Published September 09, 2012, 07:15 AM

Author Laura Erickson, artist Betsy Bowen team up for new book about Duluth's Hawk Ridge

When the University of Minnesota Press wanted to publish a book about Hawk Ridge in Duluth, it could have chosen from any number of Duluth birders — and authors. The publisher chose Laura Erickson, author of five other books on birding and host of a long-running radio show and podcast called “For the Birds.”

By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune

When the University of Minnesota Press wanted to publish a book about Hawk Ridge in Duluth, it could have chosen from any number of Duluth birders — and authors. The publisher chose Laura Erickson, author of five other books on birding and host of a long-running radio show and podcast called “For the Birds.”

It was a natural choice.

The book is “Hawk Ridge — Minnesota’s Birds of Prey,” and it’s illustrated by Betsy Bowen of Grand Marais. The two previously collaborated on the book “Twelve Owls.”

This is the first book about Hawk Ridge, the place where an average of 80,000 hawks migrate overhead each year, riding thermals that rise along the Duluth hillside. Each fall, about 20,000 birders migrate to Hawk Ridge to observe sharp-shinned hawks, broad-winged hawks, redtails, eagles and many other species.

“We’re very excited about the book,” said Janelle Long, executive director of Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory. “Betsy’s illustrations are just beautiful. Laura’s writing is enjoyable to read and provides a great introduction to Hawk Ridge as an amazing place to see the fall migration, as well as the people who have made Hawk Ridge what it has become.”

Erickson has spent much of her life learning, writing and speaking about birds. In the book, she shares many of her encounters with raptors and fascinating facts she has gleaned from her research.

The book, with 104 pages and 60 color plates, is available at Hawk Ridge this fall and in bookstores for $24.95.

The News Tribune had a chance to visit with Erickson about her latest work.

Q: Your book includes lots of data about each raptor species —seasonal average numbers, its peak migration period, record daily count and record seasonal count. That information was readily available?

A: All of that came about because of the series of counters we’ve had at Hawk Ridge —Molly Evans, Frank Nicoletti and Karl Bardon. It was really fun putting it all together.

Q: Beyond the numbers, you include fascinating facts about the characteristics of each species. You write that an osprey’s four toes are of equal length and that one of the front toes is reversible, making it easier for the osprey to grasp a fish evenly.

A: That’s what I love about birds, is all the cool things about them. They’re so satisfying to me on every level —historically, scientifically, the aesthetics, the auditory. Every little thing about my brain, something about birds fits into it.

Q: Hawk Ridge and the annual raptor migration have gained popularity in recent years. Are you surprised that yours is the first book about Hawk Ridge and its raptors?

A: Yes. There are lots of people who would have been qualified to write really great books about Hawk Ridge all along. I think most of those people are counting and banding and teaching about birds. I’m the one sitting at the computer.

Q: Do you think Hawk Ridge has come of age in the past couple of decades?

A: I think it has evolved in every way. We’ve got a whole new emphasis on the banding station for education and having regular songbird banding now. Frank Nicoletti (lead bander) is bringing his amazing breadth and depth of experience and sharing it. That’s been wonderful.

Q: When you visit Hawk Ridge, how do you like to spend your time?

A: I like to go up there myself sometimes and just hide out. Sometimes I want to enjoy it all by myself and be more focused on birds than communicating about them. But I also love when I get to explain stuff to people. I have a teacher gene.

Q: Do you recall any specific visits or highlights at Hawk Ridge?

A: Just last fall, I was there for one of the volunteer trainings before the season. It was late afternoon or early evening. Suddenly, we had a cloud of nighthawks swirling around us, several hundred. Something like that just stays so vividly in my mind’s eye and heart that I can feel how wondrous it was when it was happening.

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