Tuesday, September 11, 2012

There is Something in the Air at Mt. Philo State Park and You've Got to Check it Out!

Broad-winged hawk soaring
Its hawks. Lots of them. You know Mt. Philo State Park is a great place to hike, but did you know that it is also a great place to watch the annual fall hawk migration? If you’ve never seen a hawk cruise by at eye level, now is your chance to witness one of nature’s most exhilarating sights.

Raptors of different species migrate from August through November, but the most dramatic migration to watch is that of the broad-winged hawk. Beginning mid-September, when the weather is good and especially when the wind is from the northwest, they take to the sky and form large groups called “kettles”. The birds find pockets of heated air called thermals and slowly soar in circles as they rise to the top of the warm column of air. Then they glide to the next thermal and repeat the process. When many birds do this at once it looks like they are bubbling or boiling, thus the name “kettle”.

Mt. Philo is a great place to see hawks because raptors use Lake Champlain as a migration corridor. They use updrafts from the ridges on either side of the lake to gain altitude and the summit of Mt. Philo provides a sweeping view over the valley.

Peregrine falcon in flight
Broad-wings tend to migrate all at once over a couple of weeks. There can be big days of thousands of hawks one day, then none the next. Within a few weeks they’re all gone. But…that’s when it is time to watch the other hawk species.

Other raptors species migrate in a more prolonged manner throughout the fall. Broad-wings steal the show for awhile, but it is also great to see other hawk species. You might see an osprey “packing a lunch”, carrying a fish, always head first in its talons. Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks are common in Vermont forests, but they head south for the winter too. For some real action, check out the dive bombing, speedy falcons: kestrels, merlins and peregrines. Later in the fall, the big birds start passing through: The eagles, red-tailed and rough-legged hawks. You can see migrating raptors as late as November.

Here is a sampling of the hawks seen yesterday on Mt. Philo:

Broad-winged Hawk: 104
Red-Tailed Hawk: 3
Osprey: 4
Bald Eagle: 3
Northern Harrier: 3
Sharp-shinned Hawk 2
Cooper's Hawk 1 (probably local)
American Kestrel: 5

So get up to Mt. Philo and see what’s in the air, you’ll be glad you did!

You can download a free hawk identification guide at this link:
http://www.hmana.org/documents/NEHW_Hawk_Guide_08.pdf

Learn more about raptors from the Hawk Migration Association of North America

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