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Sixty-Something: Hawks And Other Big Birds Of Prey In the Hamptons

T.J. Clemente

One of the author's spectacular sightings. (Photo: TJ Clemente)

Just last weekend I was in Sagaponack taking photos on a dead end road off Sagaponack Pond. I parked the car and only after about four minutes and perhaps five photos later did I realize on a farm post fence not six feet right behind me was a huge fat Cooper's Hawk. I was thrilled and of course startled. I love spotting big birds of prey in the Hamptons. This one was huge, no doubt there is good eating for this hawk in the U.S.A.'s richest zip code farmland.

Years ago I read the famous University of Virginia Jeffersonian Professor Dumas Malone's multi volume history of Thomas Jefferson. The five books had been a gift from GWU classmate David Busler to me while he was attending UVA law school. Besides reading about Jefferson enjoying his journey across the South of France to Milan, Italy and hating his one spring as Secretary of State living in Greenwich Village in New York City, the history included a sight-seeing trip to the North Fork out to Mattituck. What I personally enjoyed was the section about Jefferson's love of spotting big birds of prey.

Professor Malone reports how Jefferson said he "trained his eyes to know the certain type of high branches on trees where, falcon, hawks and eagles could be sited." I believe I too after all these years have trained myself to be able to see the big birds too. In the last year that includes seeing a American bald eagles on a lurching tree branch overlooking Milestone Brook Road, between Shinnecock Hills Golf Course and North Sea sections of Southampton, just off the Great Peconic Bay. I stopped the car and took a few photos and sent them to friends.

One of the great successful projects of the last twenty-five years in the Hamptons and the whole East End of Long Island has been the thousands of man-made Osprey nests along both the north and south shores. Now, during the summer, beautiful Osprey (the sea's eagle) nest in every one of them. A total success story. I love driving across Noyack's Long Beach Road and passing those nests one after another. I also enjoy seeing them all around the shores of Gardiner's Bay while I sail in the summer. Watching Osprey successfully score a fish is always amazing, as they swoop down and just pluck one right out of the water.

Last year, I actually saw a Long Island bald eagle up-island flying with a captured squirrel who was still alive! However, there is for me a special feeling when you see a hawk on a post or better yet flying over a farm field with those beautiful wing patterns. I don't pretend to know my birds of prey like my mother knew her birds. She spent her whole life with books checking out what she had seen that day. As for me, I just love seeing them naturally in the moment. While hiking, driving, or sailing, I train my eyes for those ragged sharp high tree branches. The very branches Jefferson said he leaned as a boy to spot.

One of the many wonderful things about the Hamptons is at any given moment right there behind you can be a hawk, an owl, an osprey, and now American bald eagles. Please take the time to see these great big birds of prey. They are powerfully built beautiful flying creatures. They are part of the natural treasures of the East End.

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