Friday, October 2, 2009

Reflections 'Neath a Big Sky

I’m Susan Fogleman, a former HMANA board member and site leader for Little Roundtop Migration Observatory in New Hampshire. When I first came on the scene much was unknown about migration patterns of raptors in northern New England. Birds of prey had only recently come under federal protection. Many folks still held to the 19th century view that hawks were “bad,” and “good” birds were robins, chickadees and other songbirds.

Would-be hawkwatchers were encouraged to visit the same sites that gunners used. They not only counted hawks but educated the public about the importance of raptor conservation. Those efforts, which today seem almost primitive, have evolved into the far more sophisticated protocols most sites now follow.

September 23 was my last day as site leader for Little Round Top Migration Observatory. I spent 6+ hours under overcast skies, with little to no breeze--all for a single Osprey. I have grown up and grown old on this lookout. I have met hundreds of great people and seen thousands of migrating hawks. My eyes aren’t what they were when I began hawkwatching some 30 years ago, nor is my stamina for standing in the sun and wind for hours. I have spent many long lonely hours with lots of hawks and with no hawks, and I have had days where the hilltop was wall-to-wall with people, sometimes hawk seekers, sometimes elementary school or university students, sometimes groups from bird clubs and Audubon chapters. I pray that in all this time I may have said some one thing sometime that has led someone to an active life in conservation and nature appreciation.

Will I be able to stay away? Probably not. However, in this part of New Hampshire not many are willing or able to dedicate the time to cover the site properly. Ideally, a site needs enough observers to spell others from eye strain; a leader who makes the final call on identifications, and an educational or outreach person. Should someone take over leadership of LRT, I would help with mentoring and education.

Today, I’ve pretty much given up hope for an apprentice or successor. So the work that began 40 years ago on this site comes to an end. Forty years of data need to be studied and summarized-- but that’s my next chapter.


  1. It sounds like you've had a great history with Little Roundtop, but what a shame the story is coming to an end. We're facing a similar scenario at the Ripley Hawk Watch: the key players have tired eyes and might not be able to continue. Who can step up? Clearly, HMANA's efforts to recruit and develop new observers and counters is crucial to our ability to monitor the resource and advocate for it.

  2. Yes I agree Gil. It's a problem facing so many sites and its something I think HMANA can help with. Im hoping to get started with this effort soon.

  3. Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch is working its way out of a slump that nearly spelled its end a couple years ago. In lieu of a steady supply of volunteers, we have a long tradition of paying a hawk counter. Even with this bribe, no one else with raptor ID experience applied for the position this year. As a result, I’ve had to put a lot of important projects for our site on the back burner just so I could man the watch! This worked out in the end, because I got to meet & greet many in the community who held out hope for our watch even after its primary sponsor pulled the plug for a couple years. But our “hiatus” caused much damage to our data and reputation, and it's going to be a hard climb out of this hole. The people we need the most are retiring to other parts of the country, have difficulties with health, have moved onto other sites, or opted to pursue other interests during the years we didn’t conduct a count. With that said, we are positive we can pull it together again, and our efforts to reinvent ourselves have been well-received. We have discovered, most of all, that our enthusiasm for raptors and our watch site can be infectious, and we’ve partnered with several local groups in offering hawkwatch-related programming and events. The biggest shock to us is that the public remains almost completely unaware of the migration spectacle that hawkwatchers take almost for granted each year, and our annual count results have proven to be a bigger draw to our watch than we anticipated. I’ll stop here, but despite the recession and a looming challenge of demography, I strongly feel watch sites (like ours) can have many opportunities to become vital and relevant to the community that sustains their existence if they don’t just wait for luck to fall in their laps.