Birding at Hawk Ridge is more than just looking at birds
Everyday during the fall season staff from the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory arrive at around 6:30 a.m. to prepare for the bird migration. They stay at their spot all day until the birds stop flying between 4 and 6 p.m.
John Richardson, the count director for the Observatory, is in charge of recording every single bird that flies by to determine what species it is. Richardson and the other count staff compile that data for the official counting season that runs from Aug. 15 through Nov. 30.
Sometimes there may be days when they don’t record any birds, but Richardson still finds joy when it happens.
“You never know what you’re going to get,” Richardson said “It’s fun on those big days when you get tens of thousands of birds going through. Monday we had a big day of ten thousand broadwing hawks, which wasn’t exceptional, but it was still a pretty good day.”
Most programs offer some sort of bird demonstration. The demonstration consists of getting to see the bird up close and being able to touch the bird. The demonstration is followed by a person in the group releasing the bird into the wild.
Before the releasing the bird, it first needs to be banded. Being banded is like giving the bird it’s own social security number so that they are able to track the migration of that type of bird.
Andy Witchger, a naturalist for Hawk Ridge, is involved with education of the school groups and adult programming. Witchger has done many demonstrations and his favorite part is the releasing of the birds.
“The coolest part is when you see a kid release one for the first time,” Witchger said. “They get a pretty incredible sense of joy out of that and the excitement they share is pretty cool.”
Witchger said that the best spot to see the migrations is on the platform where the counters usually are with their enormous cameras.
“Today there’s nothing flying over,” Witchger said. “Other days tens of thousands of birds will fly over and when that happens it’s absolutely stunning. The sky is full of what looks like swarms of birds circling above you, it’s a really unique phenomenon to witness.”
There is no experience needed for birding. Robert Campbell, activities director for the outdoor program at Recreational Sports Outdoor Program (RSOP), has been volunteering for the Observatory for two weeks and has gained valuable experience in that time, particularly from the staff.
“My favorite part is everyone here on staff and their super knowledgeable about everything birds,” Campbell said. “You get to see the really incredible raptor migration that really only happens in Duluth.”
Birding at Hawk Ridge offers something for everyone. Whether it be watching the bird migration or hiking on the trails when the leaves start to change. For more information regarding the actual migration or looking to plan a visit, visit hawkridge.org.