The View from Pack: Raptor Migration 2021
You can find annual summaries of Pack Monadnock migration data from recent years here. Detailed historic data — including hourly raptor count and weather data, non-raptor observations, special notes, and season totals — are also posted on hawkcount.org, an online database managed by the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA). Read on for “field reports” from the 2021 season, as shared by Hawk Watch Coordinator Phil Brown.
Highlights from the 2021 Season
Season Summary 2021
Crisp, beautiful weather and a pile of happy visitors marked the end of our 17th consecutive raptor monitoring season at Pack Monadnock on November 20. The day was mild with a light west wind, similar to many other days of favorable weather this fall – days ‘almost too nice for hawk watching,’ according to lead counter and raptor biologist Levi Burford. Still, Levi and our team of volunteer observers tallied an impressive 9,605 migrant raptors in 548 hours of observation time in 2021. Our team also engaged with a record-high 6,300+ visitors, including several hundred students from area schools – something that was sorely missed during the 2020 season. In addition, it’s now been ten years since the count was extended into November, providing conservation biologists with a more accurate picture of raptor migration and population trends in the Northeast.
Below is a brief species-by-species summary of the 2021 season, as outlined by Levi Burford:
– Black Vulture – 2 – FIRST RECORD in project history (two birds on October 22)
– Turkey Vulture – 641 – RECORD-HIGH season tally and daily tallies (221 on October 5). The season tally essentially doubles the previous high count for this increasing migrant.
– Osprey – 182 – a slight recovery from 2020, but well below the average tally for this declining migrant
– Bald Eagle – 227 – RECORD-HIGH season tally, topping last year’s high of 185. This species’ steady increase continues, and many visitors got to enjoy them for the first time at the Observatory in 2021.
– Northern Harrier – 85 – an average tally, and perhaps higher than expected as northern New Hampshire saw low numbers of territorial pairs in 2021, according to research by NH Audubon. Our observers aged this species too, tallying 63% as juveniles (down from last year, suggesting lower productivity).
– Sharp-shinned Hawk – 1,291 – up from past years, and an above-average tally. This bucks the regional declining trend of this still relatively common species. A remarkable record-high flight of 237 occurred on September 29, during which observers noted groups of up to 10 of these typical loners migrating over the summit together.
– Cooper’s Hawk – 156 – slightly above-average for this declining migrant species
– Northern Goshawk – 13 – a low tally for the Observatory, but a slight rebound from 2020. A couple of local individuals gave observers quite a show on several days, as the large Accipiters seemed to enjoy buzzing low over the summit in search of food.
– Red-shouldered Hawk – 223 – tied last year’s record-high count, representing a continued upward trend
– Broad-winged Hawk – 6,055 – well below the long-term average of ~8,500 birds, but still representing 63% of the total migrant tally. This relatively low count was attributed to local conditions and persistent cloud cover, as well as a prevailing northeast wind that appeared to bring more birds to western hawk watch sites such as Putney Mountain in Vermont. Two consecutive days of just over 1,000 birds occurred on September 19 and 20, which is always a dazzling site and makes kids out of all of us!
– Red-tailed Hawk – 329 – right on the average, and a promising sign especially as this species has shown a declining local and regional migration trend
– Rough-legged Hawk – 1 – a single light-morph bird was seen on October 23, the first time this rare northern species has been tallied at the Observatory since 2018
– Golden Eagle – 11– a slight rebound to just above their average, all occurring in the last few weeks of the season. Several provided close looks, always an exciting moment on the mountain!
– American Kestrel – 165 – an average count, and positive sign considering this species is trending downward across much of its breeding range and at migration sites too
– Merlin – 100– slightly above average, as many of the songbird specialists appeared to be in 2021
– Peregrine Falcon – 57 – a return to an above average total. This fan-favorite is trending upwards!
