It’s a very short drive from the Salt Pond Visitor’s Center to Fort Hill. I do not know what we will see as we turn down that road and by now and do not have high hopes.
But as we turn in past an old house and drive through pasture lined with stone walls my spirits start to rise. An old homestead stand nearby with flowering trees and an American flag waving, but I did not come here for a history lesson. I want to see birds.
Gus drives me up to the crest of the hill where there is a parking lot surrounded by a split rail fence and I get out. He agrees to wait for me in the car while I go exploring.
Before I have even gone two steps a flock of cormorants flies over my head. Their dark bodies are silhouetted against the leaden sky. Away they fly across the marsh to land in a silver pool. It seems a good omen as I start out on the trail.
The trail winds down the hill past a brush and bramble covered hollow. A few trees rise from this area and I can hear and see red-winged blackbirds and common grackles. I also hear some other small kind of birds chirping in the brush but I cannot find the things, whatever they are. I do not have time to waste on small things that hide; instead, I head further down the path to the edge of things. I step down off a bit of a bank to the flat boggy marsh grass below. While I am standing on the firmer part, I can see the wet edge before me. The wind has not abated but continues to buffet and blast me. I stand my ground and let the wildness flow through my being. Soon my heart is beating wildly and I feel as if I could sprout wings and fly!
I am standing in this windy wildness when suddenly something white flies by, low over the water, neck bent, wings silently pumping, long legs extended. I see the black legs that end with yellow feet, like galoshes and I know I am seeing a snowy egret. The yellow galoshes are a good way to remember it is a snowy egret because it needs its boots to go out in the snow! The snowy also has a black beak while the Great Egret has a yellow beak. I am pleased to see this elegant bird, a first sighting of this species in Massachusetts for me.
While I am watching the willet and listening to the howling wind the Laughing Gulls soar above me and laugh at this foolish women out on this windy day in the marsh being buffeted by wind and having a great time!
However, I am conscious of the fact that my husband is patiently waiting for me up in the car and so I turn away and head back up the trail. As I round the bend and start up the last bit of incline I suddenly see a hawk hovering over the pasture to the north.
I turn and stop. What hawk is it? Could it be Northern Harrier? Formerly called a marsh hawk, this would certainly be its habitat but just as I am focusing in the bird drops below the brow of the hill and is lost from view. I am off and running now and later my husband tells me he was just walking down to meet me, but I am unaware of anything but the bird.
I am running through grassy pasture land but beneath my feet I become aware of bits of brambles. This would be a thorny enterprise if someone had not cut the field last fall. Now all the thorns are but stubble beneath my feet as I run to the top of the hill and stop to watch the drama unfolding before me.
At the far end of the pasture the woodland starts again. Off to the right the mash lies wet and wild, gray and flat. Over all of this a pair of hawks is being mobbed by crows. I watch mesmerized as the birds whirl and dive and whirl again. Down below the trees they fall on folded wings only to swoop upwards and glide. What kind of hawk am I seeing? I try and try to figure it out in these gray and gloomy skies. I can tell now that it is not a harrier for it does not fly like one and it does not have the characteristic white rump patch. Sometimes I am seeing one hawk, sometimes two.
Then, to make everything even more interesting, a turkey vulture floats in on the wind! At one point I think I am seeing eagle because the birds appear so large in my bins. What are they? In this gray light it is hard to tell.
I suspect Red-tailed hawks, but I do not see any red tails, but I know that juvenile do not always have red tails. At least one of these birds is really patchy white and brown, more like a rough-legged hawk, yet I know it isn’t that bird, so what is it? The birds are swift and rarely in view for long. I am keeping my distance far across the pasture but then I notice people on the path walking right beneath the birds and they don’t even seem to notice them. I have no idea how long I have been standing here on the crest of this hill but suddenly it occurs to me that, in the amount of time I have been standing here I could run down to the path and follow the trail around to where they are. So off I go again in pursuit of birds.
It isn’t long before the firmly packed trail is beneath my feet and I am hurrying as fast as I can to the far end of the pasture. I am barely on the path before one of the two hawks breaks away and soars calmly over my head riding the wind like a train.
At this point the trail passes close to the marsh and as I am standing there watching the hawk I suddenly see a cormorant fly in and land in a nearby pool of water. I stop for a quick look, then continue on my way.
I wait until they are past, then, step by step, I begin to creep closer.
This bird doesn’t seem to mind even a little bit.
I now know that I am looking at a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk. It has the classic hood, white breast and dark belly-band. I gaze and gaze and snap and snap. By the time I am done I will have taken 134 pictures in 35 minutes since the start of the hawk drama!
I finally tear myself away from the hawk. Pulling my phone from my pocket I call my husband and ask him to meet me at the lower parking lot where I am headed. I now have a new view of the homestead before me as I walk back. I also now have a new view of this day. This is bird watching at its best for me, a day when I can feel the wildness; a day with calm, quiet moments and heart pounding excitement. It is a day when anything can happen and it did. It really did.
Birds Seen at Fort Hill:
Location: Fort Hill, Eastham
Observation date: 5/8/11
Notes: My first time here. Very windy, cold, gray. Parked at upper parking lot and walked down to marsh. There were other birds out in marsh too far away to ID or photograph. Wind almost knocked me down a couple of times. So wild! Came up from marsh and was heading back to car when I saw hawk hovering beyond brow of hill. It dipped below crest so I ran to top to see if I cold ID it, then watched as hawks and crows did battle for over 45 minutes! Finally one hawk landed in tree and didn't seem to mind as people walked below so I hiked over to see and photograph bird. It was a juvenile or immature red-tail with no red in its tail as of yet. What an awesome day this turned out to be! Continued hiking the rest of the way around pasture to lower parking lot where my hubby picked me up.
Number of species: 15
American Black Duck 2 in pond
Double-crested Cormorant 30 flying overhead in large flock
Snowy Egret 1
Turkey Vulture 1
Red-tailed Hawk 2 watched hawks being harassed by crows for over 45 minutes as they dived and soared and dived again. In and out of trees. amazing to watch!
Laughing Gull 15
Herring Gull 3
Larus sp. X various flying about and on water or in marsh
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 6 chasing and harassing hawks and raven
Common Raven 1 Chased by crows. Large, black and twice as large as they were.
American Robin 1
Red-winged Blackbird 20
Common Grackle 15
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org)
Blogger’s Note: I was working on this and the previous post when blogger went down over two weeks ago. that same night my computer was infested with a nasty virus. The Tech was here Monday afternoon and again on Tuesday. I am very happy to report that he restored all my files and installed a new Norton antivirus on my computer! Even though I previously had a current version of McKaffee he found 127 viruses on my computer! I am so glad to be back online but it will take me awhile to get caught up on my blogposts and blog visits. Meanwhile, I probably won’t be going on too many new birding adventures until my back heals completely. However, let me just say, it feels good to be back! I have missed you all! ~Kathie
P.S. You can read the first half of this story in the post below or click on the link: Mother’s Day on Cape Cod.