Class is in at Hawk RidgeDuring the months of September and October, Duluth is home to one of the top raptor universities in world. Don’t worry — there is no written homework.
By: John Shirley, For the Budgeteer News
During the months of September and October, Duluth is home to one of the top raptor universities in world. Don’t worry — there is no written homework.
In fact, it’s basically one big field trip, and the only grades come in the form of personal satisfaction. Classes are flexible. Those unable to visit often can still bring their bird viewing and learning to new heights, observing in one day more hawks, eagles, and falcons than most see in several years. Those who come more often will receive an even higher education in bird watching.
Hawk Ridge (often mistakenly called Hawk’s Ridge, but the birds don’t own it) is on the path of one of the largest fall migrations of raptors in the world. Located at approximately 3980 E. Skyline Parkway above Glenwood Street in Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood, it is a high ridge overlooking Duluth’s Lake Superior shore; raptors avoid the cold air over the frigid lake and stay along the ridge line with its rising thermals, which makes flying
Below this aerial superhighway, the persistent bird-student can learn much about these magnificent winged hunters. There to help in these endeavors are the staff and volunteers of Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, whose mission is “to protect birds of prey and other migratory birds in the Western Lake Superior Region through research, education, and stewardship.”
“The reason why all this is important is the more you know about an individual species the more people feel connected with it and the more they will care and conserve what we know,” said Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory naturalist Katie Swanson.
Besides having a number of knowledgeable people on hand to answer the public’s questions concerning birds, Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory educates the public in many other ways. The organization display charts and provides literature on how to identify the many types of raptors.
The public is welcome to visit the area by that platform between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to watch birds and talk to the staff of the observatory at no charge.
For a more involved education they host programs and demonstrations. Evening programs include ones to observe the real night owls. Group programs are available which are divided into five different grade levels including grade 9-to-adult.
During bird demonstrations, recently banded birds are displayed to the public. These are birds that were captured and banded at a nearby banding station.
After the banding, the staff shows the birds and educates the public concerning them. Then bird sponsors are allowed to hold and then release the birds to resume their journey to warmer climates. This band-and-release program allows both the public and naturalists to gain key information about the birds.
“Banding helps us learn the migration pathway of these birds. And if we know the migration pathway of these birds … we can keep that area protected and protect their habitat,” Swanson said.
Even those with extensive formal education about birds can gain much knowledge by going to class on the Ridge.
Staff member Erik Bruhnke has 5 years’ experience in bird surveying and as an ornithology professor. He currently owns Naturally Avian, taking individuals and groups on bird tours, which are sort of a bird safari, in the wilds of the Northland. Despite this extensive background he has expanded his knowledge by observing and teaching on such a busy raptor route.
“I’ve learned a lot of in-depth raptor identification techniques. I’ve also learned to identify songbirds by sight and sound in flight,” Bruhnke said.
Having lived many years in Duluth, Greg Garmer has been able to learn much about raptors during frequent visits to Hawk Ridge. He first visited Hawk Ridge in 1972.
“We starting coming up here in the ‘70s before it got popular. I was just an interested layperson,” said Garmer.
Over the years he has learned many things. One of the main things is the identification of birds. Greg has received great satisfaction from knowing which bird he is looking at. During a given day, though he sees many of the same things, it is not uncommon for Greg to see something that is rare or unusual.
Garmer said he likes bird watching because doing it involves observing but not disturbing the animal. It uses a sort of avian prime directive.
He explains: “There is a certain artistry in how the birds fly. They are masters of the air. It’s just kind of fun to appreciate what they do … And the thing about bird watching is you’re not taking anything home to eat, just observing it for its own sake.”
Evening owl programs are scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday, October 5, 12, 19, and 26. Due to the popularity of the program and limited capacity, tickets are required. They can be purchased beginning the Monday prior to that weekend’s program by calling 218-428-6209, or at Hawk Ridge between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Cost: $5/person or $20/family. Dress warmly and meet at Hawk Ridge overlook.
For more information contact 218.428.6209 or www.hawkridge.org.