Now in its 9th year (see previous post LINK), the Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch in Pownal, Maine attracts an average of over 1200 visitors annually. Furthermore, many times that number visit the summit throughout our two month season and briefly chat with the Official Counter or read our count board and display. Of those 1200+ folks, many have never heard of, or at least never visited, a “hawkwatch” before, as the culture of hawkwatching in Northern New England isn’t as ingrained in the birding culture or as widespread as in such places as Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
For my wife, Jeannette and I, this outreach and education potential is enormous, and just as important as the data we are collecting. And as a growing part of this project, 2015 was the 5th year of our “Feathers Over Freeport: A Birdwatching Weekend” spring festival. Our store, Freeport Wild Bird Supply partners with Bradbury Mountain State Park, the host of the hawkwatch, and Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park in neighboring Freeport to welcome 500-1000 additional visitors each weekend. Growing from a “Bird Day” hosted by the park’s Rangers to an event that attracts folks from several states away, Feathers Over Freeport is now one of our leading ways to introduce people to the raptors of southern Maine – often for the very first time.
This year, Leica Sport Optics’ own Jeff Bouton participated in this fun-filled and family-friendly weekend offering a photography workshop each day, assisted in leading guided bird walks, and joined the masses in enjoying the migrant raptors at Bradbury (including a spiffy adult Northern Goshawk that zipped low over the summit) and the returning nesting Ospreys of Wolfe’s Neck Woods.
The stars of the show at Wolfe’s Neck are the Ospreys – especially the pair that occupies the nest on a little island just offshore, and many of our Sunday events feature them. And this year the park’s pairs were augmented by an impressive collection of migrants and local birds congregating together in corners of the bay. In fact, our Sunday morning birdwalk at Wolfe’s Neck amassed 29 Ospreys, including hunting groups of 13 and 12, respectively busy hovering over shallow corners of the bay, presumably looking for migrating Alewives.
But let’s be honest, seeing hawks at a hawkwatch is notoriously less reliable, especially in spring with its less-concentrated and fewer migrants and fussy weather (especially in Maine!). While we usually have some local breeding birds we can rely on for Saturday’s hawkwatch workshop, the success of such events is at the mercy of the weather. This year, I focused more on the history and goals of the project as we waited for the day to warm up and some more birds to take to the air. Andrew Wolfgang, our 2015 Official Counter did his best to scan the skies for study subjects, and eventually we were rewarded with some fantastically low Broad-winged Hawks, including our local male in full aerial display – his rowing beats and exaggerated flight looking more like a giant, floppy butterfly than the compact and efficient soaring specialist most hawkwatchers know and love.
For both Jeff and me, nothing will ever beat observing free-flying raptors at a hawkwatch or as they go about their domestic duties at their nest, but sometimes these birds are harder to see, and especially for children, harder to engage with. Enter the good folks at Wind Over Wings, a local organization that houses injured and un-releasable raptors and shows them off in exceptionally educational and captivating traveling programs. Feathers Over Freeport has hosted Wind Over Wings every year of the festival, and this year their visit was supported by the Freeport Conservation Trust and Bow Street Market. Hope Douglas and cohorts did a remarkable job as usual, not just teaching us about the raptors that they brought, but education us all on the myriad of threats these birds face – and solutions thereof.
Even “Mr. I Don’t Photograph Captive Birds” Bouton was captivated – I mean, when a bird as stunning as a Golden Eagle is standing ten feet away (and Skywalker has such an incredible story to go along with his incredible talons and bill!), how can you not marvel at it…and get out the Leica V-Lux (Typ 114) to have some fun!
So whether your tastes are up close and personal Golden Eagles, or learning how to identify tiny specks miles way, Feathers Over Freeport offers something for every current, and hopefully future, raptor enthusiast! Be sure to look for it in 2016.