2021 brought a diversity of birds to the Observatory. A total of 94 bird species were recorded, including good tallies of warblers and other songbirds, as well as late-season waterbirds. Highlights included less-common species such as two flocks of Brant, two Northern Shrikes (including one that was singing!), Rusty Blackbird, a flock of White-winged Scoter, and 32 Sandhill Cranes – an astounding total and all-time high-count for New Hampshire – on the final day of the season.
More than 1,000 Monarch butterflies were also tallied, the third-highest number in Pack history.
All bird data were entered into eBird.org and, like the raptor migration data, are available to scientific analysis as well as the general public. Raptor migration data are also available at hawkcount.org and are provided to the Raptor Population Index for long-term analyses and periodic raptor population trend estimates.
Harris Center Broad-wings on Wintering Grounds!
The Harris Center’s three tagged hawks – Thelma, Monadnock, and Harris – have likely now settled into their wintering territories. Two of these birds have spent the last couple of weeks in Colombia — an exciting development, as previously-studied birds of the same species breeding in Pennsylvania have wintered further south in South America. According to Dr. Laurie Goodrich of Hawk Mountain, this may be an example of chain migration, and data from these individuals may help answer questions about migration connectivity for populations of Broad-winged Hawks from different areas. Stay tuned to Hawk Mountain’s Broad-winged Hawk Project map for updated spring migration maps starting in March, when our birds begin to move north.
On behalf of the Harris Center and NH Audubon, we thank you – our sustaining donors, partners, supporters, volunteers, observers, and readers – for following the migration with us this season, and for enabling us to continue our important dual mission of educating the visiting public about raptors and contributing vital data to international raptor population monitoring efforts.
A big thanks to Miller State Park and their staff for hosting us and making everyone feel welcome at the park, and special thanks to business partner Nature’s Green Grocer and the shoppers who have so generously contributed to the Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory again this year through the store’s Green Giving Program. Continue to shop at the Green Grocer through the end of the month and contribute to the project!
Last but not least, stay tuned for our Annual Report, which will provide an in-depth season summary, species analyses, a complete avian species list, and more. We look forward to seeing you again for more raptors in 2022!
Welcome to November: Quality, Not Quantity
Early November at Pack has thus far featured fine late-fall weather, several days with north or west winds, a generous extension of foliage season in the form of brilliant red oak leaves in the valleys below, and excellent late-season raptors above. The days of hundreds of migrant raptors are behind us now, as it is past peak season for most raptors.
Even during decent conditions, migration can seem pretty slow some days, such as this past Tuesday when just one raptor migrated past the summit in six hours! But the rewards are often still worth the wait. The past week brought the first three Golden Eagles, all juveniles, fairly typical for the earliest of Pack’s migrant Goldens. This species is perhaps the most coveted raptor of the season, and because they are late-season birds, few people are usually on hand to enjoy them. However, several intrepid observers enjoyed an exciting moment when they watched one perch in a tree on North Pack before it was ushered away by a band of Common Ravens!
Bald Eagles have set yet another high-water mark this season, continuing to outpace Osprey and widening the gap between these two fish-loving birds. The onslaught of Turkey Vultures has continued, and along with their record-high season, the Observatory now has a first official record of migrating Black Vultures in the 17-year history of the project. This long-awaited record of two individuals popped up over the summit parking lot on October 21 and cruised past the watch. This species is expanding its range to the north and has become a more expected sighting across southern New Hampshire in recent years.
Finally, not to be overlooked was the light-morph Rough-legged Hawk — the first in several years — which came through during an excellent Buteo day on October 23, when 238 total migrants were tallied.
Red-shoulders and Red-tails
The past two weeks, as predicted, have ushered in the later Buteos – Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks – along with the colder air and frosts that often send them moving south. We sometimes get questions about whether time of day matters to migrating birds, and for some species, it appears to. Raptor Biologist Levi Burford provides the following analysis about time of day and its effect on these two raptor species:
I tend to see a strong early morning flight of Red-shoulders which tails off around lunchtime, when the Red-tailed Hawk flight continues to early afternoon. I suspect this has to do with Red-shouldered Hawks preferring lighter winds to migrate in. By 11, the winds are (often) getting stronger and the birds choose to migrate lower or not at all. Red-tailed Hawks can fly better in stronger winds and can afford to migrate at our altitude through the middle of the day.
