Follow the Raptor Migration
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. Hawk Watch Coordinator Phil Brown also provides regular in-season updates below.
The Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory is a project of the Harris Center for Conservation Education, in partnership with the State of New Hampshire Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Division of Parks and Recreation. It was founded by New Hampshire Audubon.
Updates from the 2022 Season
12,000 Raptors & Counting…
On October 30, we surpassed the 12,000-raptor milestone for the season! We also recorded our highest season and daily totals for Red-shouldered Hawks. Rare Boreal Chickadee, Bohemian Waxwing, and Red-throated Loon have made appearances, and more Golden Eagles and Northern Goshawks will likely pass the summit in the coming weeks.
Though November is now here, it’s still a fine time to visit the Observatory, seek out the continuing migration, and marvel with and learn alongside our staff and volunteer team. Please keep in mind that Hawk Watch hours will switch to 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. starting on November 6, and that weather conditions may close the auto road to vehicles. Stay tuned to the Miller State Park website for any closure notices.
Lastly, it’s never too soon to express thanks to all the supporters, volunteers, staff, teachers, students, and other visitors who have contributed their time, funding, or energy to the Harris Center and the Observatory throughout the season — so thank you!
The Joys of October Hawkwatching
guest written by Will Stollsteimer, Harris Center Bird Conservation Intern
While September may be considered the premier hawkwatching month at Pack Monadnock, October offers spectacles of its own, including several variations on the theme of fall color. Early October is peak season for the most colorful raptor we see during migration — the American Kestrel, a small, charismatic falcon that can offer observers some fine looks as it cruises overhead. The middle of the month is of course highlighted by peak fall foliage. The Observatory platform is a wonderful place to view the changing season, as it overlooks expansive deciduous forests that display spectacular fall colors, in striking contrast to the evergreen spruce trees at the summit. Looking ahead, October often concludes with great viewing days for migrating Red-shouldered Hawks, with their rusty-red shoulders and chests. Come join us this October and enjoy the many different colors this month brings to Pack!
By the Numbers
During September, we observe the highest proportion of our seasonal migrants. How does this year stack up to others? With several days of light-to-moderate winds from the west, more migrating Broad-wings passed within sight of the platform and along the ridgeline this year, leading to an above-average flight of 9,368 individual Broad-winged Hawks (as tallied through early October). This surpasses the Observatory’s mean tally of 8,435 by nearly a thousand birds, and is our highest count for this species since 2016! Now, a little more than halfway through the season, we have already surpassed our annual season average of 11,210 migrating raptors (of all species). Can we break 12,000 before the season comes to a close in mid-November?
Some Unusual Visitors
While September may host the highest number of migrating raptors, October presents an opportunity to catch some unusual visitors. This month can be very active for waterfowl migrating south in search of better foraging and warmer conditions. Canada Geese and Double-crested Cormorants are the most frequently encountered waterbirds at Pack. A keen eye may yield an opportunity to witness the migration of these species, and with luck, others like scoters and mergansers. With winter finch season just around the corner, this time of year can also bring the first trickles of boreal forest birds such as Pine Siskin, Red and White-winged Crossbills, Common Redpoll, and Evening Grosbeak. Come try your luck at searching for these less-frequent visitors to the platform!
Insight Into the Lives of Broad-winged Hawks
On November 15, the Harris Center will welcome Dr. Rebecca McCabe, a research biologist from Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, for an exciting virtual presentation on the collaborative Broad-winged Hawk tracking research conducted by Hawk Mountain and the Harris Center. Dr. McCabe’s talk will focus on the breeding ecology of these raptors, as well as migration data from a group of Broad-wings that were tagged with satellite and cellular transmitters on SuperSanctuary land over the past two summers. (Now, a month after our big Broad-winged numbers have passed, many Broad-wings are nearing their wintering areas in South America. See where the Harris Center’s tagged Broad-winged Hawks are now via Hawk Mountain’s BirdTracker map.) If you’re looking for a more thorough understanding of the behavior of these raptors, we hope you’ll join us on November 15. You can learn more and register here.
Education at the Platform
One of the most important aspects of the Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory is public outreach, and October has brought many students to the mountain — including the “At Home in Nature” homeschool group, led by Harris Center teacher-naturalist Ben King. During their October 11 visit, the homeschoolers hiked up the mountain and interviewed Phil Brown, Harris Center Bird Conservation Director and longtime Hawk Watch Coordinator, for a podcast about the wonders of the fall hawk migration.
Here at Pack, there will always be someone knowledgeable and willing to answer your questions and fascinations about raptor migration! Plan your visit now.
Broad-winged Hawks Steal the Show…
Mid-September is always an exciting time at the Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory. Over the past week, hundreds of hawk watchers, including several school groups, spent time at the Observatory. Many enjoyed a spectacular migration. The star of the September skies, as usual, was the Broad-winged Hawk, which gathers in huge ‘kettles’ during their annual fall migration to Central and South America.
