Yesterday we had a fabulous day hawkwatching at Pack Mondanock Raptor Migration Observatory in southern NH. A thrilling 1,541 hawks passed the mountain top that day. The majority (1448) were Broad-winged Hawks, who migrate in large groups, called "kettles," that use thermals to circle and rise up high, then glide to the next thermal. Above is a photo of what a kettle of broadwings looks like through your binoculars. I took it with a 300 mm lens and they were high overhead. This was only a small part of the kettle of about 90 birds. How do we count them? One by one really fast. Really. And yes, we can accurately identify those tiny specs.
Pack Monandnock hawkwatch site is an elevated platform at the front edge of the south Pack Monandnock mountain. There are great views to the north and west. The mountain right in front is the north Pack Monadnock.
Here's a Broad-winged Hawk that passed a little closer. Note the broad wings and white undertail feathers.
The official hat sold as a fundraiser to support the hawkwatch site. There is a paid hawk counter who keeps the records which are turned into the Hawk Migration Association of North America.
There was a wonderful group of third graders at the hawkwatch site whose enthusiastic teacher had done a good job of teaching them about hawks. One adult referred to the "gas hawk" and we had to explain to the kids we meant "an airplane." Novices often spot planes at a distance and mistake them for hawks. I was actually photographing this airplane and found there's a real Broad-winged Hawk going by the plane!
Here's a Sharp-shinned Hawk we saw attacking a Broad-winged Hawk right overhead. This is a great size comparison shot. The broadwing has the striped tail, often visible from quite a distance, but note the broad wings, short tail and visible head. The "Sharpie" has short rounded wings, a thin body, square, longish tail and small head that does not stick out in front of its wings much. Most hawk ID from hawkwatch sites is done using the shape of the hawk at a distance. So field guides with close-up photos do you no good. You can download a free silhouette guide to hawks in flight, from the NorthEast Hawk Watch, here.
Something "Sharpies" do is often fight with one another or give grief to other hawks. Sharp-shinned Hawks are feisty hawks who eat other birds, maybe that's why they're always ready for aggression. These two birds put on a show for the kids and all the other hawkwatchers present.
The kids had amazing eyesight and spotted hawks with their naked eyes that the adults, including us, could only see through binoculars. The other thing they were good at was petting Phoebe, our Corgi, who got about 5 hours of solid petting. Here she is soaking it up. Pets are allowed on leash at the hawkwatch site.
A "Tail", a Red-tailed Hawk who had some hawkwatchers wondering about it's ID until it turned and revealed its red uppertail.
We have been hawkwatching for over 30 years. I was hooked on hawkwatching long before I met Don Stokes, then I got him into it. It's such a privilege to stand in awe each fall, watching the great exodus of these magnificent birds. We never tire of it.
The next really good hawk day in the Northeast may be next Tues. after the front passes. Keep looking up.