- Police Beat
- The Forecaster
POWNAL — When an American kestrel flew into his childhood home, Zane Baker said, he realized birds would always be a major part of his life.
His father caught it and let it go, but Baker’s interest in all things avian remained.
That passion has literally inspired Baker to climb mountains. He spent a windy but sunny day last week on the summit of Bradbury Mountain, peering through high-powered binoculars in hopes of seeing one of a variety of migratory birds of prey.
The 34-year-old North Yarmouth resident is up on that 485-foot peak much of the next two months, six days at a time, thanks to Freeport Wild Bird Supply, which is in its 13th consecutive year sponsoring “Spring Hawkwatch.” The March 15-May 15 event collects data on migration methods and types of raptors that wing their way north past after wintering in the south.
“This is just one of about 200 sites around the country that are collecting the same data,” Baker said while keeping his eyes on the vista to the south and east, across the coastal plain to Casco Bay.
The work is done through the Hawk Migration Association of North America, a nonprofit organization founded in 1974. At the end of his day, the data Baker has collected goes into a national database at the association’s hawkcount.org.
“Once you get 10 years of data, you can go back and start to analyze it, and look for trends,” he said. “Whether species are increasing or decreasing, what time of year things are moving around.”
Normally in the first couple weeks of a season “you’re lucky to get double digits by the end of the day,” Baker said. But this year has started strong, with as many as 83 in one day, “which is really kind of unheard of, especially for this site.”
Good weather in early March is believed to be the reason the birds are showing up ahead of their usual schedule.
A scoreboard beside Baker showed turkey vultures to be the winner so far in numbers, with 60 recorded the day before. An 11-year average saw broad-winged hawks, which tend to show up later, at the top with 1,590 sightings, followed by sharp-shinned hawks at 685 and osprey at 422.
“Right in the middle of our count period is really considered the peak of migration, where the most birds are coming through at one chunk of time,” Baker said. Most of those are the broad-winged hawks on their way back from South America.
This is Baker’s third year as an official hawk counter. He met Freeport Wild Bird Supply owners Derek and Jeannette Lovitch of Pownal several years ago, joined them on bird walks, “and just started learning a ton of stuff.”
The Lovitches invited to help the hawk counter in 2012, during the middle of the season. He picked up enough experience for them to tap him as a counter in 2017.
“I was just kind of dumbfounded,” he said, recalling about 600 hawks swarming overhead. “It was a big day, and I was super impressed by that. I never bothered to look up this time of year, and this has been going on for how many thousands of years?”
Baker’s hawk watch will be one of several activities featured April 27-28 during “Feathers Over Freeport: A Birdwatching Weekend,” held both at Bradbury Mountain and Wolfe’s Neck Woods state parks.
Although individual raptors tend to keep to themselves once they get where they’re going, on their way north they share the same airspace, relying on the wind currents and thermal activity to push them along and help them conserve energy.
“They’re often packed together really tightly,” Baker said. “You get all sorts of different species … hawks and falcons, eagles, all in one tiny little chunk of the sky.”
The rough-legged hawk is Baker’s favorite. While it was a last-minute addition to the board, the raptor lives in the Arctic tundra and doesn’t fly by much: Two had appeared as of last week.
A carpenter when he’s not tracking raptors, Baker said he usually doesn’t get too bored on his vigils atop Bradbury. There are days that feel a bit slow, he said, like at the start of the season or when rain keeps other bird enthusiasts away.
But he doesn’t mind spending time on his own, in the middle of nature, and he has to keep on his toes when he sees a set of wings.
“When things get slow, I can’t just throw earplugs in and listen to a podcast,” he said. “I’m constantly trying to scan the sky.”
Baker looks at it as a day-to-day competition with himself.
“I know there are birds out there,” he said, “and I have to find them.”
Zane Baker of North Yarmouth spends almost every day between March 15 and May 15 atop Bradbury Mountain in Pownal, observing and tracking the migratory practices of birds of prey as they make their way north.
Zane Baker shows off an example of a flock of migratory birds, an ideal sight during a season of bird watching.This is Zane Baker’s third year on Bradbury Mountain’s 485-foot summit.