Dec 14



Licensed Battlefield Guide Dave Weaver believes the best place to look for wildlife on the Gettysburg Battlefield is at the south end of the field. The Excelsior Brigade Monument is to Dave’s right. The monument to the 73rd New York Infantry Regiment is in the background to the left of the Excelsior Brigade Monument. The buildings at the Sherfy Farm are in the right background. This view was taken facing northwest at approximately 9:00 AM on Saturday, December 13, 2008.

If you’ve wondered why anyone would want to visit Gettysburg in the winter, here are a couple of suggestions:

A. The visitation is almost non-existent compared to the summer.
B. The leaves are off the trees so that you can see much more of the battlefield.
C. The winter is one of the best times to see wildlife on the the field.

Licensed Battlefield Guide Dave Weaver, a 23 year veteran of the guide force, a wildlife artist, and a recently returned veteran from Iraq, rode with us around the field to show how active some of the Gettysburg hawks are. Dave served as a Captain (Staff Officer) in an infantry unit for the United States Army. He wrote us about his hobby. “One of my favorite pastimes on the park during the winter months is bird watching. In particular, I enjoy watching for raptors such as red tailed hawks, kestrels, and sharp shinned hawks. As an artist, I’m always on the lookout for another wildlife scene to depict in a painting. My favorite bird to watch during the winter months is the Northern Harrier.” Dave has a website where you can view and find ordering information on his paintings: rodandbrush.com

In this video, Dave Weaver introduces himself, and explains why this is a popular area for the Northern Harrier hawk. This view was facing northwest at approximately 9:00 AM on Saturday, December 13, 2008.



Today one of the hawks that we were successful in finding was the Northern Harrier. The Northern Harrier forages by flying slowly low above the ground looking for small rodents. The male is gray on the back, light below, with black wingtips. The female is brown on the back and striped brown and white below. The female is larger than the male. This view is courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.



The other hawk we found on our journey was the American kestrel. The American kestrel is the most common falcon in North America. The male has blue-gray wings and a lightly spotted chest and belly. The larger female has rufous wings barred with black, and streaking on the chest. This image is courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

In this video, Dave Weaver, by the 73rd New York Monument, explains that the American kestrel is about the size of a large blue jay. It usually likes to fly on windy days, which as you will be able to tell by this video, is exactly the type of day that we were experiencing. This view was taken facing northwest at approximately 9:00 AM on Saturday, December 13, 2008.



We couldn’t find the hawk on the fence post in the previous video because it had moved to the top of the 68th Pennsylvania (Scott’s Legion) Monument. When you go around the battlefield, and you see these birds on the top of the monuments, most likely they are American kestrels. This view was taken facing southwest at approximately 9:00 AM on Saturday, December 13, 2008.



Dave, leaning against the Excelsior Brigade Monument, is sighting in on what will turn out to be a Northern Harrier. He has binoculars. We do not, nor do we have a good telephoto lens on our camera. The Abraham Trostle Barn is in the right background. This view was taken facing east at approximately 9:00 AM on Saturday, December 13, 2008.

In this video, Dave has sighted what we will later find out is a northern harrier having its breakfast. This view was taken facing east at approximately 9:00 AM on Saturday, December 13, 2008.



A not very good picture of the Harrier before she thought we were getting too close and flew away. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 9:00 AM on Saturday, December 13, 2008.



Dave, being a better photographer than we are, took this picture of a Northern Harrier on Friday when he was standing at the foundation of the Wentz House site near the Peach Orchard. Note the white spot. This view was taken facing west at approximately 2:15 PM on Friday, December 12, 2008.



Another Dave Weaver picture of the Northern Harrier on Friday from the Wentz House foundation. Harriers usually show up at Gettysburg around late October and stick around until spring. Dave states, “they are a common sight, especially on cold, nasty, windy days, on either side of the Emmitsburg Road.” This view was taken facing west at approximately 2:15 PM on Friday, December 12, 2008.

