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Backyard Birder

Hawkwatch season is here

It’s hard to believe that September is at the door, and with it so many associations. Back to school, of course. Everyone, no matter the age, has that association, and with it memories.

In the natural world, the pace quickens. A lot of life is lived before the shutdown of winter. Fruits and seeds abound and the harvest involves wildlife as well as humans.

This is definitely the year to make wild grape jelly. It’s a boom year for wild grapes just as last year was for apples.

Our cider press won’t be so busy this year.

For a growing number of people, including schoolchildren, September brings the association of hawk migration.

New Hampshire Audubon’s staffed hawkwatch at Miller State Park begins its tenth year on Sept. 1. Views from the Pack Monadnock summit ledges span a broad Contoocook River valley all the way north to a very distant Mount Washington.

The annual hawkwatch big day is Sept. 13, with all fingers crossed that it coincides with the huge mid-September flights of broad-winged hawks.

The release of at least one hawk rehabilitated by Maria Colby in Henniker will be at 1 p.m. Mark your calendars. It is a treat, and lots of people will be cheering the hawk on as it joins the migration river of raptors, heeding the seasonal urge to head south.

Hawks know when to go as well as their destination, thousands of miles away, even though young hawks have never been there before.

The youngsters migrate on a different schedule than the adults. They navigate on their own.

As for that “river of raptors,” well, locally it’s more like a seasonal stream. Veracruz, Mexico owns the “river of raptors” descriptor. That’s what flows overhead as raptors from across a broad North American continent funnel down with the landform to crowd the skies over the coastal plain of Veracruz.

September into November the river flows, reaching numbers well into the millions.

I imagine the sight would be overwhelming. How would it compare to a late afternoon on Pack Monadnock, the sun low by Mount Monadnock to the west, when someone says “Eagle, left of Crotched, low.” That’s one of my favorites: a late-afternoon eagle passing below along the Contoocook River, riding invisible air currents seemingly without effort, wings fixed.

I don’t know how many of the 101 bald eagles counted last hawkwatch season were late-afternoon eagles, but I suspect a good number.

As shadows lengthen, someone often says it’s time for an eagle.

I hope you’ll visit the hawkwatch often. If you’ve never seen kettles of broad-winged hawks, I recommend you check New Hampshire Audubon’s website to keep tabs on the broad-wing numbers. Typically they build up to a couple flight days of staggering numbers.

Last year Sept. 14, 15, 17 and 19 saw big flights.

An Internet search for “NH Audubon raptor” delivers you to the right site.

I love being at the hawkwatch when a school group visits. It doesn’t take much to excite the kids: a turkey vulture riding ridgeline updrafts is always a treat, big and easy to see; ravens, too, often heard before seen, and often playfully acrobatic in flight.

A swirling kettle of broad-winged hawks is guaranteed to thrill, riding heat waves high before coasting south on their way to join the river of raptors 2,000 miles away.

Somehow Audubon’s official hawkwatcher manages to talk with school groups and keep a count. Phil Brown, who manages New Hampshire Audubon’s two hawkwatches, likes to have a heads up for any school group planning a visit. He can be reached at

The hawkwatch is funded locally and I help pass the proverbial hat. Speaking of hats, people wearing green hawkwatch baseball caps are supporters. Join them!

Another sponsor is Nature’s Green Grocer in West Peterborough. Shoppers spending over $50 get a small “wooden quarter” to put in a donation box. Last year the fund reached $450, a significant amount.

Credit goes to the Green Grocer for its longstanding policy of contributing to local community causes.

One day after Audubon’s big celebration on Park Monadnock, Meade Cadot and I will be doing our traditional watch on the north side of Crotched Mountain. We huff our way up the trail across from the Crotched Mountain Rehab Center at about 9 a.m., but the action rarely starts that early.

It’s a leisurely watch. Meade always tells me to submit our tally to the national database and sometimes I do. He gave me an aluminum chair last year that I’ll take up this year. He and I have reached the chair age.

The hawkwatch is about more than hawks. It’s about spending time with friends, as well as with people you don’t know but who share a bond: tuning in to the wild world.

Watching the wild ones pass by connects us to that world, and newcomers to the watch are always welcomed.

The Backyard Birder runs on alternating Thursdays in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

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