Ten days ago the Audubon Society of Portland sponsored their quite unique and quite fun Raptor Road Trip off of Sauvie Island. This was my second year attending and apparently word traveled fast from the previous year because over 1,600 people showed up for the day.
Originally I was planning on going with my friend Hedwig, but the way things turned out, I ended up going by myself. Honestly, I LOVED going on my own. No schedule to keep and I could stay for as long or as short as I wanted at each designated look-out point.
This year I was prepared as I had a traveler’s mug full of coffee, my camera with extra batteries, light layers, hat/gloves/raincoat in the trunk, my Peterson’s Hawk Guide, and a thermos of spicy, black bean soup which can coat your ribs and shoo away the chills. I was ready for anything the Oregon weather decided to dish out.
A local joke in the PNW is if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. Well, I waited five, ten, fifteen and the day still opted to be perfect. Clouds hung back along the horizon and gave us Raptor Watchers a lovely, hazy sky. There was no glare which would provide squinting, nor cement gray darkness to make it difficult to spot eagles and the like.
I drove over the Sauvie Island Bridge around 8:50am, ten minutes before the event started. I was excited about what I might see this year as last year was breath-taking with all the bald eagles, hawks, and falcons.
This year did NOT disappoint.
After I crossed the bridge and looped left, I followed the white “Raptor Road Trip” signage. A few seconds later, my eyes caught something sitting atop one of the brown information signs. My brain thought, “Cardboard cut out for the event?”, but quickly nixed the idea the closer I got. Soon I realized whatever this was was real.
I slowed my Subaru to a crawl and gently stopped next to the sign. Puffed up and perched atop was a HUGE, three foot from tail to head, female Red-Tailed Hawk. Her feathers were poofed out to keep in the warmth. She turned her head, looked at me, and promptly took flight–gliding exquisitely over the hood of my car and down to a tree by the meandering river.
The SUV behind me didn’t honk or tailgate or shake any fists as they were watching the spectacle themselves. Us bird watchers flock together. Heh.
Experiencing such an intimate encounter made my heart leap for joy. It was a momentous welcome.
I picked up fliers, road map, and paid for my island pass at HQ. I also laughed at all the Subarus (Outback and Foresters) pulling into the farm and lining up. It was the Unofficial Car of the Raptor Road Trip.
First look-out stop: Coon Point. Coon Point was fantastic. I parked along the side of the road and beat the rush. Kicking myself for not owning proper binoculars, I was grateful there were fellow enthusiasts willing to share and Audubon volunteers with scopes already set up.
I saw one Red-Tailed Hawk and two parent Bald Eagles perched above their condo (If you’ve never seen a Bald Eagle’s nest they are roughly eight feet or more in diameter). There was a chill in the air, but only enough to keep your sense sharp, not freeze your ears off.
While I sipped the complimentary hot cocoa and popped a Donette in my mouth, my eyes caught an interesting shape way off in the distance. Far back to the line of trees past the marsh and to the right. I asked a lady near me if she could make it out with her binoculars. She couldn’t as it was too far. She asked one of the volunteers to train their scope out in that area. Lo’ and behold, “Miss? Hey! You were right! That’s a Bald Eagle perched over there!”
Whereas the eagle duo had their backs to us, this eagle was full frontal beauty. Thanks to the scope we could make out his gleaming white head, sharp beak, and piercing eyes. Awesome.
After a while, I figured it was time to head over to the other view points before the masses invaded. I headed to my car and was immediately distracted by a small group of onlookers checking out nearby tree across the street. Once I walked over, I realized why. Perched upon one of the lower branches, roughly thirty feet away, was a juvie Red-Tailed Hawk. He was so close we could make out the pattern on his chest.
I took copious amounts of photos, but with the sun back-lighting him, I could only get silhouette shots.
After a while, I stopped trying to get that “perfect shot” and opted to simply enjoy the moment. He was beautiful.
The hawk hopped from branch to branch and then glided over our heads (magnificent!), across the road, and up into one of the nearest trees at the look-out point. I hiked up that friggin’ hill and took more photos. He was close, roughly twenty feet up, and we could make out his beak and eyes without binoculars.
This was beyond cool. Beyond amazing. I would dare say this was a crashing tidal wave of pure AWESOMENESS. That is, if you’re into that kinda thing, which I am. To have two up-close-and-personal encounters with one’s favorite raptor. I relished the moment for as long as that juvie hawk stayed there which was about twenty minutes. At that point, he flew back to the other tree and that was when I decided to continue my road trip.
Well, as per the definition of “road trip”, it wasn’t much of one. As I arrived at Look-Out Numero Dos, I was presented with a long line of cars waiting to park in the lot. Yikes. Thankfully, I had done this event before and remembered this look-out was more about water fowl (geese, swans, cranes, herons), than actual raptors. So I embraced modern technology and did a u-turn and headed towards the Barn.
The Barn is where the Audubon Society set up shop and introduces folks to the Educational Birds. Birds which for some reason or another can never return to the wildlife as they would not have the skills to survive. I took more photos of Aristophanes (Raven), Jack Sparrowhawk (American Kestrel), and Hazel (Spotted Owl). It’s a rare treat to see them outside their cages.
I perused the merchandise and touched the actual coppery tail of a Red-Tailed Hawk. Vibes shot up my finger tips as I honoured the energies of this raptor.
Back at the car, I tail-gated with some black bean soup and inhaled the beautiful day. My Subaru was making an odd whirrrrrrring sound (ended up being the diodes in my new alternator), so rather than go to Look-Out #3 (single one-way road out into the marshes), I opted to call it a day.
I was not upset. Not in the least. I felt very fulfilled, blessed and satisfied. Two hours and I was done. It was an awesome time and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go on my own.