How to Track a Redtail Hawk: A Hawk on the Wing and in the Wind
See The Sun at the Bottom and the Cold Shadow Near the Top.
Out here they call the wind Mariah
Probably most folks do not pay much attention to the wind in canyon country. Canyon country is where you find your hawks. Even the huge canyons cut for freeways are attractive for the hawk. I have never been in a canyon where there was not daily wind patterns. They vary but always for the same reason. I have stood in a canyon about 200 feet deep for about mile, and the hawks love it. It is called downtown LA. And I have stood in awe of their flight at a freezing 10 degrees in a canyon known as the Grand Canyon.
The side canyons in the by-ways of life provide lifts of air to carry us higher. The Hawk is the master of this.
There are four essentials to a canyon. A bottom or low end. A top or high end. A canyon floor and canyon walls. There are four essentials for a hawk in a canyon. Different temperature between the floor and the top of the walls. Different temperature between the bottom and the top. And the proverbial night and day.
A symbol of greatness
The Hawk Uses the Shadows in the Hunt
The perfect waves in the sky.
All of the above create the canvas on which the Hawk draws it’s art. When the sun comes up it will heat one portion of the canyon before the others. Then through the day change what it heats up and lets cool. When the sun goes down it will cool in a likewise fashion. Hot air rises and cool air flows downward. So a perfect canyon, starts at about 2000 feet and climbs to about 6,000 feet. And the sun hits the lowest portion and valley below first and last. This will create an upward wind with the heating and a downward wind with the cooling. With that you get a perfect swell. Yes it is like the tides and waves caused at some distant point and then hammering the land. These confluences can make ordinary streams of air at around 60 mph and much higher on occasion.
Too know this and truly understand it gives a new life to the upward warmer wind in the morning and that cooling downward wind in the eve. Then you eyes scan the middle distance going up a few hundred feet. You look for the lesser birds. A mid thermal that can tell you where to look in the higher levels. And so often there she is with an eye so keen it can see a mouse nearly 8 times further than the best human eyes. The cousin Eagle can see a rabbit at over 2,000 feet away. Both able to reach diving speeds at over 120 miles per hour and then break if just a few yards to catch the prey.
Understanding the habits and canyon.
You have got to know your canyon. An outcropping 100 feet above forces canyon winds in three different directions. Out, up and down. The hawk can float on the up go out on the out and down fast on the down. Adapting to that type of wind, I believe a hawk can dive at over 200 miles an hour - hard telling, not knowing for sure.
Think of one of those huge freeway cuts through the land. The concrete road heats up with car's friction of tires. It heats up because of the clear path for the sun. So the air rises up from it while the sides are cooler. So the hawk comes at it sideways to incur as little updraft as possible to maximize speed. Yes sometimes sideways is faster than straight down. We can see how this helps us track the hawk as we know the angle of ascent and so where the hawk must float.
You are ahead of me I know. You can triangulate and figure where the rabbits are. So if you are hungry the hawk is your bird dog. So there is really a good reason to learn to track the hawk.
Just An Old Country Boy
To know the wind is to know what will be.
So the hawks know this and do their best in the high slip streams, and diving down 100 feet in seconds to catch prey. For sure I have seen one doing well over 100 in a dive. I know because I go to batting cages and try to hit 90 mph little balls.
So the tracking begins by tracking your chosen canyon. I have a couple of fun ones that nearly border a freeway/street up a side canyon. My favorite current location is one below a dam with the old construction roads somewhat intact. I wear running shoes. I lost track of time the other day and spent about four hours.
Track the habits of the bird not the bird.
What you do is walk your canyon at the same time every day for a week. Note the location of the birds. Now go back an hour later. This is how we track big game and the same for hawks. You take a couple of weeks and you know what their habits are and you do not just follow the sound and sight, you follow their pattern. The concept is so simple that it is a delight.
Where are we at here in the scheme of life?
You have to love the bird the wind and the canyon. You have to get a sense of what they are. They all have life within them. They move, they change, they are magnificent. The tracking is a culmination of getting in synchronicity with nature. All of nature. I know longer hunt. But if I did we would eat a whole lot of rabbit.
This article was first written on 2/12/13 I hope this new version is more enjoyable to read. Have fun is the only advise in reading it.