Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Searching for the Perfect Spot

Hawkwatches in the eastern U.S. are gearing up for the fall migration season. Several have been watching and reporting since the first of August. Another batch started around August 15. This new migration season is already turning into an interesting one. The perfect weather that much of the mid-Atlantic states is experiencing seems to be encouraging hawks to move.

Yesterday, Bake Oven Knob, a hawkwatch north of Allentown, PA, saw 17 Bald Eagles. Twenty years ago, when the effects of DDT were still damaging the eagle population, that was not far less than a season’s worth of sightings. American Kestrels, which have been in a steep decline for some years now, are also currently putting in a decent showing. Waggoner’s Gap, PA, near Carlisle, saw 17 on August 16, and other sites have reported consistent numbers this week, too. Perhaps our smallest falcon will finally show some improving numbers.

Last evening I was wandering around the slopes at Roundtop, trying to find a sitting spot where I can watch hawks. I finally found a spot that at least temporarily suits me. Trees along the edges of the slopes limit the viewing to the west, but I found a spot where a break in the trees at least gives me some view to the west. For several years after I first moved here, I automatically climbed to the top of the mountain for my fall hawkwatching. It wasn’t particularly satisfying. I didn’t see all that many hawks. Eventually I found out why. The typical path of fall migratory hawks around Roundtop is often from the northeast to the southwest, and though the view from the top of the mountain is wonderful, it isn’t the best place to watch hawks. Oh, I can see to the west from up there, but the birds often sneak past through the valley between Nell’s Hill and Roundtop. I’ve found I’m actually better off if I don’t climb the mountain but stay within a closer distance of the valley.

The fact that the top of the mountain isn’t the best place for my local hawkwatching was brought home to me for the first time one year when I was down near the bottom of the mountain and a huge kettle of hundreds of Broad-winged Hawks fell out of a cloud in the north, circled once and then headed to the southwest. At that time Roundtop had a regular hawk counter on the hill, and he was starting to head off the mountain for the day. From where I was I jumped and hollered to get his attention, and though he looked, he never saw the birds. Since then I have searched for the "perfect spot" for fall hawkwatching. For several years I watched hawks from Roundtop’s north parking lot, which isn’t bad. The biggest problem there is that it’s lower elevation, and my views of the hawks are usually limited to small specks. So I realized I needed to get higher in order to have better views, but not so high that I couldn’t see over to where I needed to see. Maybe I’ve found it this time. I hope so. Now all I need is the time to sit there and find out.

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