Thursday, September 12, 2013

Park Sharks

With fall migration underway, I've been heading to a local city park that has a lake, woods, and large open areas to search for migrating warblers, vireos, and other passerines. It's always a thrill for me to catch sight of the warblers again as they make their way south.  The other day I was pleased to find a Blackburnian Warbler and a Wilson's Warbler.

Blackburnian Warbler

Wilson's Warbler
As my son and I made our way through this park looking for more of these colorful gems, we noticed about a dozen crows on the ground.  I didn't think much of it until they all flushed, and Evan pointed at one and hollered, "Dad, that was a hawk!" I quickly saw he was right as these crows were on some hawk's six, chasing it into a nearby tree.  I hustled up underneath the tree and discovered it was a Broad-winged Hawk!

Broad-winged Hawk
The crows continued to pester this hawk.  It was fascinating for me to watch.  I've heard a lot of birders say how a band of upset crows led them to the discovery of a hawk or an owl, but this was the first time I had experienced it.  When the crows dislodged this Broad-winged out of this tree, Evan told me he thought he saw a second hawk. Whether he did or not, we were in hot pursuit of this angry mob of crows and hawk or hawks as we ran through the park hoping to catch a glimpse of the action through the canopy.

Evan running faster than his dad to chase the crow mob.
We caught up with the crows and found a hawk in their midst.  As the crows relentlessly pursued this hawk back toward us, I saw that we were either dealing with a Sharp-shinned Hawk or a Cooper's Hawk as this bird was clearly an accipiter.

Sharp-shinned or Cooper's?
 Evan was right! There was a second hawk.  We ended up losing track of this one and resumed our leisurely search for warblers and vireos.  However, at the other end of the park we again found the mob of crows, and they were pursuing another hawk! Immediately started running through the park to catch up to the action.  I finally got close enough for a picture, but I wasn't getting a clear shot to make an identification. Finally the crows helped me out by pestering the bird into a clear view, and I could see that we had a Cooper's Hawk.

Cooper's Hawk
So a leisurely morning of birding turned into a heart-pumping cardiovascular workout of chasing hawks.  It was very fun to find not one, but two species of hawks in this city park, all while experiencing an intense crow chase.

Not long after this outing, I was back in the park looking for warblers and vireos.  I had finally found my nemesis bird, the Blue-headed Vireo, but I couldn't get a picture of it.  So I went early the next morning to hopefully get another crack at it.  The park was alive with all kinds of migrating birds. I saw Red-eyed Vireos, American Redstarts, a Yellow Warbler, a Nashville Warbler, a Black-and-White Warbler, a Golden-winged Warbler, and this Philadelphia Vireo.

Philadelphia Vireo
Shortly afterward it was as if someone turned off a switch, and I could hardly find a bird anywhere.  Then I figured it out.  As I walked beside the playground equipment, I saw a Red-tailed Hawk perched on top of the swing set! Whoa!
Red-tailed Hawk
 Now there's nothing terribly exciting about this common hawk, but the hawk's choice of a perch compelled me to take some photographs.  It was humorous to me that it was perched atop some children's playground equipment, like he might be waiting for some toddler to snatch.

I found that this hawk was extremely tame as I walked within 10 feet of it!  I've never been that close to a hawk in the wild before. No binoculars or super-zoom camera was needed to see the fine features of this bird. As I crept closer to the bird I thought I was being stupid - those talons are sharp...what if he didn't like me so close?  As a precaution, I put a light pole between myself and the bird and used it as a brace for taking pictures.

Parents, watch your kiddos...

I don't know if there was something wrong with this hawk or not, but no matter where it went in the park, I could get within ten feet of it.

Here the hawk is not bothered by joggers and cars on the road just a few feet away.  They, too, were oblivious to him.

This was a memorable experience with a hawk that is very commonplace in our area and normally not worth a second look.  It was an absolute thrill to be so close to a bird of this magnitude and stare into its eyes.

All these birds of prey in the park prove that birders aren't the only ones aware of migrating song birds. These raptors were also keenly tuned in to the uptick in bird activity.  In addition to seeing the three species of hawks mentioned in this post, I also saw a Bald Eagle flying through the park shortly after encountering the Red-tailed Hawk.  Even though these guys put a damper on birding for the small stuff, they provide their own style of entertainment and keep things interesting.

Follow more of Josh and Evan Wallestad's birding adventures at A Boy Who Cried Heron.


  1. Fantastic post, terrific photographs! Josh, I was wondering what state you live in to see all these beautiful migrating birds?

  2. Thanks, Julie! I live in west-central Minnesota.