Don’t Drive Off The Road While Watching Birds.

In September, 2007 the first bald eagle flew 70 feet above us. Small groups of warblers and painted buntings were slipping through the trees and brush. September 22 I watched with excitement as the first hummingbird flew like a warning shot over my head. I would have missed it if not for the ridiculous computer game-like chattering that preceded his appearance.

Two coopers hawks stopped by as if to say “we’re back, got any doves for us to eat?” A bold, red-tailed hawk harassed the wood ducks in the pond next door; how exciting it would have been to see him catch one.

Fall is the time of year to walk around your yard with head up and eyes and ears tuned in to the slightest movement or sound. Start your identification skills with the common blue-gray gnatcatcher. This small bird of 4.5inches has a cute sweee sound and will hang around you if you make a pish, pish. pish sound. The orchard oriole is greenish-yellow with gray wings containing two white bars. At seven inches long it is two inches larger than the similar warblers. You may see one slowly eating the fruit of your strangler fig. The mature male is black on top and has a red underside.

The first cold snap in October is when you must go outside early in the morning and watch as dozens of migrating birds pass through our yards. Drive about a half hour west of John Pennekamp Park to Curry Hammock State Park in the middle Keys. Climb the observation tower and hang out with one of the college students researching raptors and you will learn to identify many kinds of hawks, eagles, peregrine falcons and other birds. You will become a raptor expert by the end of the day and your kids will remember this time with you forever.

Try not to hyperventilate and drive off of the road as you begin to notice the raptors around you. I nearly did this one year as a peregrine falcon flew next to me while I drove west, just east of congress ave. on Lantana rd. Of the dozen cars in my group, no one noticed this majestic bird flying right next to all of us. He then veered off to the left toward a strip mall and shot behind the buildings at full speed. You could tell where he was by the panicked pigeons exploding upward from behind the buildings. Pigeon bowling pins.

How often do you see flocks of starlings zigzaging through the sky? Look a little closer and you may notice a merlin, sharpshin or coopers hawk trying to separate and then pick one off. Watch that red tailed hawk and he may suddenly dive almost straight down from 500 feet. Pull over and see if you can witness a kill. My wife, noticed a bald eagle one year as it flew over a supermarket parking lot while stealing a fish from an osprey. Again, no one else noticed.

One of the most exciting moments I have had watching birds was in a restaurant in West Palm Beach that was six stories up. I glanced out the picture window at some vultures gliding by when one of them looked up at a peregrine falcon and dove straight down with the falcon just behind. The peregrine must have been having fun because nobody eats a vulture. No one at the table noticed and they acted like I was crazy when I pointed and said “look at that peregrine falcon.”

You may embarrass yourself occasionally, but it is worth it to be tuned in to surrounding wildlife. Stopped at a light? just look around and you may witness a coopers hawk pick off a dove or a Kestrel chasing sparrows or starlings.