March 15, 2002 at 7:54 PM EST - Updated July 27 at 6:59 PM
HINCKLEY, Ohio (AP) - The buzzards followed tradition early Friday morning as dozens of people gathered to watch the annual return of the scavenger bird.
A buzzard was spotted at the Hinckley Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks at 6:21 a.m., said Metroparks spokesman Bob Rotatori. He said the sighting was the earliest on record.
Legend has it that Hinckley's flock of buzzards returns each March 15 to this area southwest of Cleveland where there was big hunt for livestock predators in December 1819. The carcasses froze that winter, and the scavenger birds feasted during the mid-March thaw.
For decades, people have gathered at the reservation on March 15 to spot the first buzzard of the season. The buzzards may have returned to the area before Friday but, by tradition, the Metroparks system says only a sighting by the official spotter on March 15 counts.
Bob Hinkle, chief of outdoor education and chief naturalist for Metroparks and a veteran Hinckley buzzard watcher, served as the spotter at the park about 25 miles southwest of Cleveland. He started his watch at 5:30 a.m., and by shortly after 6 a.m. about 150 traditionalists were with him looking at the sky.
"It was almost 60 degrees out here, one of the warmest mornings we ever had," Hinckle said. "They like to glide and when there are warm air currents they can glide a long distance. The one we saw this morning probably glided around this big field without ever flapping its wings for maybe 15 minutes."
He said on a more typical March 15 in Hinckley, a buzzard can't be seen until about 9 a.m., once the sun has warmed the air.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)