Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2017 - 13
A Week to
In September, bird lovers band together to watch and record spectacular
by Nancy Henderson
For 43 years, the non-profit Hawk Migration Association
of North America (HMANA) has supported a scattering
of hawk watches across the continent, and collected
data about the majestic birds of prey. But it wasn't until 2014 that the New Hampshire-based organization
launched its fall International Hawk Migration Week
to raise awareness of hawks, their migration habits,
and the HMANA network of more than 200 raptor
monitoring sites. This year's event takes place September 16-24.
"It's a way to simply celebrate raptor migration,
and get more people out to hawk watch sites, many
of which already have festivals, hawk ID workshops,
and demonstrations with live birds of prey," says Julie
Brown, monitoring site coordinator for HMANA. "It's
just a fun way to engage people with nature."
The Appalachian Mountain range serves as a major
flyway for many eastern species that head southwest,
hugging the Gulf of Mexico coastline as they fly toward their wintering grounds in central and northern
South America between August and December. MidSeptember marks the peak of the migrating season and
an ideal time to spot hawks, osprey and kestrels.
Broad-winged hawks, in particular, are known for
their spectacular flights, and tend to pass through the
Southeast earlier than their red-tailed, red-shouldered
or Cooper's kin.
"Lots of other species are moving in ones and twos
or small groups, but Broad-winged hawks are the big
draw because they can 'kettle' up in groups. You could
see a group of 10 or 20 or 30, or you could see a group
of 5,000," says Brown. "And those numbers grow as
you head south. We may have a day of a few hundred
or a few thousand in New Hampshire and ... the kettles of Broad-winged hawks can get up to hundreds of
thousands by the time they're on the Texas coast. It's
really amazing to watch."
Bird watchers can check for nearby HMANA monitoring sites at hawkcount.org. Some locations are run
by state parks or Audubon chapters, while others are
operated by volunteers who band together to count the
hawks and collect data for future research. The website
features details, maps and photos for each site-for example, a description of the viewing platform at Sassafras Mountain Hawkwatch in Pickens County, South
Carolina, and a peek at the 360-degree panorama at
Big Bald in Mars Hill, North Carolina. Some Blue Ridge
states have only a handful of monitoring sites, while
others, like Virginia, have many, including Harvey's
Knob Overlook, along the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 95.3.
Findings from the fall counts are used as part of the
Raptor Population Index (RPI), developed in conjunction with Bird Studies Canada, Hawk Mountain wildlife sanctuary, and HawkWatch International, with
HMANA providing the migration piece of the puzzle.
So far, the research has shown that eagles, osprey and
peregrine falcons are thriving, and that red-tailed
hawks don't travel as far as they used to, presumably
because of warming climates.
"In general, a lot of raptors seem to be stable," says
Brown. "And that's good, because if you look at bird
populations as a whole, a lot of birds are not doing well
because of habitat loss across the U.S."
Whether you're awed by the sight of hawks swirling
overhead or motivated by the chance to aid scientists
worldwide, Brown says, International Hawk Migration
Week offers a unique autumn experience for everyone.
"We encourage people to start new sites, get involved
in hawk watching, and really contribute to raptor conservation. It's a great way to get out and see a lot of
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