The flight that occurred at Pack on September 17 was rivaled by just one other in the 18-year history of the Observatory. At nearly 5,000 Broad-wingeds, we were just a few hundred hawks shy of the single-day record, set on September 18, 2011! After falling short all week of the really big numbers that Pack is known for in September, the skies opened up on Saturday, and Pack finally got its birds.
Raptor Release Day
The day following the big flight was a much-awaited annual tradition: Raptor Release Day. In partnership with Wings of the Dawn Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, Harris Center staff and volunteers released five rehabilitated raptors back to the wild: two American Kestrels, two Broad-winged Hawks, and one Red-tailed Hawk. All were young birds that had been found either injured or unable to fly; Maria Colby of Wings of the Dawn rehabilitated each bird and ensured that they were strong and able to fly well before the release.
We were particularly delighted to welcome Steven Muzzey and his family of Loudon, who were in attendance to witness the release of the Red-tailed Hawk they found on a disc golf course in Pittsfield, NH.
Before their return to the wild, Harris Center naturalists and volunteers showed each bird on the glove, sharing natural history information with the rapt crowd. Several of the hawks gave long looks as they circled the summit and seemed to enjoy their newfound sense of freedom.
Hawks on the Move
Four of the five Broad-winged Hawks tagged on their SuperSanctuary nesting grounds through the Harris Center’s project with Hawk Mountain Sanctuary have now checked in from various points along their migration routes. Thanks to the use of satellite and cellular transmitters, we can track the migration of these birds and determine precise information about their movements and habitat use. (One transmitter that was affixed last year seems to have failed or been removed, though the bird was seen on its breeding territory in the SuperSanctuary this past summer.)
“Nubanusit,” a female banded on Harris Center-conserved land in Antrim in late June, passed right over Hawk Mountain on September 15. “Skatutakee,” another female tagged in Dublin, passed over New York State on the same date. On September 18, both birds checked in near Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. You can follow along with the movements of the tagged hawks via the “live map” link on Hawk Mountain’s “Meet the Bird” page.
What’s to Come: More Migration, of Course…
In addition, late September into early October is peak migration time for the majority of the 15 or so raptor species that are detected annually at the Observatory. In the coming weeks, be on the lookout for peak numbers of Sharp-shinned Hawk, American Kestrel, Turkey Vulture, and Northern Harrier!
On September 1, we entered our 18th consecutive season of monitoring migrating raptors and educating visitors at the Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory. The raptor flight has already begun, although somewhat slowly. Hot days followed by back-to-back washouts have spelled low numbers thus far, but we expect things to start turning around soon. Eleven species of migrating raptor have been recorded in our first week of monitoring, with Broad-winged Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Osprey, Bald Eagle, and Merlin leading the way. We also documented a rare Black Vulture, only the second record of this species whose range is expanding northward each year!
This season begins a new chapter as the Harris Center is now fully coordinating and running the Observatory. We thank NH Audubon for their long-term partnership and for their many years of steering this project, dating back to 2005 when Iain MacLeod officially founded the site.
Miller State Park and the NH Department of Natural and Cultural Resources remain our hosts and partners. As always, the Observatory relies on various funding sources, including private contributions – so thanks in advance for your continued support of this important conservation research and education project. While the Harris Center may now ‘fly alone,’ we have a strong team of staff, volunteers, partners, and community supporters who keep us aloft.
In 2022, the Observatory welcomes back Levi Burford as Seasonal Raptor Biologist and lead counter four days per week (Thursday through Sunday). Volunteers Iain MacLeod (Mondays), Julie and Phil Brown (Tuesdays), and a combination of several other longtime observers (Wednesdays) will round out our lineup.
In addition, Harris Center teacher-naturalist Ben King will be on the summit many Wednesdays and Saturdays through late October, working with visiting school groups and weekend visitors. Educators from the SCA – NH Conservation Corps will also help us expand our reach. Will Stollsteimer, our first Bird Conservation Intern (and a student at Antioch University New England), will assist with the count once a week as he learns the ropes. Our team is assembled and ready in anticipation of the thousands of visitors and raptors we have come to expect at this Hawk Watch year after year.
New signage and brochures will soon greet visitors upon arrival at the mountain. We’re gearing up for a couple of events – a Family Hawk Watch on September 10, the Big Sit on October 8, and possibly a low-key raptor release event (TBD). Otherwise, it will be business as usual, and we welcome all to come learn about the science and spectacle of migration with us!
The Observatory is staffed every day, weather permitting, from September 1 through November 20. While the Hawk Watch is free to visit, as always, reservations for Miller State Park are strongly recommended to guarantee your space on the mountain. Check out our Visiting the Hawk Watch page to plan your trip.
For more information on the Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory or to volunteer, please contact Bird Conservation Director Phil Brown.