As with late-season raptors, the diversity and number of other bird species continues to diminish with the onset of late fall, but there are always some nice surprises and usual visitors. An ‘unkindness’ of Common Ravens (the collective noun for a flock of this mythical and fascinating bird), swelling to over 50 birds on some days, is a daily treat. Several White-throated and a single Fox Sparrow have been a regular presence recently, along with the continuing Dark-eyed Juncos. The first Snow Buntings of the fall showed up on November 4. Winter finches continue to appear in small numbers, increasing with each cold front. On November 2, a flock of 22 Brant was seen migrating south, a rare overland record for this smaller cousin of the Canada Goose. A quick check of eBird revealed five other records from the Observatory on three separate years, all previously coming from the second half of October: 8 on 10/19/2018, 50 on 10/16/2018, 1 on 10/25/2016, 21 on 10/31/2010, and 25 on 10/18/2010.
Hey, Nice View!
In late October, Harris Center staff partnered with staff from NH Parks to reclaim key parts of the viewshed of the Observatory. This was an important step in maintaining a consistent protocol and being able to detect and identify migrating raptors that would have otherwise gone undetected. A big thanks to all the staff of NH Parks and the NH Division of Natural and Cultural Resources, especially those wielding chainsaws!
Tracking Our Broad-wings
The Harris Center’s tagged Broad-winged Hawks have made it as far as Colombia! There are some signs that “Harris,” the male from the Harris Center’s Hiroshi property, may be settling into his wintering grounds. Continue to follow the Harris Center’s three tagged birds – Thelma, Monadnock and Harris – along their migration routes on Hawk Mountain’s Broad-winged Hawk Project map, which is updated weekly during the migration season.
Looking Ahead: The Final Two Weeks
The auto road continues to remain open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., weather permitting. However, reservations are no longer being accepted, as the Park assesses conditions on a day-to-day basis with the threats of ice and snow looming. It’s best to call Miller State Park at (603) 924-3672 for daily conditions.
Aside from the requirement of bundling up if you plan to visit — temps have been hovering at 40 degrees for highs of late, and the wind is often strong at 2290’ — one can expect to see a continued flight of Red-tailed Hawks, perhaps more Golden Eagles, and small numbers of Northern Goshawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Bald Eagle, and Northern Harrier through the end of the count period.
The last day of the season will be November 20. Look for one final Field Report after that, which will summarize the season and provide highlights of the Observatory’s final two weeks. For daily reports, continue to visit hawkcount.org.
Late October is for Buteos and Eagles…
The past week or so has seen mainly low to moderate flights with a nice diversity of raptors – with Sharp-shinned Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, and Red-tailed Hawk leading the way in numbers.
As we near the end of October, late fall conditions appear at last to be setting in at the Observatory. A cold front earlier this week finally ushered in the strong northwest winds which are an important requisite of the raptor flights we have come to expect in the latter half of October. Some birds have gotten the message, but we still await our first big push of Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, two familiar Buteos that migrate through our area annually during October and November. And, with each successive cold front, our chances of Golden Eagles – never common migrants at Pack – begin to increase.
Bald Eagle Numbers Still Climbing
Bald Eagles continue to soar with no end in sight! This species, more than any other, has seen steady annual growth in the numbers recorded at the Observatory, and we’re on pace for another record-breaking season. Though Bald Eagles migrate throughout the entire observation period at Pack, we seem to notice high numbers in mid-September and again in late October and November. This dual-peak may represent distinct populations or may be a factor of adult and juvenile eagles migrating at different times.
Tracking “Our” Broad-wings
The Harris Center’s tagged Broad-winged Hawks are now winging their way across central America, some having passed near the famous raptor monitoring sites of Veracruz, Mexico and Kekoldi in Costa Rica! Just one month ago, these individuals began their southbound journeys to their wintering grounds. Will they make it to South America for the winter? Follow the Harris Center’s three tagged birds – Thelma, Monadnock, and Harris – along their migration routes on Hawk Mountain’s Broad-winged Hawk Project map, which is updated weekly during the migration season.
