Friday, October 17, 2014

One Weekend, Two Bird Fests, and a Great Lake

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In mid-September, I cleared my calendar and made preparations to fulfill a wish: to see thousands of raptors migrating along Lake Superior's western shore. At last, this would be my year to go to Hawk Fest, at Hawk Ridge in Duluth, Minnesota. I made plans to travel alone--a 6 1/2 hour drive--and meet my birding friend, Susan, once I got there. Susan told me we could also check out Jaegerfest at Wisconsin Point in Superior, happening the same weekend. Really? I'd heard of jaegers but had never seen one. Wow--this would be an excellent adventure with major migration satisfaction.

Duluth and Superior are cities connected by two giant bridges and share one of the country's busiest ports. Located on the westernmost tip of Lake Superior, the area is bird-rich, especially during migration. Then, raptors pass over the shoreline between the lake and Duluth's towering hills, riding thermals--columns of warm air produced when the sun hits the earth. Jaegers, on the other hand, may be seen (if you're lucky, basically) during fall migration on the Great Lakes, as the birds head south to their winter habitats.



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Testing that luck, my first stop on Friday morning was Wisconsin Point: part of the world's longest freshwater sandbar, and the site of Jaegerfest. My spirits were buoyed, knowing there had been sightings of 3 species of jaegers (Pomerine, Parasitic, and Long-tailed) here on Wednesday. I strode up the sandy path and through the opening of trees to the sight of literally dozens of scopes, tripods, and intrepid birders along the shoreline of the biggest and most pristine of the Great Lakes.



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I found Susan, set up my scope alongside the others, and settled in with our comrades. Word was, no jaegers had been seen in a couple days--but there were many sharp eyes present, and walkie-talkies on both ends of the crowd, insuring we wouldn't miss anything. Though it was easy to discern: this would be a festival of patience. Looking to our left, we could see the ridge above the city of Duluth in the distance. If things got slow here, we agreed, we could always make a getaway to Hawk Ridge, just a few miles west. Thus began our festival-hopping that continued throughout the weekend.



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Weather deteriorated on Friday afternoon into a cold mist, so we started anew on Saturday morning and a Parasitic Jaeger (and possibly a second) was spotted shortly after we arrived. Thank goodness there was an enormous freighter "parked" straight out from us in the distance (photo above), giving onlookers a point of reference. "It's left of the ship! Approaching the ship--now in front of the ship! It's chasing a gull!" It was an exhilarating but brief experience--no more than a minute or two, and then it was over. Everyone who saw it was elated, and I took a sip from a flask and handed it to a friend to celebrate. He sipped too, smiled, and added, "Next time around, do I have to actually SEE the jaeger?"

Susan and I took a little time to explore Wisconsin Point, then headed to the hills above Duluth, and Hawk Ridge.

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Check back for Part 2: Hawk Ridge!

Nina Cheney
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.

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