Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Derby Hill Bird Observatory -- Ground Control of the Bird Path
Kids are taught early about the law of gravity: what goes up must come down. With that lesson, the smarter children also learn to question authority. After all, the next bird the youngster watches land and take off again, kind’a upsets the cart.
As adults we realize life isn’t simple; up and down…down and up…round and round…full of wonderful mystery, and all you have to do to see it is look.
One of the greatest examples of nature’s common miracles is annual bird migrations. Just about everyone has seen chevrons of geese flying over the neighborhood in the fall and spring. But raptors and scavengers are a different story. Stealthier, ruggedly individualistic, these fowl do their own thing and don’t usually follow the crowd. Indeed, when they’re migrating most lowly humans don’t even know it. However, Oswego County is blessed with one of the best classrooms in the world to see them in action: Derby Hill Bird Observatory.
Located in the southeastern corner of Lake Ontario, a little west of where the shoreline curves sharply north, DHBO is below the bottleneck in the flyway this class of birds takes to avoid flying directly over the 50-mile wide body of water. You see, the group, which includes, hawks, eagles, crows and vultures, are talon-footed, and they don’t tread water very well.
I decided to go up last week and see how this year’s migrations were going.
I ran into Seth Cutright, the professional hawk counter for Onondaga Audubon, the organization that runs DHBO. He pointed out “around 40,000 raptors fly over each year.”
“March was slow,” he continued, “but the first three days of April were great.”
Indeed, Bill Purcell, an amateur ornithologist who would rather be counting birds than just about anything else this time of year, added “On April 2, the birds came over in squadrons. Counting them was exhausting.”
The day after April Fool’s saw eight golden eagles, 18 ospreys, 2,238 turkey vultures, 188 sharp-skinned hawks, 42 red-shouldered hawks, 712 red-tailed hawks and smaller quantities of other raptors.
As of April 6, the bird count was 13,359. That means 26,641 still need to fly over to make the average. Most of them will make the flight this month.
“What I admire most about being a hawk counter is I never know what I’m going to see,” claims Mr. Cutright. He’s already counted two black vultures, a rare sight this far north.
Who knows, if you go up within the next couple of weeks, you might see one, too, or at least a bald eagle. But be warned “the first time I came up here in 1984, I thought identifications were close to magic,” says Purcell, hinting that it takes years of practice to identify birds whipping by so high in the sky.
But hey, nothing worthwhile is ever easy; and raptor counting sure is fun.
DHBO is located off Sage Creek Drive. Get there from the hamlet of Texas by heading east on NY 104B for about a mile. DHBO offers three observation posts, two right off Sage Creek Drive, and one atop a bluff overlooking the lake. Get to the bluff site by turning east at the end of Sage Creek Drive and climbing the hill to the pull-off on the right.
For more info, go to www.visitoswegocounty.com/tn/morefun/birding.aspx.