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Pack Monadnock hawk watch celebrates release

Three hawks to be released Saturday

  • A rehabilitated Cooper's hawk was released at the Pack Monadnock hawkwatch. At 3 p.m. on Saturday, three hawks will be released back into the wild with human hopes high that they'll join the stream of migrants passing through. Photo by Andre Moraes

  • Don’t miss three rehabilitated hawks being released atop Pack Monadnock on Saturday. Photo by Andre Moraes



The Backyard Birder
Saturday, September 22, 2018 1:47PM

News from the hawkwatch, just up the road for most of us at Miller State Park. Lucky us.

A week ago Sunday two records were smashed. An astounding 22 bald eagles were counted by about the same number of hawkwatchers.

It's reunion time up at the watch atop Pack Monadnock.

That said, newcomers are always welcomed by the old-timers. The official counter has extra binoculars to share, and people with scopes invite others to take a close-up look.

We smile when we hear "ohmygod," a common, inadvertent exclamation when a crowd of hawks shows up or a majestic, solo eagle sails by.

This Saturday is the annual fall migration celebration capped off by a 3 p.m. release of three hawks rehabilitated by Wings of the Dawn in Henniker.

Typically rehabbed hawks are juveniles prone to mishaps, collisions with cars, windows and the like. On Saturday, before they're released, we'll learn their stories. The Fish and Game officer involved in rescuing a red-tailed hawk will tell that story before he releases the redtail.

People cheer when the wild ones lift off and away. You can't help it.

It's a good time up at the watch. Come on along. It's best to arrive early. Spend some time looking north for migrants, crunch a fall apple, buy a T-shirt to help support the hawkwatch, staffed well into November.

In addition to 22 bald eagles that record day, 975 broad-winged hawks also responded to the migratory urge that propels the majority of bird species to migrate each spring and fall.

It's hormonal, mostly. Shifting light levels trigger a migratory restlessness that builds until one day it just has to be expressed.

Raptors leave as individuals. Young often depart before adults. Male and female usually leave at different times, too, heading for different destinations.

First-year birds often get off-track on the way south, but nail the return trip and trips thereafter – if they survive. As a tough reality, survival odds don't favor the young.

NH Audubon began the hawkwatch a short walk north of the summit parking area 14 years ago.

This year a new, exciting partnership with the Harris Center is expanding the educational outreach. Harris Center teacher-naturalists have taken school groups to the watch for decades. They know the strong connections to the natural world that often form when the wild ones pass by.

Students arrive with their notebooks, primed by classroom preparation, knowing that weather determines flights as well as calendar.

Storms delay migration. When skies clear, it resumes. Broad-winged hawks hitch a ride on columns of rising hot air that result when sun heats Earth. Up they circle, rising higher. When lift plays out, they peel off south to the next free ride high – all the way to South America.

Raptors are perch hunters, mostly, ill-adapted to the rigors of sustained flight. On warm days they tease lift from thermals; on cold, windy days later in fall, they ride updrafts along ridgelines or set their wings to sail on cross currents.

Energy conservation is the guiding principle.

When conditions and calendar are right – hot, mid-September days – broad-winged hawks crowd the skies.

All fingers are crossed that this Saturday's celebration will include good sightings of broad-wings and their fellow travellers.

We can't all make it to the hawkwatch. I've seen a few dramatic flights from my backyard despite its limited view of open sky. The most dramatic was over 2,000 broadwings pent up by a stormy period. Sun and blue sky returned, thermals formed, and the quadrant of sky viewable from the yard was filled with rising, swirling broad-winged hawks. So keep an eagle and broadwing eye out.

The other record smashed that Sunday: an equally astounding 138 monarch butterflies. Somehow the official counter keeps tabs on over a dozen raptor species, monarchs, hummingbirds and visitors to the hawkwatch. And speak with visitors about one of the most viewable, dramatic events in the natural year.

About monarchs, they're being considered by US Fish & Wildlife for endangered species listing. Their numbers this year bring cheer after many years of nosedive decline.

As for what we're learning about raptor populations, next column I'll report on what I learn from a Phil Brown workshop at the Harris Center, one of several workshops that are part of the Harris Center's expanded outreach.

Environmental advocates often say that we take better care of what we care about. Thanks to N.H. Audubon and the Harris Center for helping us care.