Red-tails, Blue Sox: Hawks are nesting at Holyoke High School’s MacKenzie Stadium

The scene at right is common during Holyoke Blue Sox games. A red-tailed hawk rounds the bases at Holyoke High School’s MacKenzie Stadium before taking a perch at one of the best seats in the house — way atop one of the light towers.

The Blue Sox are part of the New England Collegiate Baseball League — a step away from Major League Baseball’s minor leagues but a step above regular college ball. The league’s best players vie for the eyes of major league scouts, and the eight-week season that begins in June and can wrap up by early August sometimes feels like it’s over before it begins. The games have a timeless quality, and when the stadium announcer croons a slightly off-key rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch it’s easy to imagine that you’re at a ballpark in any one of the last three or four decades.

Baseball might offer some of best analogies for birding that you can find in sports. The pace is slow, deliberate, and you need a lot of patience to really enjoy it. And you have to focus — let your mind or your eyes wander for just a few seconds and your risk missing a decisive moment.

Of course, it’s easy to let your eyes wander if you keep catching the silhouette of a hawk against the lights.

(c) Greg Saulmon 2012

Because I was seeing the bird so regularly during games over the past few seasons, I figured there was a nest somewhere near the stadium — maybe in the patch of woods between the high school and the Peck Elementary known as the Dingle. The other night I set out to find it, and I didn’t have to look far. (Click the photo for a better view.)

At the rear of one stand of lights are two metal-grate platforms, and there’s a nest on each — one right above the other. I only saw activity on the lower nest, but I haven’t spent long enough observing yet to tell whether the upper nest is occupied.

(c) Greg Saulmon 2012

What I did have a chance to observe is something I’ve noticed while watching another pair of hawks downtown this spring: the birds seem to trade places on the nest every hour or so, and the bird that’s out hunting often maintains a line of sight back to the nest.

Just before I went over to MacKenzie Stadium, I’d noticed a hawk sitting on a cross at the top of the steeple at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in the city’s Churchill neighborhood.

While watching the hawk on the nest at the ball field, I noticed that steeple off in the distance — and realized I could just barely make out the shape of the hawk still sitting on the cross.

It’s a clear view from the steeple to the stadium.

I waited another 10 or 15 minutes and, sure enough, the hawk leaped from the steeple and glided toward the stadium. It made a pass by the nest in the lights before cruising out of my sight somewhere over Beech Street.

We’re still a little over a month out from the first Blue Sox game, but now it looks like my regular visits to MacKenzie will start a little earlier this year.

Below, a map showing Our Lady of Guadalupe and MacKenzie Stadium.

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