Monday, October 19, 2009

Where I hawkwatch when time is short

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard people say, "I don’t have time to drive to (fill in the name of a hawkwatch here) to go hawkwatching."

I dearly love hawkwatching but as editor of Hawk Migration Studies and also with a day job, I have far less time for it than I’d like. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is about 90 minutes away, and even nearby Waggoner’s Gap, north of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, is a 45-minute drive.

I can very much relate to the complaint about not having enough time for hawkwatching. Sometimes, a couple of hours is all I can scrape together, and I don’t want to spend most of that driving. So what’s a girl to do?

Well, I often hawkwatch in what is roughly my backyard. I’ve created my own personal hawkwatch. I go to a parking lot of a nearby ski resort that sits at about 1000 ft. elevation and provides a nice open view. There’s no leading mountain edge to funnel the raptors so the number of raptors isn’t always great. But, occasionally the numbers are fine, and even when they’re not, I always see at least a few things.

So far, I’ve never seen a Golden Eagle, Northern Goshawk or a Peregrine Falcon from my parking lot hawkwatch, but I always have hope. For all the other species found in the eastern U.S., I’ve had at least one sighting. Red-tailed Hawks, Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, along with a variety of American Kestrels and the occasional nice flight of Broad-winged Hawks are the mainstays. Harriers, Osprey and Bald Eagles make regular appearances. I’ve seen a Merlin here exactly once, ditto the Rough-legged Hawk, and Red-shouldered Hawks are seen less often than I would have expected.

But, when I only have a few free hours for hawkwatching, coming to this spot is a lot better than spending most of that time in the car on my way to or from one of the big hawkwatches. I’ve had a Cooper’s Hawk land on a nearby light pole and proceed to eat something. I’ve seen a big kettle of Broad-wings suddenly fall out of a cloud and almost drop on my head. I’ve seen Ravens and Common Loons and flocks of songbirds heading north or south. I take my dog, a comfy lawn chair and my binoculars and it’s a wonderful way to spend a few hours. And it’s much, much better than using most of my free time in the car.

So do any of you have your own strategy for how to get out hawkwatching more often?


  1. As a former site leader on Mt. Watatic in Ashbunrham was very hard to move to Maine away from that beautiful site.
    Here in Mid coast Maine,I've done some backyard hawkwatching with,surprisingly great sucess.I remember back in 2002 Sept.17th when In the yard I was up 4700 broadwings,when an old farmer came by to help me split some wood.After 3 hours on the wood pile he left,and I went back to looking up in the sky.
    Broadwings were still going...2000 more!wow!
    Wachusett had I believe over 12000 that day.
    Am I in the flyway?I think so.2008 Sept. 25th in the same backyard(high rolling hay fields on 40 acres)116 Osprey and a Lt. Swainsons.Latter that month.Middleborro/Halifax Ma. had 2 Swainsons!
    So you never know.Not having a long distance view,like some mountains forces me to look up,and I think thats the key.Hawks get right up there and if you spend time looking out instead of up,you will miss many going right over head.When Hawks get the lift it doesn't take much distance from your watch to put them out of range.One other site in Union Maine,Clarry hill may be a great spot also.It's a high altitude,olw bush blueberry barren with fantastic 360 visabillity.I had 100 plus redtailed hawks with 18 redshouldered there last Oct. late in the month.The site is about 15 mile NE of my hayfields.( 25 min.ride)
    The down side of the site is,heat shimmer.So many rolling fields of low bush...Very unlike Watatic,which is a more pinnacle,small topped site.Watatic is a great site for all species of hawks. Never crouded,Cannot drive to the top,but only take 20 min. to get up there.
    I'm trying to time hawk pushes I get here in Maine as to where and when they will show up in Ma. watch sites.Kind of interesting,even though my heart still is with Watatic.

  2. Thom: That's another good thing about my own personal hawkwatch that I forgot to mention--no crowds. Waggoner's isn't often crowded but Hawk Mtn. usually is, and seeing some fewer hawks in exchange for having a quiet sit looking for hawks isn't a bad trade-off.

    My own site is sometimes in the flyway, especially if it's a season when the winds are from the east or are pretty calm. In any event, it sure is easy and fast to get to, and that's not a bad thing either.

    Carolyn H.

  3. I realize now how fortunate I am to reside 5.5 miles away from my hawkwatch, and within 30 minutes driving distance of two more.