It’s that time of year when many kinds of raptors (hawks) are on the move in the fall, migrating to warmer, southern climes. If you are hiking up Mount Tom on the Holyoke range, Mount Watatic in Ashburnham, Mount Wachusett in Princeton or Buck Hill at the Blue Hills Reservation and come across a group of binocular-laden people scanning the skies, you’ve found hawk watchers!
I took this picture of a group of hawk watchers on Mount Wachusett last fall. Hikers emerging from a trail below this group were startled by the scopes and binoculars trained in their direction!
From mid-September through October, hawk watchers visit the summits of a number of hills and mountains across the state to count hawks on their annual migration. The birds can be seen soaring in groups called kettles. The hawks take advantage of thermal updrafts that swirl into the sky and then finally hit a stream of wind that takes them on their way. Hawk watching is a challenge—sometimes all you see are specks in the sky—but as they move closer, it is possible to identify these birds by their sillouhettes. On a big day you might see dozens of hawks circling in the sky and thousands counted in a single day. Hawk counts are one way to survey hawk populations and are a traditional citizen-science data gathering activity. Keep your eyes peeled for the occasional humming bird that zooms over the summits as well!
Where might you see these hawks and hawk watchers? Here in Massachusetts there are many excellent hawk watching sites, not just the sites I’ve already mentioned. Local bird clubs often take trips to area hawk watching locations.