Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Saturday, August 26, 2017


Here in New Jersey we have been given a gift this late August - cool, dry, breezy weather, more like September than late summer.

The cool air has inspired me to go outside and deadhead the spent flowers on the perennials in hopes there may be new bloom before winter. My peppers have started growing, at last. Leaves are falling off the apple and pear trees, and the dogwood has a hint of red in the leaves, even as its fruits are starting to form. The female locust tree in the front yard will have a bumper crop of seed pods this year, unfortunately, and when they fall they will have to be raked to the curb with the inevitable leaf piles.

Male Harlequin-you can hunt it in season.
(Margo D. Beller)
For now, however, I am thinking about migration.

There is still the occasional hummingbird visitor to the feeder. The adult males are long gone, the adult females are leaving and the juveniles are now big enough to feed and travel on their own. The rubythroated hummingbird I've been seeing of late seems to have a tinge of red on its "chin," making it a juvenile male. He perches and takes long drinks. With the accumulated fat he's building he'll soon be heading to the lush tropics for the winter. I hope he survives the trip.

Overhead, the clouds are moving from north to south. In the bird reports I see warblers and other migrating birds showing up in greater numbers on their way to their winter grounds. The north wind is a tail wind, and when September comes that means it will be time for me to look in the skies for southbound raptors.

Buteos such as redtail hawks, accipiters, falcons, harriers, vultures, eagles: When they fly south they use the warm air rising off mountains to help them stay aloft. So unlike the warm spring winds from the south, which don't seem to limit the hawks' flight patterns, in autumn the best place to see these birds is along mountain ridges. I enjoy the hawk watch from Scott's Mountain and have seen hawks from elsewhere in New Jersey, including New Jersey Audubon's Scherman Hoffman sanctuary and from the front lawn of an office building in Englewood Cliffs, across the road from the Palisades and the Hudson River, which the hawks follow south.
Redtail hawk (Margo D. Beller)

The view of raptors from the top of Pennsylvania's Hawk Mountain, an extremely rugged hike each way, is awesome. No platform here, just jagged rocks. This was one of the many places where sportsmen would see how many hawks they could shoot out of the sky.

That doesn't happen anymore, at least officially. The outcry over such slaughter as well as the killing of birds such as great egrets for their feathers led to the passage of the 1918 Migratory Bird Act. No more raptor target practice. Birds such as grouse, woodcock, ducks and geese can be hunted, but only during limited times of the year and with a strict limit on how many you can kill, just as with the deer and bear.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: For over a century, wildlife conservation laws and regulations have been enacted to keep our bird populations healthy. As part of our mandate to conserve birds and their habitats, we administer the Migratory Bird Treaty ActMigratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. These acts are at the foundation of the Migratory Bird Program.

Hawk feathers (Margo D. Beller)
Among the artifacts in my museum of collected oddities are three feathers. I see, but don't usually collect, feathers all over my yard and from all kinds of birds. But these three feathers (at left) were found while I was hiking and for some reason I took them. From the pattern, it looks like they came from a Cooper's or a sharp-shinned hawk, presuming these are tail feathers, but I can't be sure. They are fascinating to study.

But was my taking them illegal? Under the law what happens when you kill, say, a Canada goose during hunting season? Can you collect its feathers for sale?

According to this site, created by a person who sells feather art, some situations are legal, some are not. One of my friends, who is handy with crafts, recently found feathers from a great blue heron that was preening in one of her trees. She is angry at what she sees as hypocrisy -- that she can shoot a bird for supper but can't use its feathers for art and commerce.

So she won't be hawking her wares anytime soon. I, meanwhile, will be waiting for autumn to come for real and the north winds bringing the great raptor push southward. Feathers will be flying.