Sunday, September 20, 2009

Taking to the Air at New Hampshire Audubon’s Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory

Blue skies, a northwest wind and sun on a mid-September day made for perfect conditions to releasing a broad-winged hawk into the wild. Our annual Hawk Release Day took place yesterday at Pack Monadnock Mountain in Miller State Park, drawing about 300 people up to the mountain. Cool winds carried a steady trickle of migrants overhead all day, though we didn’t get the big push of broadwings that was anticipated. We released two rehabilitated broad-winged hawks, one adult and one juvenile, from local rehabilitation center called “Wings of Dawn”.

Apparently, it was also a good day to get married. I had to clear hawkwatchers off of our viewing platform for an hour to allow for a small ceremony to take place. Dressed in jeans and t-shirts, but complete with bow tie and vail, the happy couple said their vows, shared champagne with friends and hiked down the mountain. I don’t think they anticipated an extra 300 hawkwatchers in the audience but most eyes were on the migrants anyway!

It’s the fifth year of data collection for Pack Monadnock here in southern New Hampshire at what has become one of the most successful outreach programs for New Hampshire Audubon. Each year, the site has been staffed with a full-time biologist with help from the local community. Like so many hawkwatch sites, the local volunteers make this site special and this year, as Site Coordinator, I chose to harness even more volunteer involvement. It’s a great crew that helps with counting, interpreting and fundraising efforts. Over 6,000 people and 20-30 school groups visit the site each counting season between Sept 1st and Oct 31st. New Hampshire Audubon does a great job at creating a welcoming environment where people can ask questions, learn about migration, and just have fun. After all, their mission is to connect people to nature..and there’s no easier way to do that than with raptors.

Since its founding in 2005 by HMANA chair, Iain MacLeod, the count has averaged 8,825 birds per season and has become one of the most productive migration sites in Northern New England. So far this year, we have counted 4,281 raptors with the biggest day taking place on Sept 16 when 2,042 broadwings were tallied. All eyes are on the sky this week as we all patiently await the next cold front and hope for a few more big days. Come visit us!

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