We all stared at the flat blue expanse of the firmament. Not a cloud, not a wisp, heck, very few contrails even. We battled eye floaties, crinks in our necks, and sunburn hoping today was the big one; when the flow of thousands of Broad-winged Hawks would come down from their summer forest homes in the north. We got excited by a plane or a vulture, to use as a point of reference. We strained to ID distant tiny specks, hurried to count swirling kettles before the birds started to peel away, setting their wings for a drive south. These are the hard days when a lot of eyes trained to the sky helps.
Luckily for me, lots of people showed up at the Mount Peter Hawk Watch today. In addition to the other sharp-eyed counters, we had almost 12 members of the Fyke Nature Association come for a field trip. Chief among them was Stiles Thomas, who established the Hawk Watch in 1958.
According to the history section of the Mt. Peter page on HawkCount! “The Montclair Bird Club of NJ sponsored the ‘Across the State Hawk Watch of 1958’. The two day watch on September 28 and October 18 produced 349 raptors of 10 species for Mount Peter and enough excitement to propel volunteers into a full-time count.” There has been someone standing on this mountain doing just this thing for over 50 years. Imagine.
Let me give you a glimpse of the spectacle overhead. Although many birds were high, some did come right over the platform, giving us fabulous views. Brilliant sunshine streamed through feathers to the appreciative croons of the watchers.
This is what we had gathered to see. Although there were only 346 pass overhead today, there were 1312 yesterday and more are gathering to the north for another push south tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that until they are all safely basking in the warmth of a South American Spring.
Mt. Peter Hawk Watch is volunteer run. And am I honored to be among those who will stand on the platform with bins trained to the skies in eager anticipation of the river of raptor that will soon flow south to Mexico and beyond. Every year at the beginning of the season we all get together to trim back the brush that has seemingly sprung forth from out of nowhere since last fall, chat about birds we are seeing and generally get caught up.
When I arrived at Mt. Peter the clean-up was well underway. I picked my way down the slope with pruners over my shoulder to tackle the trees and shrubs that were getting out of hand. We had done such a thorough job last year, I was sure this was going to be a snap. And while it was less work, there was still plenty to do.
Judy Cinquina is the driving force behind getting the hawk watch organized. Not only does she solicit volunteers, but pulls together a calendar, makes packets of information, wields a mighty clipper, rallies us, has an easy laugh and has been know to bribe us with ice cream.
I also love that birders come from both NJ and NY to be part of the count.
Dripping with sweat and plastered with bits of leaves, wood chips and heavens knows what; I reached into a tangle to tug a branch out of the way to find… raspberries. Ripe Black Raspberries. Oodles of them. Mmmm, natural snacks warmed by the sun.
The other cool thing I found while I was down and dirty with the goldenrod was a gorgeous butterfly.
I hope you get the opportunity to take part in a hawk watch this year. If you can’t find one, you can always come hang out with us.
I snapped the packet of pepper with my fingers before ripping it open to pour the tiny black specks onto my pea soup. In the process some pepper spilled onto the cafeteria table. Stirring the soup, waiting for it to cool, I brushed the pepper into a small cloud; then ran my finger through it to simulate winds, creating a kettle of hawks. I was missing the single biggest migration of hawks on the planet. Broad-winged hawks gather in large flocks to migrate together down from the north adding more and more birds until there is a river of raptors in the tens of thousands flowing past Veracruz, Mexico. One day I want to see that spectacle. But for now, a small piece of that is happening along the ridges of the north.
I, however, was at work.
Mount Peter had a terrific day yesterday wth 4222 kettling Broad-winged Hawks, like the finest grind of a quality black pepper. The watchers on the platform carefully counted them as they flowed to the south. Today another 3564 flew past. I was still at work. But I get the reports and can vicariously revel in the numbers and see them in my mind’s eye. Broad-winged hawks travel 70 miles a day. Hopefully some of them will have nested way, way in the north and will still be making there way south by the weekend. I will be on the platform craning my neck wishing them fair winds and good speed.
While I was hanging out in the Catskills yesterday, I met up with Judy and Rosie from NJ. Judy runs the hawk watch at Mount Peter. As the 3rd oldest hawk watch (after Hawk Mountain and Montclair) it is run entirely by volunteers. She asked me if I could pop over for a work detail to cut down small trees and bushes that were impinging the view of the skies from the hawk watch platform. Being Labor Day Monday, she was concerned that she would not have a full crew (Mount Peter is only 15 minutes from my house and she also promised ice cream. So, hey.) With a bucket full of loppers, saws, clippers and gloves, I showed up at 9:30 ready to go.
There were quite a few people already repairing the platform when I got there. With hammering in the background, we started to cut any small trees and gather garbage and beer cans from under the bushes. As I wandered knee-deep in highbush blueberries, goldenrod, raspberry bushes and wild mountain asters, I cut down oak, pignut, and tree of heaven saplings. The sun shone from a cloudless sky, yet it was cool in the shade. The virginia creeper spiraled crimson up the cedars and the wild grapes hung heavy with the its sour fruit. The blueberry bushes were full of hard green blueberries. I made a mental note to check on their progress next time I came up.
Suddenly there came a shout, the hammering stopped and all eyes looked skyward. Our first hawk flew south. It was a Broadwing. It’s disapperance was met with a cheer. As the day progressed, we had resident Red-tails swirling over the valley, Turkey Vultures loafing on the microwave tower, Hummingbirds buzzing overhead and 1 monarch butterfly floating past. I am looking forward to spending more time on the platform this year. Hawk watching season has officially started running from Sept 1 through mid November. Come on over and hang out.