Final Report from the 2023 Hawk Watch

March 7, 2024   |   Levi Burford & Katrina Fenton
A Broad-winged Hawk soars over Pack Monadnock. (photo © Tom Momeyer)

Thousands of Soaring Hawks and Watchful Eyes

The 2023 season was yet another successful fall at the Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory. The 13,058 migrating raptors observed is the fifth-highest season in the 19 years of the project. Harris Center staff and volunteer educators reached thousands of visitors, introducing many to the grand spectacle of raptor migration and engaging through the world of hawks. A fantastic team of counters and volunteers put in long hours to ensure that the count had full coverage all season long, with most days having multiple observers scanning the skies and sharing their passion and knowledge of raptors with curious visitors.

Monthly Trends

The Dog Days of September

Total September migrants: 11,338

September was anything but crisp and cool, with a distinct heat wave in the first week of the project bringing near record heat, haze, and a lot of red smoke from wildfires in various parts of Canada. Visibility was often a problem for the first half of September, but on cue for the Broad-winged Hawk (BWHA) migration, the weather changed to north and west winds, and the Broad-winged Hawks came forth. There were four days with over 1,000 migrants counted, with our best day on September 15 when we recorded 2,940 migrants.

A Red-tailed Hawk soars over Pack Monadnock. (photo © Chuck Carlson)

A Red-tailed Hawk soars over Pack Monadnock.
(photo © Chuck Carlson)

The Crisp October Cool

Total October migrants: 1,179

In contrast to the last few years, the weather was largely mild and fog-free this October. This allowed PMRO observers to put in the most hours since 2015 and 4th most hours overall for the month. There were three days with over 100 birds, during which the 6th highest Sharp-shinned Hawk flight was observed. It was a fantastic month for raptor diversity, with all 16 species recorded this season coming through. The persistent Southwest wind and a lack of strong cold fronts likely contributed to this being Pack’s lowest October Red-tailed Hawk flight on record and the lowest October count of Red-shouldered Hawk since 2017. It was also the lowest October for American Kestrel since 2005 and the worst overall for American Goshawk.

The Brisk November Numbness

Total November migrants: 448

It was a solid November, with Pack’s 2nd highest raptor total for between November 1 and 15, and 3rd highest overall. There was one day with over 100 migrants, and it was the best November for Red-shouldered Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk in the Observatory’s records.

Non-Raptor Highlights

A Dark-eyed Junco on the gravelly ground. (photo © Tom Momeyer)

A Dark-eyed Junco visits Pack Monadnock.
(photo © Tom Momeyer)

This was a great year for non-raptors, with 96 species tallied, which is pretty high for the Raptor Observatory. The bird of the year was the Hawk Watch’s second-ever Townsend’s Solitaire, found and photographed on November 6. Other highlights included the first Snow Goose since 2015, a late Common Nighthawk on September 20, and three Black-bellied Plovers on September 19.

It was a mast year for mountain ash, spruce, balsam, and pine cone crops. This brought good numbers of both Red and White-winged Crossbills along with Pine Siskins to the mountain. A Bohemian Waxwing and small numbers of Cedar Waxwings showed up to feed on the mountain ash, though no other boreal frugivores were observed. The berries were also fed on by American Robins, Hermit Thrushes, Dark-eyed Juncos, and White-throated Sparrows.

This was a lackluster year for Monarchs, with only 299 counted.

Education & Events

Two girls hawkwatch on Pack Monadnock. (photo © Ben Conant)

More than 330 students visited the Hawk Watch in 2023. (photo © Ben Conant)

Along with the science of raptor migration, education is the other primary goal at the Observatory. The fall 2023 season was another fantastic one for visiting school groups and other organizations looking to witness some migration directly and hear from educators about what we do. More than 330 students visited the Hawk Watch as a part of their schooling, many already having worked with the Harris Center on a “raptor unit” in the classroom. We welcome many more school groups to visit us in future years! To arrange a visit, contact Miller State Park at (603) 924-3672.

This year’s Raptor Release was held on September 24 and drew about 50 visitors. Two released Broad-winged Hawks and two American Kestrels dazzled and awed spectators. A rainy Saturday pushed our Big Sit! effort to Sunday this year. We observed a relatively modest 21 species during this 12-hour effort. The highlight species of the day was the Eastern Towhee, with both a male and female kicking around the platform in the scrub. Pulled from retirement induced by the COVID-19 Pandemic, the fun Big Soup! soup contest was a smashing success this year. There were a record number of 12 entries vying for the top spot and all the glory (bragging rights) that come with it. Competition was fierce, and ultimately, former counter (and former soup contest champion) Julie Brown won top honors with her deliciously smoky “Gavilán Tortilla con Pollo” (chicken tortilla soup).

A rehabilitated Broad-winged Hawk is released to soar the skies once more. (photo © Ben Conant)

A rehabilitated Broad-winged Hawk is released to soar the skies once more. (photo © Ben Conant)

Contact Us

For more information on the Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory, please contact Phil Brown by email.