The Observatory as Outdoor Classroom
Among the 5,000 total visitors to the Observatory since September 1 have been hundreds of students from several different area schools. Harris Center staff and volunteer naturalists provide education to these groups — sharing in the joy of observing the raptor migration, helping with their journals, and deepening their understanding and appreciation of this amazing seasonal spectacle. Many thanks to Observatory supporters for making these programs possible, year after year.
We’re delighted to continue welcoming students to the Observatory through the end of the season in November. To make a group reservation, please contact Miller State Park at (603) 924-3672.
Cold fronts in the next week or so suggest peak flights of Red-shouldered Hawks and the first Golden Eagles, as well as increasing flights of Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Goshawks, and Bald Eagles. Red-shouldered Hawks are on the increase, and last year was an exceptional season for them. Perhaps their rise will continue again in 2021? On the other hand, Red-tailed Hawks are becoming less migratory, and their numbers at Pack are on a decline as steep as a Red-tail’s stoop. For the most recent species assessments from the 2019 Raptor Population Analysis, check out the Raptor Population Index (RPI) at rpi-project.org.
In other news, our annual “Big Sit” birding event was conducted by the “Paccipiters” team on October 9. Levi and Katrina recorded an impressive 31 bird species that day, a nice tally for that late into the season. Though bird diversity continues to decline, it remains an exciting time at the Observatory, with increasing chances for migrating waterfowl — nine White-winged Scoters were observed on October 17 — and more Canada Geese. Winter finches have started to appear, too, with both Red and White-winged Crossbills detected recently, in addition to larger numbers of Purple Finches and Pine Siskins. Will we see another big finch flight as we did in 2020? Stay tuned.
Finally, an important note if you plan to visit: The new Auto Road hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the last ride up at 3:30 p.m. each day.
Early October: Fantastic Fall Flights
Though we’re already halfway through the season at the Observatory, raptor excitement is still very much a daily occurrence on the mountain. The days of thousands of Broad-wings may have passed, but this is still an excellent time to enjoy a wide diversity of migrant raptor species, some of which are peaking now.
The past two weeks have seen two notable record-high daily counts. On September 28, an unbelievable flight of 237 Sharp-shinned Hawks was tallied – nearly doubling the previous high count and falling just two birds short of the all-time New Hampshire daily record! Groups of up to 10 ‘Sharpies’ at a time were seen winging their way south, with several close and vocalizing, much to the delight of the official counters and visitors alike.
On October 5, with skies clearing in the early afternoon following two rainy days, the skies opened up with migrating Turkey Vultures. Volunteer Tom Delaney tallied an astounding 221 of these often-overlooked soarers, including kettles of 45 and 46 in the sky at the same time! This daily total surpasses the former high count of 146 ‘TVs’ in a single day, and is 70% of the long-term seasonal average for this species!
These are just two examples of why it pays to closely monitor weather conditions during the peak of migration, as birds will fly when conditions permit, sometimes in large numbers after being held up for several days. It will be interesting to see if these big days contribute significantly to the season tallies for these respective species, and if these are mere blips in the data or part of larger trends.
Tracking “Our” Broad-wings
Broad-winged Hawks have mainly migrated out of the Northeast at this point. Many are now approaching Central America, where the species funnels through a narrow bottleneck between the Gulf of Mexico and the Sierra Madre Oriental range, passing by in the hundreds of thousands in early to mid-October. Check out where the Harris Center’s three tagged birds – Thelma, Monadnock and Harris – are now.
Monarch Butterflies Hit a Milestone
Monarch Butterflies continue to trickle forth through the middle of October. A notable highlight occurred on October 1, when the 1,000th individual of the season was recorded migrating past the Observatory. These well-known butterflies are making incredible journeys to the pine-covered mountains of northern Mexico, where the bulk of the species’ eastern population winters. Many conservation efforts have helped Monarchs recover locally, but there are still considerable threats to the species, both in our region and in their wintering areas. Visit the Xerces Society’s Easten Monarch Conservation page to learn how you can help.
