The Great Black Hawk Stakeout

After hearing about the many sightings of a very rare raptor, the Great Black Hawk (native to Central and South America), in Portland, Maine, we decided to go on a last-minute road trip.

After a restless sleep in York, we wound our way toward Portland, stopping at a couple of good birding spots, including Rachel Carson National Wildlife Sanctuary and Biddeford Pools. It was icier than we expected, especially along the rocky shore of Biddeford Pools. Fortunately, cold, rain, and ice didn’t keep the seabirds away. While there, we saw Long-Tailed Ducks riding the choppy waves and diving into freezing wadsc_0847ters. The diving is what made their long tails apparent. Further down the shore, we also saw a Common Loon, White-Winged Scoter, and a Double-Crested Cormorant. Finally, with numb toes and fingers, we walked back to the car and made our way to Deering Oaks Park in Portland.

Circling the park, we saw only a few birders and were anxious about whether or not we would see the Great Black Hawk. As we got out of the car, a man and his two children told us that we had indeed just midsc_0894ssed the hawk. It had flown from a tall stand of evergreens and further into the city. Hoping for its return, we began out two-hour stakeout, circling the trees and park, our eyes to the skyline and the trees, jumping at every shadow and flicker of flight or movement. Other birders joined us in the crunching snow, desperate to spy the bird. Eventually, the long, cold wait turned into a brief snowball fight to pass the time. Still nothing.

To give ourselves a break, we headed north to try our luck with other birds at Gilsland Farm Audubon Center. The air became chillier and the rain more persistent. We saw a few birds, including black ducks, hairy woodpeckers, and dark-eyed juncos. There was also a nice story trail about a Snowy Owl, though we wished we had seen the real specimen.

Finally, we headed back to Portland for the last hour before sunset, hoping that the hawk would come back to roost. Many of the same birders were still there, camped out under trees, waiting. The hawk had never returned and wouldn’t again that night. Disappointed, we headed back for dinner and an early bedtime. Our plan was to get up before sunrise and drive back to the park.

With a spark of hope in our hearts, we drove over icy roads in the dark and arrived at the park just as the sky turned from silver to gold. Nothing was obvious at first, but as we continued to peer into the shadowy branches, the sky lightened and became a deep pink that lit up the branches. Sadly, nothing. It seemed the hawk had stayed somewhere else last night.

dsc_0918After climbing up one of Portland’s hills for breakfast and sliding our way back down — some (Maura) hitting the pavement harder than others and gaining souvenir bruises — we returned to the stand of trees one last time. More birders with long-lensed cameras were beneath the branches. But the cameras were held low, a sign that nothing was there.

We waited for thirty more minutes — a total of 3.5 hours — until we had to call it a day. Trudging and sliding back to our car, we told ourselves that this was an adventure, despite our goal not being met. We had seen over 20 bird species and 7 new ones. And in the end, it was good training for longer bird outings to come.

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And because we couldn’t resist, we stopped at one more location, Wells Reserve at Laudholm. We added a Tree Sparrow there (and a dead porcupine).

On the way home, we dreamed of coming back to all of these sanctuaries in the spring and traveling to more distant ones throughout the year, not to mention sneaking back to Portland for one last try at the Great Black Hawk.


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