Here in New England, it sure hasn’t felt much like spring. But the sun is getting higher, the days are getting longer, and finally, those snowbanks are being reduced – if ever so slowly. And believe it or not, birds are on the move.
In fact, hawkwatching season is here! Freeport Wild Bird Supply will once again be partnering with Leica Sport Optics to sponsor the Spring Hawkwatch at Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal, beginning on March 15th. 2015 marks the ninth consecutive season for this project through which valuable data is collected while providing an enjoyable and educational experience for visitors.
This year, thanks to Leica’s continued support, we welcome Andrew Wolfgang as our official Hawkcounter. Andrew is a Biology graduate of Millersville University of Pennsylvania where he created two research projects studying bird diversity in riparian habitats and bird vocalization detection. Most recently, he worked as an environmental educator at Chincoteague Bay Field Station in Virginia. He is an experienced birder and hawkwatcher with a particular interest in Raptor Ecology. He’ll be stationed at the summit from 9:00am to 5:00pm daily from March 15thto May 15th.
What makes the Bradbury Mountain summit a great hawkwatching site is its position at 485 feet above the southern coastal plain. It provides unimpeded views to the south and east all the way to the islands of Casco Bay. Whether using updrafts off the mountain, gliding overhead, or soaring over the plains, observers watch raptors utilizing a variety of migratory methods as they work their way north. The goal of the project is to document this migration by identifying and counting all raptors that pass by the mountain. Last year’s count was record-setting, with 6,015 hawks tallied, including 97 Bald Eagles, 724 Ospreys and 2,357 Broad-winged Hawks. All but two of our regularly occurring species were counted in above average numbers, with seven species showing record season highs. We were particularly excited to count 190 Red-shouldered Hawks (160% above the average) – a species that had not been known to migrate through Maine in any significant numbers before the start of this project nine years ago. Over a period of years, these data can be analyzed to determine trends in species numbers as well as changes in distributions, which when studied in conjunction with other monitoring sites across the continent, give us a broad-scale idea of what is happening with raptor populations.
Last year’s record-shattering season got off to a great start thanks to the late arrival of spring. Late snowfall well to our south, cold temperatures and ice cover on lakes and rivers, and the lack of favorable southerly winds greatly limited the number of birds (especially Turkey Vultures, Bald Eagles, and Red-tailed Hawks) that pushed north before the beginning of our count season. We expect a similar situation this spring – there hasn’t been a whole lot of spring prior to March 15th this year once again.
In the first week of the count, we have struggled to get things started. We’ve only been able to cover the count for 19.5 hours out of the possible 32 hours during the first four days of the project, mostly due to snow and a dangerous High Wind Advisory with well below-zero windchills. We prefer to not have our counter get frostbite during the first week of the season!
The mere 28 birds tallied in those 19.5 hours were a mix of the typical first migrants of the season, mostly Turkey Vultures and Bald Eagles. Atypical, however, was the adult Peregrine Falcon that zoomed by on March 16th, our earliest observation ever. A trickle of Pine Siskins and a steady flow of American Crows have been the only other migrants – not even a single Red-winged Blackbird yet! But the four Red Crossbills on 3/16 were a real treat, and for the last two days, we have been entertained by a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers going to town on one of the White Pines at the edge of the summit clearing. Once the weather breaks – and we know it will, eventually – there will be a flood of migrants, raptors and non, to be tallied, and I can assure you we will be more than ready for them!
Hawkwatching is also a very social activity that is accessible to birders of all abilities. Last spring, we interacted with more than 1500 visitors! Seeing your first kettle (group of birds rising up on an updraft or thermal) of Broad-winged Hawks, or learning how to tell the difference between a Bald Eagle and a Turkey Vulture several miles away is an eye-opening experience for many folks. Not to mention it is a great way to meet new people and learn about raptors and the conservation issues they face at the same time.
So, grab your Leica binoculars and join us atop Bradbury Mountain this spring. Andrew will gladly answer questions about the raptors you will see and help visitors learn what to look for to identify the 18 species that may pass by. The hawkwatch is free, though there is an entry fee to the park.
Also, be sure to mark your calendar for Feathers Over Freeport: A Birdwatching Weekend on April 25th – 26th. The Hawkwatch will be one of many featured activities during this family-oriented event at Bradbury Mountain and Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Parks, including workshops from Leica’s own Jeff Bouton.
More information about the hawkwatch, including a link to daily counts, can be found on our website, here: