Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Why Waggoner's Gap is Good for Hawkwatching

Waggoner’s Gap is a great spot for hawkwatching both because of its general location and its specifics. As far as its general location, the gap is along the line of Appalachian ridges that stretch in a NE-SW direction across much of Pennsylvania.

Raptors and other migrants often use the thermals generated along the ridges to help ease the difficulty of flying the long distances of migration. Migration is tough enough without having it be more difficult than it need be. If the birds can glide along a thermal and rest their wings for a bit, that is what makes it easier for them.

Ridge tops place hawkwatchers higher up and so afford better looks at the birds as they pass. Even with the added elevation of sitting on a ridge top, it’s not uncommon for birds to fly higher than hawkwatchers can see, especially in the middle part of the day when the thermals are strongest. Better looks at the passing migrants are usually found from around 10-12 and again from 3-5 p.m., when the thermals aren’t as strong and the birds are lower.

The specifics of Waggoner’s Gap’s location—this big rocky outcropping that creates an opening in the forest and affords great views —means that hawkwatchers can see the migrants approach and watch them flying past. Just having the hawks fly by a spot is no good for hawkwatchers if the area around that spot is forested or otherwise has a blocked view. Many spots are in the right location for hawkwatching. Not many have open areas from which you can actually see the hawks. Waggoners Gap has both. In today's photo, the view is to the north.

What Waggoner’s Gap and indeed much of Pennsylvania does not have is comfort. If you like hawkwatching, you need to learn how to sit on rocks for hours at a time. In this state, it’s rare to find a good hawkwatching spot that doesn’t involve sitting on rocks because that's where the open areas on the mountains are. Many of the watches also require a certain amount of walking up to and over rocks to get to the spot. Even in those spots where there is room for a chair, carrying one up to the hawkwatching spot is usually not an option. Bring a cushion. If you hawkwatch in Pennsylvania, the odds are you will need one because the rocks never get any softer.

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