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Sunday, December 24, 2006


Last year (2005) at the end of October, my supervisor at work told me about a program called Hawkwatch. The Hawkwatch people set up a tagging operation at Bonney Butte, a place in the cascades where because of geography - valleys and mountain ridges - three major raptor migration paths converge.

The peak in the background is Mt. Hood. The location of the Hawkwatch blind is approximately several hundred feet beyond the big tree in the upper right hand corner. Outside of the blind is a stunt pigeon dressed in a little leather vest. It is the pigeon’s job to act as bait for the eagles and hawks that happen to pass by on their way to warmer climates. In much the same way that a herring can be tied to fishing-line to attract bigger fish, the pigeon is also tied to a line. Whenever the pigeon attempts to fly away, a Hawkwatch specialist inevitably yanks on the line and causes the pigeon to crash awkwardly, making it appear to be embarrassingly clumsy. This evidently is too tempting of a target for hungry raptors to pass up. The leather vest isn’t just stylish. It preserves the pigeon’s life when the birds of prey strike.

The day I arrived at the blind, the Hawkwatch people had just finished capturing and banding a goshawk and were ready to release it.

You can see how humiliated and angry this goshawk is about falling for the old decoy pigeon trick. It couldn’t stop screaming.

Just as the Goshawk was being released, a golden eagle stumbled into the same trap. The Hawkwatch team spent considerable time measuring various aspects of this large bird and eventually decided it was a candidate for carrying one of their radio transmitters. They fastened the transmitter on with a little leather harness that I’m sure the other eagles will laugh at.

Most of the Hawkwatch personnel seemed to be either volunteers or interns. They were learning how to do most of the things they did from the old guy in the tent in the putting-the-radio-transmitter-on picture above. This crew seemed to be awestruck by the birds and appeared to me to be in a quasi-religious state of ecstasy (Yes I'm slightly exaggerating, but I hope in a good way) as if they were becoming one with the animal totem.

It was clear to me that you should have skills if you want to hold a golden eagle.

After I got a chance to look into the eyes of a golden eagle, I was kind of wishing that it was MY animal totem.

This is the picture that made me decide I’d have to get a SLR digital camera with easily accessible manual controls - because I couldn’t control the shutter speed of my little Nikon and though I had kind of gotten used to the time lag between pressing the button and having the shutter open and close, it still wasn’t exact enough and consequently, this isn’t the picture I wanted.

The release of the eagle marked the end of the tagging operation for the day, and the Hawkwatch personnel began packing up and heading down to their campsite. I hung around at the top of the butte until dusk and watched a weather front come in from the West.

(If you are interested in seeing the satellite tracking data for golden eagle #21260c, I've provided a link to the Hawkwatch web pages in the list of links.)

1 comment:

  1. We have both a spring and a fall Hawkwatch site in NM. Entrancing creatures. One could do far worse than one of these birds of prey for a totem.


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