Courtesy Mark RyanIt’s that time of the year again when hawks, eagles, and other raptors head south for the winter. That means lots of folks will be migrating to Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve on the western tip of Lake Superior to view the annual event.
Because the birds don’t like crossing wide expanses of water, tens of thousands of them funnel into the port city of Duluth, Minnesota from regions north to get past Lake Superior.
I was in Duluth this past weekend, and official bird counters were already at the main overlook tracking and recording birds that have already begun their migration south. But don’t worry, if you’re a birder (or just someone who enjoys one of the best urban views of Lake Superior), there's still plenty of opportunity to participate in the annual aerial stampede.
According to the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory website, the best viewing times depend on the weather and wind direction.
"Birds and the weather are both unpredictable, but here are a few tips for predicting the flight: Northwest or west winds are best, and the more in a row, the better. North and southwest winds are okay. South, southeast, and east winds are not good. The day before or a couple of days after a strong front usually produces more birds. The flight essentially shuts down in the rain, and if they move in fog, we can't see them!“
Although the migration continues into November, mid-September seems to be the peak time to see the most birds. And if you really want to get in the thick of it, plan to be at Hawk Ridge in a few weeks for the big Hawk Weekend Festival on September 14, 15, and 16. The event includes presentations, field trips and, as expected, lots of bird-watching. If past years are any indication, flocks of bird-lovers and naturalists will be there, too. At minimum, you should at least bring a decent pair of binoculars.
Courtesy Mark RyanThe birds flying in like to catch rising columns of air known as thermals and ride them over the ridge. When I was there, a kettle of turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) was doing just that. It makes for some extended observation time and somewhat easier photography than if they were just doing a flyby.
If you plan to go, just know that last weekend the east entrance to Hawk Ridge (Seven Bridges Road) was still closed from last June’s flooding. The best remaining access to the ridge is from Glenwood Avenue. One way to get there from downtown (and the easiest to explain) is to take Superior Street east to 45th Avenue East and then north (left) to Glenwood Avenue. Another left takes you up about a half-mile to the crest of the hill where the entrance to Hawk Ridge is located. The entrance is marked with a large sign and is a rather sharp-angled right turn so be prepared for that.