A day in the life of a migration monitor on Chelan Ridge

24 October 2017

Text and photo by Magill Schumm

A day in the life of a migration monitor at the Chelan Ridge HawkWatch:

0630 Your alarm goes off. You stick your head out of your sleeping bag, try to sit up, realize how much colder the outside world is and then hit snooze

0639 You yell, “no!” and hit snooze again

0648 Alarm goes off for the third time and you decide it is time to face the world. You crawl out of your cold weather sleeping bag, put on a few more layers, and stumble out of your tent.

0655 Open the back of your car and hope your contact solution hasn’t frozen over night. If it hasn’t, put them in and see the beautiful detail you’ve been missing

0700 You go into the sunny, windless yurt. Use your elbows in order to get stove space to boil water for your coffee and to make a nice egg scramble. Thank your crew leader profusely for frying up a whole package of bacon and collecting the grease for future cooking. Get your lunch together and boil some extra water to bring to work in your Stanley Thermos for hot drinks later in the day.

0835 Realize you need to start hiking to work in five minutes and frantically collect your hat, gloves, balaclava, hand warmers, toe warmers, binoculars, back pack, water bottles, hot cocoa powder and instant coffee.

0842 Get to the trailhead and realize you forgot your binoculars. Drop your backpack and hurry back to the yurt to grab them.

0845 Okay, you’re actually ready for work now. You head up the trail and a good clip because you need to do the 20-minute hike in 15.

0859 You made it in time! It’s a great start to the day. Boy are you hot from that short but quick hike. You set down your pack and take off your winter coat to cool off. You go over to the barrel and grab the compass and the Kestrel Meter along with a Krazy Kreek and a blanket.

0902 You’re settled and have done a few naked-eye scans of the area, so it is time to begin scanning with your binoculars. You check that the focus is set correctly, then you begin scanning slowly up and down from Cooper Mountain all the way to the Navarres. Your partner will cover the more easterly side.

0930 The tablet starts singing a song and vibrating. That means it is time to take the hourly weather metadata. You turn off the tablet alarm and open up the fan on the Kestrel to check the wind speed. Wow! The wind gusts are up to 28 kilometers per hour. No wonder you haven’t been able to hear your partner on the other end of the rock. The temperature reads five degrees Celsius; it’s a chilly day to be staying still outside.

0943 Your partner says, “Billy! Shooting down by Groot.” This is mountain speak for “Look! One of our resident Sharp-Shinned Hawks is flying low in the valley by that mid sized snag.” After watching the bird for a few moments, you see that it is hunting, not migrating and you confirm that it is a resident bird, so you do not record it.

1000 The tablet alarm goes off again. This will happen every half hour for the rest of the day. At the bottom of the hour you will record weather metadata, and at the top of the hour you will create a flight summary. Unfortunately, you and your partner have not counted any migrating raptors in the past hour, so you leave the flight summary blank and simply record the counters’ names and that there were no human visitors.

1043 You’ve enjoyed the quiet morning, but it is time for some audio entertainment. You look at your podcasts. Ooh! You see that podcast about cauliflower. You spend the next hour or so learning about those fractal-icious brassicas - yum.

1155 While doing a long distance scan with your binoculars you spot a speck between the Twin Peaks. You focus in and watch the speck rise up in a spiral until it begins to fly straight over your head. You could tell early on that it was some sort of Buteo because it had long wings, slight dihedral, and a steady flight, but as it flies directly over your head you see it has some perfect black rhombuses on the underside of its wings so you can tell it is a Rough-Legged Hawk. You grab the radio and alert the blind that a Roughie may be headed its way. However, you watch the bird fly high over Cooper Mountain and realize the blind’s chances are slim. You record the hawk in the Dunkadoo app on the tablet as your first migrant of the day.

1207 Three Accipiters fly low through the valley in fairly quick succession. With the help of your partner, you determine that two were Sharp-shinned Hawks, and the other was a Cooper’s Hawk. They all went south, so they all get recorded as migrants.

1321 Proud of yourself for making it almost halfway through the day before your big reward, you pull out your turkey, cheese, artisanal sauerkraut, and avocado sandwich on bread from the Sweet River Baker in Pateros, and enjoy your lunch.

1512 You’ve counted five more birds in the past few hours, so that’s not a bad day, but even though the sun is out, you’re getting pretty tired. You remind yourself to keep scanning and that there are fewer than three hours left. You turn on the “This American Life” episode you’ve been saving for such an occasion.

1735 You see something low in the valley in front of Goff. It looks big. You call your partner over and watch as a bird with incredibly long wings slowly circles up above the horizon. You see some lovely white wing patches on this majestic bird and identify it as an immature Golden Eagle. The awe it fills you with gives you just the energy you need to finish the last 25 minutes of observations.

1800 The last tablet alarm of the day goes off and you high five your partner for completing the day.

1825 You and your partner stop at the count bird at the end of the trail before and record the 17 migrants you observed that day as well as the banding totals the folks at the blind texted to you.
1837 You sit down in your camp chair in the at the yurt and revel in the warmth gained from finally getting out of the wind.

1900 The crew is back together in the yurt and someone is cooking dinner. Some sort of stir-fry is making the yurt smell incredible as you all sit in anticipation.

2000 You boil some water after a delicious meal and work up the motivation to go outside to help with the dishes. When you finally get out there, the air is cold, but you’re grateful for the hot water. By the light of your headlamp, you scrub and rinse the dishes.

2020 Time to get ready for bed! You head over to your car to brush your teeth and wipe off the dirt from the day with some baby wipes. It feels too cold, but you know it will be worth it in the long run.

2057 All tucked into your sleeping bag, you switch off the LED fairy lights illuminating your tent and are very quickly out like a log.

...until tomorrow, good night.

Wyo wind2 photo by Will BrittonAnother windy day at the Commissary Ridge HawkWatch.  You know it's crazy out when the wind is gusting at speds of 123 km/h!!

Weather and associated flight conditions are recorded at the bottom of every hour to help determine relationships between the current conditions and associated flight patterns of migrating hawks.

Big thanks to Kestrel Meters (Nielsen-Kellerman) for their support and partnership in raptor research and conservation.


(photo by Will Britton)

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