About a dozen members of the Westman Naturalists were in Virden last weekend for a special birding event they call HawkWatch.
They gathered early Sunday morning at a lookout point on the edge of the Assiniboine Valley not far from Virden as thick fog blanketed the lowlands.
With binoculars, telescopes, cameras and tripods at the ready, the bird watchers patiently waited for the fog to lift and the migrating birds to start coasting down the valley from the north on their fall pilgrimage.
Meanwhile, hundreds of feet below the ridge, an oxbow of the Assiniboine River hosted hundreds of ducks and geese filling their bellies for the trip ahead. Cattle grazed near the banks and a lone coyote sauntered through the pastoral scene and into the bush.
Then, the birds began to arrive.
Red-tailed hawks, broad-winged hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, Swainson’s hawks, bald eagles, kestrels, harriers, and even a rare golden eagle – ten species of raptors in one morning plus hundreds of sandhill cranes, some turkey vultures and pelicans.
Co-founder Gillian Richards said afterwards, “It's always a treat to see a golden eagle, it was good to see good numbers and variety of hawks -- 41 species, ten species of raptors, and 71 individual raptors counted.”
At one point, a few large ravens mobbed a hawk and an eagle, prompting ooohs and ahs from the delighted viewers below. “The close view of interactions between birds was definitely a highlight!”
Co-founder Glennis Lewis summed up the birding that day, “We were so pleased with the turnout for the HawkWatch event. It was a great opportunity for birders of different skill levels to spend time together.
“And all participants were contributing to an important citizen science project to better understand hawk migrations.
“But, perhaps most importantly, these beautiful birds were just a joy to watch.”
The Westman Naturalists’ next outing is Sept. 28 at Delta Marsh north of Portage la Prairie.