Taken For Granted

(Above: red-shouldered hawk wipes bill on railing after eating red swamp crayfish, on post behind hawk)

I recently spent a few days at a coastal Virginia hawk watch witnessing hundreds of hawks passing overhead on their migratory treks south. Osprey, sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks, harriers, bald eagles, merlins and kestrels made up the bulk of the cast. And, of course, there were lesser birds as palm warblers, parula, kinglets, flickers, as well various butterflies, like monarch, buckeye, and fiery and ocola skippers among other wildlife, just to name a few.

But there were no buteos seen by me during those few precious days I spent at the site. No broad-winged hawks, no red-tailed hawks, and no red-shouldered hawks. Those hawks are more likely to be seen at inland hawk watches than on the coast. They do pass by this site, they just do so in smaller numbers than inland, and they didn’t do so while I was there.

Red-shouldered hawk soaring over wetlands.

A bird called from a distance. It sounded like a red-shouldered hawk. Sparked by the call, the subject of red-shouldered hawks fired up among the gathered people, how the Florida red-shoulders are much paler than the local birds, the California red-shoulders are much more colorful, brighter overall (red-shoulders are essentially an eastern forest bird but they do, however, occur in coastal California and the Sierras).

Hawk zeros in on prey on far side of pond.

I mentioned how I see red-shoulders on a daily basis, how I had just, a day ago, witnessed one of the local red-shoulders here at the Museum of Life and Science capture and eat three red swamp crayfish in one morning. It was then I was reminded just how fortunate I am to see these magnificent birds up close, living their lives, nesting, hunting, soaring overhead every day that I’m at the museum. I see them hunting frogs, snakes, and now crayfish, the hawks take advantage of whatever prey is abundant at the time. Right now, it’s red swamp crayfish.

Red swamp crayfish in shallow water at edge of wetlands.
Claws left by hawk after eating meat in tail and cephalothorax.

I had taken them for granted. I’d become jaded. Why, at times I would walk right past a hawk perched not 10 feet from the path as it stared down into the leaf liter or edge of the pond in our wetland paying little or no attention to the bird.

Red-shouldered hawk eating crayfish.

The paths here at the museum can become teeming masses of humanity on bright sunny mornings with families, school groups and casual visitors moving along from exhibit to exhibit. The hawks become very tolerant to the presence of humans.

I’m always inspired by a trip to a good wildlife viewing area like the hawk watch I visited. It also tends to make one appreciate what they’ve got back at home. I will furthermore strive to be more appreciative of our resident red-shoulders. Bold, raucous, and beautiful, they’re worthy of attention.

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The hawk watch that I visited was located at Kiptopeke State Park on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The hawk watch is conducted by the Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory. The park’s just a few miles north of the tip of the Delmarva Peninsula, just up the road from the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Good, friendly people, nice state park, and good birds and other wildlife viewing.

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