For weeks, the question on the trail has been,
"Has anyone seen Walt and Libby's new nest?"
Last spring we were gifted the opportunity to watch a pair of Red-shouldered hawks raise their young alongside the Connecticut Ave. bridge in northwest Washington, D.C. The view from the bridge afforded us a perspective of wildlife that isn't often witnessed unless you're an arborist who climbs trees, or maybe a firefighter rescuing a cat. We watched these hawks, well, like hawks, and maybe a little too closely for their comfort.
"I was wondering if they were going to re-use the nest this year. Maybe they got priced out.", Ms. McDonell said in a Twitter Tweet.
The former nest still resides by the bridge. Green sprigs of organic matter found earlier in the year excited many who thought Walt and Libby (as we affectionately named them) were moving back in. But alas, not so. Sigh.
Researching more about Red-shoulders, we learned that they typically stay a mile or two within the area they grew up. The Klingle Valley in Rock Creek Park are great habitats offering all the amenities they love: tall trees, water to drink and cool off in, and of course, a plethora of critters on the menu.
It has been a treasure hunt looking for Walt and Libby's new nest. I haven't left the house without my monocular at the ready (easier to fit in the pocket than binoculars!). Then one day I received an email from my friend Barbara, an avid wildlife watcher, "I think I found the nest in Tregaron Conservancy!" Others were seeing this nest and hawks too, apparently making home in a tree near a trailhead. So into the conservancy I went, hot on the trail with my camera, long lens, and trusty monocular. At first I found what looked like a vacant squirrel's nest, leading me to report back to Barbara to clarify directions.
Then I saw it: the silhouette of a bird swooping into a twiggy nest. As usual, my heart was all aflutter by such a sight. But wait, I said to myself as I looked through the lens...
There are no red-shoulders in this nest. The only thing red is its eye! It's a Cooper's hawk!
The search was back on. (More on the Cooper's in an upcoming post!)
As the temperatures grew warmer, I began hearing of more hawk and potential nest sightings, even from as far away as Forest Hills.
Dr. Beth writes, "I've been eagerly awaiting any word about the hawks... I hear them all the time..."
A patron of Cleveland Park's Transcendence-Perfection-Bliss of the Beyond gift shop whispered of a hawk family *potentially* nesting on the north side of the Kennedy-Warren apartments. The tip led to a Kennedy-Warren resident reaching out to all of her neighbors for any intel. The response was viral.
"I was on the roof the other day when one of our neighbors said he saw a new hawk hangout..."
"I haven't seen anything, but my family visited last weekend and they (and others on the path) spent a lot of time watching a hawk in the area..."
And so the word on the trail was that they were around, and likely making a new home somewhere close by in the treetops.
It was a Tuesday around 10:15 a.m., my phone rings. It's Linda. "Jen, I think we saw the hawks flying around a nest along the Klingle Valley trail!" I put down my new Birds and Blooms magazine and dispatched on my bicycle. Could this really be them? Something told me this was IT.
I raced down the trail to the said location and parked alongside the rail. And then I heard them.
A piercing "kee-aah!" arose from one tree, then "kee-aah" from another. Two hawks were talking back and forth. It reminded me of the squawks Libby made to Walt when she was brooding her eggs last April. "Walt, go to the store — I'm hungry!"
Picture of the back of my camera in the moment of discovery.
By this time my friends Linda and David Brewster arrived with binoculars. "I'm pretty sure I saw a hawk go into that nest," said David Brewster as he pointed to a nest of leaves and sticks in a tall, slender tree. I could tell Linda was smiling behind her mask.
Following the cries, we subsequently saw it: one very regal Red-shouldered raptor on a branch, surveying the valley below. But where was the other cry coming from?
My friends had to leave, so we said our goodbyes. The cries continued for a bit, then silence.
Distracted and consumed by the incredible spring day and my surroundings, I lost track of the raptor in the branches. I waited a bit longer for some new signs of activity while greeting walkers on the trail with their doodles.
"Looking for the hawks, Walt and Libby," I said, as if it was assumed everyone in the District knew who I was talking about.
I decided to pack up. I put my camera away in its trusty green knapsack and pulled out my field notebook to record a couple details of the day's hawk sighting. But before I could write the date I heard the cries again.
Out came my camera and I used it to search the trees. I focused on the nest that David Brewster recalled seeing a hawk fly into. Wait... something was moving! And in that very moment its mate swooped into the nest with a fresh twig.
I looked around. There was no one near to share my jubilation.
"Walt! Libby!" I cried from the trail (probably best I was alone.). "Congrats on your new home!"
I captured a few pictures and then decided to let these raptors be. The confirmation that they were back and doing it all over again made me content that our urban raptors are thriving in the valley. Hopefully, our good Samaritans and neighborhood clean-ups continue to remove discarded plastics and fishing line left behind so our wildlife may flourish.
Walt brings a twig to the nest while Libby broods the eggs.
The circle of life continues in 2021!
Like I always say, it's a good day when you see a hawk! Until next time, keee-aah and be safe out there.
Note to dear readers: The precise location of the raptor nest in this blog post was not provided due to ensuring their well-being. It's likely you may come across some raptors or other winged creatures nesting on your walks, so check out these helpful nest watching tips offered by our friends from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. After all, we're in their backyard.
The gigantic nest I came across while searching for Walt and Libby's new home in Rock Creek Park. Humans built this one (I hope). Striking my best 'fledge' pose.