COVID-19 UPDATE: The Harris Center building will be closed to visitors until further notice. Our trails and grounds remain open.

Field Reports

Follow the Raptor Migration

A birder peers through a spotting scope.

Hawk Watch Coordinator Phil Brown uses a spotting scope to get a better view of passing birds.

Biologists regularly record up to 15 different raptor species from platform at the Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory. From mid-September through mid-October, significant daily and seasonal flights of Broad-winged Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Northern Goshawks, Peregrine Falcons, Ospreys, and Bald Eagles are possible. Mid-October through mid-November often brings Golden Eagles and Northern Goshawks.

During the migration season, detailed reports — including hourly raptor count and weather data, non-raptor observations, special notes, season totals, and next-day forecasts — are posted at the end of each day on hawkcount.org, an online database managed by the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA). Historic migration data are also available via hawkcount.org, and you can find annual summaries of Pack Monadnock migration data from recent years here.

New for 2020! Hawk Watch Coordinator Phil Brown will also be providing weekly updates below.

September 20, 2020

Big Broad-winged Flights During Hawk Migration Week!

Adult Broad-winged Hawk

Adult Broad-winged Hawk. (Photo © Judd Nathan)

International Hawk Migration Week has been an inspiring and uplifting one at the Observatory. Between September 12 and 20, an astounding 8,078 migrating raptors were tallied during this peak of the season for Broad-winged Hawks! Two of these days posted really big totals (2,269 and 3,000 birds on the September 17 and 18, respectively), and only two of the eight-day stretch had totals of less than 391. But those two days (8 and 17 total migrants) were pretty darn dead! By any measure, the past week has been among the most solid stretch for Broad-wings in the Observatory’s 16-year history.

More Broad-wings Coming?

This big push may not be over yet…historical data has shown that only once in the past 10 years has the Observatory failed to see a 1,000+ bird day between September 19 and 24. So, we’re holding out hope for one more big push, and will be eagerly awaiting what the next couple of days bring. Will the 2,000 Broad-wings tallied today at Clarry Hill in Maine make their way over our flight line? The nay-sayers will assert that since the past week’s weather has been largely favorable, this ‘river’ of birds may turn into a trickle rather quickly.

Late September

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch. (Photo © Judd Nathan)

Regardless, there is plenty of excitement still ahead! As the peak of Broad-wings has passed, we can now begin to focus squarely on some of the other, often less-appreciated spectacles of late September into early October. The ‘Sharpie’ (or Sharp-shinned Hawk) flight, for instance, when 100 migrants can stretch across all hours of the day and all parts of the sky. The falcons, with peak counts of all three species – Kestrel, Merlin, and Peregrine – coming in the next one to two weeks. And some really big Osprey, Bald Eagle, and Northern Harrier counts, with perhaps double digits of each on some days. It’s also just an excellent time to see lots of other migrating bird species like the warblers, crossbills, and Red-breasted Nuthatches, which delight many visitors.

The Human Element

Eric Masterson and friends

Eric Masterson surrounded by friends at the Observatory.

Yesterday was a very special day at the Observatory. Under a crisp, blue sky and surrounded by many hawk watch friends, the Harris Center’s own Eric Masterson made a glorious return to the Observatory platform. Eric suffered a terrible hanggliding crash in early August, a near-death experience that left him with a long road to full recovery – but which gave him a new lease on life. He was all smiles and in his element spotting raptors and conversing with many friends. Eric’s pursuit of birds and new ways to appreciate them continues to inspire us, and we are so glad to have him back!

Some Stats…

View of mountains

The view north from the Observatory.
(photo © Raven.Digital)

So, we like to count things at the Observatory, even things that are not birds. In fact, it’s a major part of the job and it goes beyond raptors. Levi has compiled a few numbers that show considerable decreases in two of the other major categories that we tally: Monarch butterflies, a species of conservation concern, and Homo sapiens (perhaps we should carry that same distinction?). Between September 1 and 18 of this year, observers have tallied just 462 Monarchs, compared to the 731 counted in 2019 over the same time period. We have also recorded significantly fewer total visitors to the Observatory (991 to last year’s 1,411) – but this measure is by design this year. Despite the lower numbers and lack of school groups, we have enjoyed seeing so many familiar faces at the Hawk Watch, as well as welcoming many new visitors, too.

I’ll end this report with one more statistic, one which carries a positive trend. The total number of migrating raptors past the Observatory is actually up from this same time in 2019 (8,357 in 2020, compared to last season’s 7,967.) So, take that 2019! Thanks to raptors, 2020 doesn’t suck across the board!

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September 11, 2020

The Migration Floodgates Have Opened!

Hawk watchers distancing on the Pack Monadnock platform.
(photo © Phil Brown)

The first full week of the Hawk Watch was dedicated to making several necessary adjustments to maintain consistent data collection while social distancing on the observation platform.

Thanks to official counter, Levi Burford, we have new platform ‘boxes.’ This new social distancing system seems to be working out very well; thanks to all for abiding by our (and NH Parks’) required guidelines. Also, please have a mask on hand if social distancing cannot be maintained.

