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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Zen Of Hawkwatching

Air Date: Week of

Commentator David Catlin muses on the joys of watching the yearly hawk migration. Catlin says while some people don't consider it worth their while, actually seeing the hawks is only part of the pleasure of looking for them.


CURWOOD: As the fall winds bend trees of growing color here in the temperate latitudes, the great migrations begin. Commentator and Naturalist David Catlin has been out in the Missouri Ozarks with his binoculars, watching, and thinking.

CATLIN: I grew to love the September hawk migration back when I worked as a naturalist in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Every year broadwing hawks came swirling out of the north in the last two weeks of the month. They rode like surfers on the waves of incoming cold fronts, and if I had a good vantage point I could watch them stream by for hours. Then I moved to Springfield, Missouri, and took a job running a nature center. I knew that the hawk migration actually occurs all over the country, so as part of the center's educational efforts, I organized some hawk-watching vigils here in the Ozarks. I would drive out to a nearby state forest, climb to the top of an old fire tower, sit down with my binoculars, and wait for eager hawk watchers to arrive. This proved to be pretty marginally successful as public programming. Even when we advertised that I would be providing free lemonade, people just didn't come. All I can figure is that they'd heard how unreliable the birds were. In the Blue Ridge, hawks are fairly predictable. Around here it's a lottery. Last year a couple down in Taney County counted 3700 broadwings in an hour and a half. But more often the hawk watching is pretty slow. I don't think I spent a day on that fire tower when I saw more than 20 birds. But I had a wonderful time. I listened to the jays squabble in the trees below me. I watched monarch butterflies drift past on their way to Mexico. I drank a lot of that cool lemonade. And I meditated. One realization I had was that there's a whole generation spoiled by the spectacle of the Discovery Channel that is missing out on the joys of just sitting. We stopped offering hawk-watching as a program because I'm a government employee and we couldn't justify my meditations to the taxpayers. Still, I always urge people to appreciate the migration on their own. Just about anywhere in the country, the hawk-watching is best when the sun shines and the wind blows puffy clouds in from the northwest, and the sitting is good any time.

CURWOOD: Commentator David Catlin is the manager of the Springfield Conservation Nature Center, in Springfield, Missouri. He comes to us from member station KSMU.



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