The Aiken Training Track on Two Notch Road is known as a facility for horses, but all sorts of animals make it their home or stop by for visits.
In the barns are dogs and cats that belong to the people who work there. There also are some wild creatures flying and roaming around that keep trainers, exercise riders and grooms entertained with their antics.
Late in the winter, a pair of hawks show up annually and raise offspring in a nest high in a tall pine not far from the clocker's stand.
“Usually, there are two babies, but this year one didn't make it,” said trainer Cary Frommer.
The surviving young hawk is still hanging around even though its parents haven't been seen lately. Sometimes it pounces on and tears up pinecones.
“The other day, he hopped across the track and scared all the horses,” Frommer said. “Then he tried to jump up on the rail, which is curved. It also was wet. He was so funny. It took him five or six times to get up there. He's at an age where he's still so clumsy.”
Based on Frommer's observations, hawks have been building nests and raising babies at the Aiken Training Track, for no less than 30 years.
“My husband remembers seeing hawks here when he was a kid,” Frommer said. “They're cool, and they're more a part of Aiken than a lot of people realize.”
The hawks are a popular topic of conversation among the track's current trainers.
“We all keep up with them and follow their progress,” Frommer said.
Ron Stevens, the track's former president and a partner in Legacy Stable, described the hawks as “interesting and beautiful birds.” He enjoys watching them fly from tree to tree.
The hawk parents are skillful hunters and are often active in the morning when horses are training.
“There was a woman out here with some kids early this year, and she was showing them all the birds and animals,” Frommer said. “The mother hawk flew over them and barely cleared their heads while she was carrying a squirrel. The kids didn't understand what they were seeing, but the woman looked over at me, and she was mortified.”
In late June, a bald eagle landed on the track one morning and stayed there for a while.
“I had a horse coming around the track galloping, and my assistant knew the eagle was going to scare it because he was such a big bird,” Frommer said. “My assistant told me, ‘I walked toward him (the eagle), and he didn't fly away from me. Then I kicked some dirt toward him, and he kind of made a move at me, so I just backed up and left him alone.'”
In years past, there were foxes that lived in the track's infield and raised their families there. But Frommer hasn't spotted them in a while.
“There were generations of them,” she said. “But there are some coyotes in the woods around here, and we are afraid that they have gotten the foxes.”
The late Mike Freeman, a well-known trainer, was one of the foxes' biggest fans.
“He was the one who really kept track of them,” Frommer said. “He was always paying attention to them and figuring out what they were doing. He had binoculars, and he used them to look for the foxes. He was intrigued by those foxes.”
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013.