Hundreds come to view raptors at HawkWatch 2012
By Karen Brainard
“Look how magnificent that bird is,” a spectator at HawkWatch 2012 said when seeing a ferruginous hawk up close.
She was one of approximately 360 spectators on Saturday, Jan. 7, viewing and learning about the variety of raptors that reside or winter in the Ramona Grasslands.
The Wildlife Research Institute, Inc. (WRI) is conducting HawkWatch each Saturday in January, from 9 a.m. to noon at its headquarters, 18030 Highland Valley Rd. The event is free for all ages and open to the public.
Dave Bittner, executive director of WRI, runs the show with assistance from volunteers with other wildlife organizations. As Bittner talked, the volunteers walked around so visitors could have close-up views of the birds. Nineteen species of raptors have been recorded in the area, including golden and bald eagles.
“There’s an adult red-tail (hawk) flying across,” Bittner pointed up while he was telling a semi-circle of visitors about the red-shouldered hawk that a volunteer was holding.
At another time during Bittner’s talk he pointed out a Cooper’s hawk that was flying and said it probably came from somewhere up north.
“In this time of year we have all our residents still here and then we have our migrants,” Bittner said.
The wintering birds come to the Ramona Grasslands because of the food supply, Bittner said, adding that there are lots of animals to feed on in the Grasslands.
One spectator asked how hawks can spot their prey so far away.
“Their vision is about eight times better than ours,” replied Bittner. Where a human will see a patch of grass, the hawk will see the individual blades, he noted
When a volunteer brought out a peregrine falcon, Bittner told how peregrines can fly as fast as 200 mph when diving for prey.
Spectators also saw an American kestrel and a barn owl.
“This barn owl is one of the best gopher catchers around,” Bittner told the group as the white-face owl serenely sat on volunteer Lara Webster’s gloved hand.
The large crowd learned that the ferruginous hawk is the biggest hawk and can live to be 30 or 40 years old.
Bittner regaled the crowd with many other fascinating facts about the raptors and took questions from his audience.
HawkWatch draws people from all over the country and even Canada. When Bittner asked the crowd to call out where they were from, responses included Connecticut, New Jersey, Ohio, Wisconsin and Chicago. Those living farthest away were presented with a HawkWatch cap.
Sheila Silverstein from Westfield, NJ, said she and her husband, Harry, winter in the San Diego area and enjoy coming to the HawkWatch.
“We’re very interested in nature. We both love birds. Any time you get so close to these birds is fantastic,” she said.
Joe and Carol Burkholder from Rancho Bernardo said they came to HawkWatch last year and couldn’t wait to come again this year. The couple said they love seeing the wild birds and are impressed with the knowledge of those involved with HawkWatch.
“David Bittner is amazing,” said Carol Burkholder.
Sighting scopes are set around the WRI property for visitors to get close-up views of the raptors in the wild.
Visitors are encouraged to arrive to HawkWatch by 8:30 a.m. and can bring binoculars and chairs. Wearing sturdy shoes and layered clothing are recommended.
WRI’s visitor’s center sells sighting scopes and binoculars, as well as vests, T-shirts, and caps.
In past years HawkWatch has also been held in February. This year it is only scheduled for January but Bittner said WRI has a number of other events and programs planned including a lecture series presented by WRI biologists.
To get to HawkWatch take state Route 67 to Highland Valley Road. Turn north on Highland Valley Road and travel for two miles. Look for the Wildlife Research Institute Inc. sign on the right. Parking is along the road.
For more information about WRI events or HawkWatch, go to www.wildlife-research.org or call 760-789-3992.
- HawkWatch 2012 starts Jan. 7
- HawkWatch 2012 starts Jan. 7
- HawkWatch 2010
- HawkWatch attracts hundreds
- Hawk Watch 2009 starts Jan. 3
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