Looking Ahead: The Big Sit and Bird Diversity
Peak flights of Northern Harrier, Cooper’s Hawk, and Merlin, as well as continued strong flights of both Turkey Vulture and Sharp-shinned Hawk, are expected in the coming week. Strong cold fronts in early to mid-October also bring the possibility of an early Golden Eagle or two, as well as increasing chances for Northern Goshawks, another sought-after species at Pack.
Bird diversity begins to diminish by mid-October but remains exciting with chances for migrating waterfowl such as Scoters and, more commonly, larger flights of Canada Geese and smaller numbers of Double-crested Cormorants. Levi Burford and volunteers will once again be participating in the annual Big Sit birding event on Saturday, October 9 – which also happens to be World Migratory Bird Day. Come on out to count birds alongside our team!
The long weekend will certainly be a popular one for leaf peepers as fall foliage begins to near peak, so if you do hope to visit, plan ahead and use the Miller State Park advanced reservation system.
Volunteer Spotlight: Tom Delaney
Tom Delaney has been a familiar face at the Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory in Peterborough since 2007. He and his wife, Janet, have long been core volunteers and are sustaining donors of the project. Tom provides great company and conversation, a warm smile, and great bird-finding abilities. When he isn’t busily finding and identifying distant specks over North Pack in his scope, he is warmly greeting visitors, making each visitor to the Hawk Watch feel welcome – something that helps Pack stand out as a welcoming community space. Tom’s childlike enthusiasm for raptor migration is admirable and contagious. He sometimes serves as the official counter for the Observatory, and recently bore witness to the largest Turkey Vulture and Sharp-shinned Hawk flights in the history of the project. Lastly, in the words of official counter Levi Burford and his partner and volunteer, Katrina Fenton, Tom always has a way of being there when needed the most. We are lucky to have his dedication at Pack!
Peak Migration at Pack
It’s late September, the peak of raptor migration! The Pack tally stands at 6,820 total raptor migrants, the majority of which have been Broad-winged Hawks. On the big day of September 14, our team tallied 1,706 total birds, the first of three 1000+ days during “Broad-winged Week.” While these numbers are impressive, it appears that most of the Northeast’s flight may have passed to our west this year (as evidenced by larger tallies on a line from Clarry Hill, Maine through central New Hampshire and Putney Mountain, Vermont), though there are surely still a few more Broadies in the pipeline. And speaking of Broad-wings, check out where the Harris Center’s three tagged birds – Thelma, Monadnock and Harris – are now!
We are delighted to see that many folks are more comfortable visiting the hawk watch this year, and it has been great to catch up with many of you. On September 19, we celebrated the start of International Hawk Migration Week with the return of Raptor Release Day! This year, a Broad-winged Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, and American Kestrel all got second chances at life after injuries or illnesses immobilized them. These birds were picked up by good Samaritans such as Nancy Delaney, who rescued the juvenile Broad-winged Hawk in Hollis, and which was rehabilitated by Maria Colby and her organization, Wings of the Dawn. The event was intentionally kept smaller than in the past for added COVID safety, but was still a huge success, especially for the raptors!
Kestrel and Osprey Numbers
Also on September 19, we witnessed the largest single-day flight (45) of American Kestrels in the history of the Observatory! Hawk watches are particularly concerned about these charismatic kestrels as their numbers have been declining in many parts of the country for decades, but there have been some recent signs of that their populations may be stabilizing.
Osprey numbers have been a little closer to average at this point, which is encouraging to see. The mean average is heavily influenced by earlier years, when we were seeing stronger flights than in more recent seasons. By the end of September, we should know if Ospreys are staying on track for an average or above-average season, or if their own long-term decline continues.
