Broad-winged Hawks soar in groups (called "kettles") on thermals, rising columns of hot air. Given the gray, overcast skies, it was surprising they had thermals. One first-time hawk watcher asked me, "are kettles a type of breed of bird, or something else," as she kept hearing the experienced hawk watchers calling out things like, "I have a kettle of 150 over the Lyneboroughs."
This large kettle was right over the mountain producing "ooohs" and "aahhs" from all. Though taken with a 420 mm telephoto, it is very hard to capture the numbers and feeling of a large kettle in a photo. This photo however captures what it was like to see a distant kettle through binoculars, or even a scope. How do we count them? Quickly and often one at a time. See how fast you can count the Broadwings in this photo, go!
When the Broadwings reach the top of the thermal, they "peel off", i.e. glide until they find a new thermal to rise on, an energy efficient means of getting to their wintering grounds in Central and South America. This peel can often make it easier to count the hawks, as they're gliding by one at a time.
Overcast skies did not look like good thermal weather, but the hawks were pouring through. Spotting scopes were necessary to see the distant kettles. I showed a number of novice hawk watchers kettles in my scope. It's so cool when they say "oh, wow, now I see what you're all looking at!"
Official hawk counter for the day was Henry Walters, aided by the sharp eyes of many hawk watchers such as Phil Brown, left, and Eric Masterson, right, who scanned for and spotted lots of distant kettles.
The day had lots of hilarious moments, including a wedding taking place right at the peak of the hawk movement! See Henry's comments here, on hawkcount.org, the official website of Hawk Migration Association of North America, where all the numbers are recorded. We even had a near record number of Bald Eagles, 12, go over Pack this day! Days like this produce the hawk watching addiction that has birders coming back year after year.
Other New England hawk watch sites also had large numbers. So heads up to hawk watching sites south of us such as, Hawk Mountain, PA and Cape May, NJ, the hawks are coming to you!!!!