2020 By the Numbers (So Far)

As of yesterday, visitor numbers to the Observatory are only slightly lower than what we had seen during the pre-COVID 2019 season (522 to last year’s 629). At this point last year, we had 329 Monarch Butterflies to date. This year, as of yesterday, we’ve tallied 260 – still a strong showing compared to recent history.

As for raptors, the first ten days of the count have been relatively average (a few hundred raptors), but the migration pipeline opened up today with over 1,000 migrant raptors detected! This is on the early side for a big flight, but not unprecedented. High pressure conditions and a northwest wind should continue to usher big numbers of Broad-winged Hawks in the coming days, and we expect the biggest Broad-winged push between 9/11 and 9/24. Plan ahead and make your *reservations to enter Miller State Park soon!

*Note: this is a change from past years; reservations are encouraged and, at times, required. Visit the Miller State Park website for more information.

Broad-winged Hawk. (photo © Katrina Fenton)

If you’d rather avoid crowds, seek out your own vantage point at a high spot with a north-facing view. A few other good places to try in the region might include Pitcher Mountain (Stoddard), Crotched Mountain (Greenfield), or Wilson Hill (Deering). There are plenty of other places to witness Broad-winged Hawk migration, as well as all the other species, like Osprey and American Kestrel, which are starting to increase to their peaks in late September to early October. But, let’s face it – this week is really all about Broad-wingeds!

Looking Ahead to the Upcoming Week

September 17 is historically the day for Broad-winged Hawks. In fifteen consecutive years of full-coverage data, only 2005 had a count of 0 due to low clouds and only 2016 and 2018 had a count of fewer than 100 Broad-wingeds – 49 and 58 respectively. We’ll be watching the forecast for the September 17, of course, but right now it is looking like wind with a strong southern component. Tuesday, September 15, however, looks great with light to moderate NNW winds.

September 12-20 is International Hawk Migration Week (IHMW) at Pack Monadnock! We will be celebrating with a number of events including tomorrow’s ‘Big Sit’ birding event, in which the Observatory will again compete in the 2nd Annual Monadnock Region Birding Cup. Come say hi to Levi and myself, and help us find bird species of all stripes and eye ring types during this fun competition organized by the Antioch Bird Club. We at the Harris Center will also continue to bring you more virtual events than you can shake a stick at – including hawk watching programs for families, remote learners and homeschoolers; a live raptor program with NH Audubon; a celebration of IHMW with HMANA; pop-up hawk watching events at other locations (in person); and much more. For more information on all of these offerings, see our Events page.

Did You Know?

Let’s say we add up each Broad-winged Hawk observed from each season for each wind direction. In other words, we add up all observed in the SSW direction and add up all in the SW direction, etc. Guess which wind direction we have observed the most Broad-wingeds?

Broad-winged Hawks by Wind Direction. Click on the image for a larger view. (graphic © Levi Burford)

The answer is the Northeast. Since 2005, we have observed 18,154 Broad-winged Hawks on the NE wind. The second highest wind count is NW with 15,654 ‘wings’ observed migrating. So, a little more knowledge to help you plan your hawk watching accordingly.

Please show your support of our continuing research and efforts to connect you and so many others to the world of raptor migration! Make a contribution today by selecting “Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory” as the program for your donation at harriscenter.org/donate.

Thanks!

The Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory is a partnership between NH Audubon and the Harris Center for Conservation Education, hosted at Miller State Park by the NH Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Division of Parks and Recreation.

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September 2, 2020

Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory Enters 16th Season

A Kestrel in flight. (photo © Beth Sargent via the Flickr Creative Commons)

American Kestrel in flight (…but not in molt!)
(photo © Beth Sargent via the Flickr Creative Commons)

A ragged American Kestrel, deep in molt, was the first migrating raptor detected at the Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory this season, as reported by official counter and Harris Center Raptor Biologist, Levi Burford. Last year, this migration research and education project of NH Audubon and the Harris Center for Conservation Education detected 185 of these small, colorful falcons (out of a total of 10,503 birds of prey tallied.)

In 2019, staff and volunteers greeted over 5,700 people, introducing many of them to raptor migration and conservation, among other themes. This year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Observatory will look very different. Although plenty of people are hitting the trails and safely enjoying the outdoors, there are new restrictions in place, including limitations on numbers of visitors to the Observatory platform — and to Miller State Park, our host partner. Visitors hoping to view the migration from Pack Monadnock this season should be aware that an online reservation system is now in place and that reservations are now required by all visitors to enter the park. For more information about this system, please visit the Miller State Park website.

Fortunately, the Harris Center and NH Audubon are finding new ways to connect even more people to raptors. In addition to welcoming visitors to the Observatory area (though in a very limited fashion in order to maintain social distancing), we have planned many engaging, virtual raptor-related events. You can find more information about these events here.

In addition, you can now follow the migration season online in two ways:

  • Hawkcount for daily reports and next day’s predictions
  • Harris Center Field Reports (this site!) for periodic migration reports, photos, and informative links

We look forward to seeing you, either in person or virtually! Stay tuned for more posts.

The Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory is a partnership between NH Audubon and the Harris Center for Conservation Education, hosted at Miller State Park by the NH Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Division of Parks and Recreation.

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Contact Us

For more information on the Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory or to volunteer, please contact Hawk Watch Coordinator Phil Brown.