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I'm told that 2016 was one of the lowest-hour count years since hawkwatch began in 1986. But for me, it was one of the most eventful years of my life.
After long and serious consideration, I made the decision to emigrate from London to San Francisco. I arrived in California with plans to explore Wine Country, discover interesting architecture, and maybe even spot a few driver-less cars.
It only took a few weeks in my new home to realize I preferred looking for raptors.
Leaving friends, family, and job security behind is daunting. So when I stumbled upon the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory (a program of the Parks Conservancy in cooperation with the National Park Service), I was pleased to find not just a way to indulge a new hobby, but an established, welcoming community of people to learn with and from.
Despite having no previous hawkwatching experience, GGRO provided me with free training. Being completely new to the subject I was concerned I may not be able to make any meaningful contribution as a volunteer. However, the support and reassurance I received helped me overcome my initial reservations.
And while last August was the foggiest start to the migration season in quite some time, for me it was a blessing in disguise. The slow start provided me with an opportunity to explore further afield. With loaner binoculars and the benefit of my GGRO training, I began hiking in Marin County and was quickly spotting Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, and even an Osprey.
I felt quite intimidated on my first day hawkwatching with such experienced people. Fortunately, not only were my questions welcomed, but people took great care to look for moments to help me learn and to boost my confidence.
And then, late one afternoon about midway through the season I saw a juvenile Bald Eagle passing us on Hawk Hill and giving an incredible display. This was my first time to see the “American bird” and it really was a dream come true. It was one of just eight Bald Eagles spotted during the 2016 migration.
At the end of the season I felt a great sense of achievement having mastered some of the basics of hawk identification. But for me, Hawkwatch has not only been about my time up on the hill. Talking with local people has pushed me to spend time enjoying and discovering more of what the San Francisco Bay Area has to offer, and I have had some fantastic adventures as a result. It has left me with a renewed motivation to explore America.
Now when I travel, I'm looking for hawks.
Interested in volunteering with the hawkwatchers through the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory? Attend any one of the three upcoming recruitment meetings, on April 25, April 27, or April 29. Please click on your desired date to register/RSVP.