800's print titled "Harris's Buzzard" by John James Audubon greatly increased our curiosity about raptors by making us wonder why a hawk was called a "buzzard."  That's easy; Audubon used the European name for this beautiful bird with distinctive russet red thighs and shoulders.  Since then, we've learned several ways Harris's definitely behaves differently from other hawks. Almost no Harris' are seen at Hazel Bazemore County Park's fall Hawk Watch.

Observers at Hazel Bazemore County Park saw and identified more than 27,000 raptors migrating south to their winter homes the day we could join them in observing.

Several other days, the numbers of raptors seen was substantially less.

It's not always that way, but, weather factors can certainly have such effects on the number of migrating hawks and other birds.

This year by Oct. 16, nearly 126,000 raptors had been observed during October, about 121,000 of them on just seven days. And by Oct. 16, more than 350,000 had been observed. It's said that a larger variety of birds is observed during October's first several weeks, according to experienced Hawk Watch people.

One comment from observers was "Hazel Rocks in Rocktober."

Also on our day, observers noted that many raptors returned to the Hazel Bazemore area to spend the night in the surrounding trees. Another day's recorded comments stated that the one osprey observed that day was "carrying dinner - a large fish."

A third day's recorded comments reported observers seeing a whooping crane family (two adults and a juvenile) in a family unit. That was unlikely because the first migrating whoopers were in North Dakota last week.

Another day it was reported that a Calliope hummer, not the first one this season, had been spotted. Calliope hummers are rare in the area.

Still another day, observers reported seeing an adult bald eagle (always one of Mary's favorites).

We'll be certain to visit to enjoy Hawk Watch at Hazel Bazemore whenever we can. Interest in raptors and their ways, as well as photos of them, is ongoing and rather constant for us. That's true even when the day for observing is damp and chilly.

At Bazemore, Mary spent some time in our truck - warming up - while the others continued enjoying observing. She could see a few of the birds from the truck.

One of the observers used his long camera lens to help see more detail of birds to help in identifying them.


The kettles some birds formed as they moved over are very interesting.

Birdwatchers use the term "kettle" to describe a group of birds wheeling and circling in the air as they fly.

Some have suggested it looks like boiling contents of a kettle as the birds circle tightly in thermal updrafts. Thermal updrafts give the birds a lift with the warm air below the birds' outspread wings.

A kettle may have several different species in it. Observers distinguish the kettle's various species as they pass, along with observing numbers of birds.

Some birdwatchers suggest kettling may be a way of staging a flock for migration. Broad-winged hawks (the species with the largest numbers migrating at Hawk Watch) kettle before heading south for their winter habitats.

Some terns and turkey vultures behave in a similar fashion. As stated in Wikipedia, it may announce imminent departure, as well as provide a way of gaining altitude and conserving strength.

Sources: Birding Corpus Christi and the Coastal Bend, Jamie Ritter; The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, Sibley, David A.;, "Kettle (birds)"; Cornell Lab of Ornithology,

Paul and Mary Meredith are master naturalists. Contact them at



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