In this video, Dave explains that he did recognize the bird as a Northern Harrier. As Dave explained to us, “this bird is easy to spot – in addition to flying low over open fields, the Harrier has a distinct white, baseball sized spot on the bird’s back, just at the base of the tail. Since Harriers tend to fly low, seeing this spot is easy. This view was taken facing east at approximately 9:00 AM on Saturday, December 13, 2008.



We found the Northern Harrier again as we were driving east on United States Avenue. The Pennsylvania State Monument is the large domed monument in the background on Cemetery Ridge. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 9:00 AM on Saturday, December 13, 2008.

Here’s our grainy video of the hawk eating her prey in the fields southwest of the Pennsylvania State Monument. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 9:00 AM on Saturday, December 13, 2008.



Then the Northern Harrier flew away again, which your editor was too incompetent to properly film, but luckily, we have a painting that Dave has made of the Harrier. This painting, Working the Fields- Northern Harrier, was made in Excelsior field. The  Longstreet Observation Tower on Seminary Ridge is in the background. Dave told us that, “Harriers fly low over the ground, hunting mice and voles, which they drop down on from just a few feet in the air. The British fighter plane is named after this bird for this reason.” Dave also sent us the following note about this painting:  “This is acrylic on canvas, 18″ X 24″.  The scene in the painting is looking southwest.”



Dave informed us, “I call this the ‘hawk tree’ as I see many red tailed hawks in it throughout the year. Harriers rarely fly up and sit in trees. It’s likely the remains of a witness tree and has been dead for years. I’m surprised it is still standing. It’s roughly mid-way between the (Longstreet) tower and Kershaw’s brigade plaque on the Emmitsburg Road. Today there was no hawk sitting in it.” This view was taken facing west at approximately 3:30 PM on Friday, December 12, 2008.



On Saturday, as we were driving north on Hancock Avenue, we spotted another American kestrel on the First Minnesota Monument, behind (north of) the Gibbon Witness Tree. As you know, there are two First Minnesota Monuments, both on Cemetery Ridge. This is the monument for their action on July 3, 1863. Can you see the falcon/kestral after receiving Dave’s training? This view was taken facing north at approximately 9:00 AM on Saturday, December 13, 2008.



Now can you see it on top of the First Minnesota Monument? This view was taken facing north at approximately 9:00 AM on Saturday, December 13, 2008.



Ok, how about now? This view was taken facing north at approximately 9:00 AM on Saturday, December 13, 2008.

This video shows the kestral has flown off the First Minnesota monument, and is hovering to the west of the monument, looking for prey, above the Pickett’s Charge fields, then above the statue to United States Major-General John Gibbon. This view was taken facing northwest at approximately 9:00 AM on Saturday, December 13, 2008.



Eventually it settled at the top of a tree on the east side of Hancock Avenue. This view was taken facing east at approximately 9:00 AM on Saturday, December 13, 2008.

This video has Dave explaining to us why he believes that so many hawks are in this area. We are on Long Lane looking across the Pickett’s Charge fields, in the area where the 8th Ohio Infantry attacked the left flank of the Confederates. This view was taken facing southwest at approximately 9:00 AM on Saturday, December 13, 2008.

See our previous posts on Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides:

Gettysburg Guide Room: The Final Days on March 8, 2008.
Lights Out at the Electric Map on April 13, 2008.
New Guide Room at the New Visitor Center on April 19, 2008.
New Association of Licensed Battlefield Guide Office and Library Opens on August 25, 2008.
Evergreen Cemetery Headstone Damage with LBG Deb Novotny on October 20, 2008.
Camp Letterman Part 1 with LBG Phil Lechak on November 15, 2008.
Camp Letterman Part 2 with LBG Phil Lechak on November 17, 2008.
Gettysburg Artillery Part 1 with LBG George Newton on November 21, 2008.
“Mammy’s Little Baby Loves Guided Tours” with LBG Charlie Fennell on November 23, 2008.
Bucktails on McPherson’s Ridge Part 1 with LBG Rich Kohr on November 26, 2008.
Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide Exam 2008 on December 6, 2008.


About Us  •  Support  •  Archives  •  Subscribe  •  Creative Commons License