"There's three birds over the butte on the east side, just under those puffy clouds," Chuck Gates said, looking through his binoculars.
"Got 'em," Peter Low responded, getting his scope up to his eye. "Looks like turkey vultures."
That's the kind of conversation that goes on most of the day during the East Cascade Audubon Society's (ECAS) annual Green Ridge Hawk Watch, an event that's been going on for over 10 years in Sisters Country.
Anyone interested is welcome to join experts and novices from next Saturday, September 30 to October 21-22. The roads to the site are well marked from Road 12 to Prairie Farm and Green Ridge Lookout, but if you've never been up in that part of Sisters Country it might be best to meet the group at 9 a.m. in the Indian Ford Campground.
You will need a good set of binoculars (and optional spotting scope). Bring along what food you enjoy in the outdoors, water, and dress in layers for the weather. If there's a good wind coming out of the southwest there will be plenty of birds riding the currents along the edge of the ridge, and at this time of the year no telling what the temperature will be.
If this is your first time birding, don't worry about identifying what you see. There are usually two or three old-time birders among the counters, and they enjoy helping someone get started in birding.
Because of weather conditions there are many different birds migrating south along Green Ridge and other hawk-watch locations statewide. Counters have reported seeing broad-winged hawks showing up in Oregon. This is an eastern U.S. buteo (soaring hawk) that can be seen by the thousands soaring over Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania. These hawks migrate all the way as far south as Brazil and back each year.
Birders on the coast reported seeing black vultures in British Columbia, Canada. If these reports are valid (no one sent along a voucher photo with the report) there's a very good chance they may show up winging their way south to Mexico along Green Ridge. Black vultures soar higher than our local turkey vultures, and do not tip side to side as much.
The count for last Saturday started out slow, but keeper-of-the-records - old-time Green Ridge counter and eagle-watcher Kim Boddie - had this to say about the first day on the 2017 Hawk Watch, and sent along the total birds seen:
"Today, the first Green Ridge Hawk Migration Count started off pretty slow. We had temps of 48 to 52 degrees, winds 0 to 5 mph from all directions and skies mostly cloudy. We counted (only) nine birds between 10 a.m. and noon. As soon as kestrel researchers Sach and Nancy arrived things picked up and we had a final count of 147 raptors. But hawks and falcons were not the only birds making appearances. I recorded 29 additional species, which included two common loons and five kinds of woodpeckers.
"We ended up with 13 observers at the site with up to 11 at one time... Ten minutes before we left, a juvi (juvenile) northern goshawk put on a close-in show for us."