September 16, 2011

Where to bird watch this weekend - Hawk migration

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These bright, blue fall days are created by high pressure systems moving out of the Northwest, high and dry. We associate this kind of blue weather with a clearing of the humid summer air, a sharpening of the mind, back to school sweaters, and McIntosh apples. On days in September and October that bring a northwest wind large flights of raptors can be seen over the mid New England Mountains and along coastal outcroppings - otherwise known as hawk migration. It seems strange to think of birds big and bold like hawks, eagles, falcons, and osprey  turning their beaks towards Florida and leaving the New England landscape on unseen highways. But, like the silver haired snowbirds who pack golf clubs and light cotton sweaters into Cadillacs and head for Boca, our steely-eyed raptors do the same. 

Once a phenomenon known only to hunters, hawk migration can best be observed from a mountain top on a clear blue day. The birds use their large wingspan to climb columns of rising warm air known as "thermals", descending southward only to climb another updraft and do it all over again. Along with thermals raptors use updrafts from north facing mountain slopes to gain altitude, then sliding down to the next peak to the south. When conditions are right hundreds of hawks can be seen in a single day, in particular the Broad-winged Hawk that moves in high concentrations. 

To find a hawk watch site near you visit: Hawk Migration Association of North America or the NorthEast Hawk Watch

To learn more about identifying these often distance, "mosquito-sized" raptors visit: Hawk Mountain or the NorthEast Hawk Watch



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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact: alexanderjosephdunn@gmail.com

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