Monarch Butterfly Migration
Monarch Butterfly numbers, as many have noted, are up this year. The Pack total of 868 this fall already ranks as this the third-highest tally since we started counting in 2005. We expect daily counts to slow down, but they will continue in small numbers through mid-October.
This weekend promises to be an excellent one for hawk watching with the passing of a cold front tonight into tomorrow. The long-range forecast looks equally favorable. Expect good tallies of American Kestrel, Osprey, Northern Harrier, and Sharp-shinned Hawk in the coming week, as late September is peak or near peak for this suite of species. One cannot rule out another big flight of Broad-wings, either! Raptor and overall bird diversity is also at its highest in late September , and it is not uncommon to record 40 bird species from the platform on a good day.
Human visitation to the Observatory has been moderate thus far, with 1,330 total visitors, including a few school groups – an element we missed altogether in 2020. We anticipate increased visitation in the coming weeks with additional school groups on some weekdays and leaf peepers on weekends as the colors start to turn. To guarantee your admission to the park on such busy days, please continue to use the Miller State Park advanced reservation system.
A big thank you to sustaining business partner, The Jack Daniels Motor Inn of Peterborough, and to all our other first-time and sustaining donors! To become a supporter, please contact Phil Brown by email or select “Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory” as the program for your online donation. Our gratitude to all!
Back at Pack!
The Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory is up and running for a 17th consecutive season! This long-term raptor migration monitoring project once again welcomes visitors, including school groups, to the summit of Pack Monadnock in Peterborough, where a staff biologist and team of volunteers will be documenting the raptor migration daily through mid-November. The site is open to the public during our usual early fall hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, although advance reservations with Miller State Park are now strongly recommended. Plan ahead to enjoy the spectacle. You can get more information about visiting the Hawk Watch here.
The Start of the Season
The first week at the Observatory bore witness to over 200 migrating raptors and featured some of the finest weather in which to observe them. We tallied early-season migrants such as Osprey, Bald Eagle, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Broad-winged Hawk, and also noted an early Northern Goshawk and a few early Peregrine Falcons – the latter of which delighted many spectators as it sparred with the local Ravens and a young Cooper’s Hawk.
In addition to raptors, our team monitors and records all species of birds and some migrating insects – including the many migrating warbler species, lingering Common Nighthawks, Chimney Swifts, and swallows of this past week, as well as migrating Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Monarch Butterflies, which appear to be off to a strong start.
The Week Ahead
The upcoming week looks generally favorable for migration to continue to build, as we approach the peak of Broad-winged Hawk migration over the next two weeks. In addition to hundreds (or more) of Broad-winged Hawks, we expect to see an increase in falcons including the American Kestrel, as well as Ospreys and Northern Harriers. We also expect a continued uptick in migrating warblers and overall bird diversity as we reach the peak of fall migration for many other bird species. Data analysis conducted by seasonal raptor biologist Levi Burford has shown that Monarch Butterflies reach two peaks (see graph) in early-mid September, too.
Broad-winged Hawk Tracking
This year, we’re also excited to share news of a new Broad-winged Hawk monitoring collaboration with Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania. During the summer of 2021, Harris Center staff and volunteers located and monitored nine Broad-winged Hawk nests in the Monadnock Region (including four on lands conserved by the Harris Center), and Hawk Mountain biologists affixed GPS and cellular transmitters to three adult birds at these nest sites. Thanks to these technologies, we (and you!) can now track these hawks as they migrate to South America over the next several weeks. This exciting new project is a natural fit for the Harris Center, as we seek to expand our knowledge of raptors breeding in the Monadnock Region — and learn more about their incredible migration to, and wintering ecology in, the tropics of Central and South America. Raptors truly connect our world!
The Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory is supported by individuals, including many sustaining donors; local businesses, including Nature’s Green Grocer; and foundations, including the Gilbert Verney Foundation. To become a supporter, please contact Phil Brown by email or select “Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory” as the program for your online donation. Our gratitude to all!
For more information on the Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory or to volunteer, please contact Bird Conservation Director Phil Brown.