Perfect time of the year to go bird watching
It’s that time of the year when birders and lovers of the great outdoors flock to Hawk Mountain.
Every year, for the past 24, Father Bob Uhler and son Tim, of Glenmoore, have made the mile-long climb.
Along the Kittatinny Ridge of peaks, about 90 minutes northwest of Chester County near Hamburg, the father and son team viewed the spectacular fall migration of raptors at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.
Tim is an environmental scientist and even as a 10-year-old, he was hooked on the outdoors.
Bob told me that during their first visit, Tim noted that a bird spotter’s identification of a hawk was wrong. Tim told the bird expert that the bird of prey was instead a Cooper’s Hawk. The spotter then declared that the preteen was correct.
The Uhlers added a new member to the party for this year’s outing, 18-month-old Eloise.
“We’re looking forward to keeping the tradition alive,” Tim said.
“Hopefully she’ll bring her kids up here,” Bob said about Eloise.
I sat on a large rock pile at the North Lookout with Hawk Mountain Biologist David Bar-
ber. Although we could see about 70 miles, and it seemed like the whole world was below us, we spoke in hushed tones, as you would in a cathedral.
From that same spot, Barber has watched thousands of raptors fly by in a single day.
We watched dozens of sharp-shinned hawks seemingly effortlessly glide past us. These hawks are quite small but fast.
Barber told me that raptors fly above Hawk Mountain from as far away as Canada, with some then migrating as far south as Central and South America.
I asked Barber to dream about—to imagine—what it might feel like to become a bird.
“Turkey vultures can use the slightest updraft and glide, but I wouldn’t want to necessarily eat what they eat,” he said.
After 17 years at Hawk Mountain, Barber can often spot and identify birds a mile and half away, with use of a scope or binoculars, and sometimes even with the naked eye.
I also could view the raptors headed in our direction from a long distance away on this clear fall day as the trees below us put on a glorious autumn show of color.
Last Sunday, when we visited, official bird counters noted 16 bald eagles, or 291 already this year, 217 sharp-shinned hawks, with 2,661 so far this year and 44 red-tailed hawks, for 801 to date.
As of Sunday, so far this year, during the season running from Aug. 15Dec. 15, the counters had viewed 14,170 birds of prey in the skies above Hawk Mountain.
I learned how raptors flying at Hawk Mountain benefit from predominantly northwesterly winds during the fall migration season. Those winds create updrafts when hitting the ridge stretching northeast to the southwest.
“Birds migrating south use updrafts and gliding, while conserving energy,” Barber said. “Winds concentrate along the ridge in the fall. To the east, the air is a lot more turbulent and they flap more, use more energy.”
Many raptors don’t eat along much of the way, but for those that do, the 2,500 acre sanctuary is appreciated for both a meal and rest.
Barber is asked two questions more than any other. Many wonder why a fake great horned owl sits high on a pole above the ridge. He said that some of the birds, especially sharpshinned hawks, will dive bomb the predator.
The answer to the second question is simple. When asked how bird spotters don’t count birds twice, Barber tells visitors that the birds only travel in one direction and usually pass the lookout just once.
The sanctuary was the world’s first refuge for raptors and attracts about 75,000 paying visitors each year.
Birds often fly during specific times although there is a great variety for the entire fall season.
There’s a 52 percent chance you’ll see a bald eagle Sept. 1-14, an 89 percent chance that an osprey will fly above you Sept. 1530 and a 98 percent probability that a sharpershinned hawk will pass within view from Sept. 15 to Oct. 14.
The Uhler family will likely be back again next year, and 18-monthold Eloise will be a year older. Tim told me that his fourth-grade teacher who had a cockatiel in the classroom sparked his lifelong interest in birds.
Like her dad and grandfather, maybe Eloise will come to love those migrating birds. She was carried in a backpack this year, and granddad expects that she might walk much of the way on her own next year.
It’s certainly a tradition worth continuing and preserving.
The private, membersupported nonprofit conservation organization charges an admission fee.
The rocky, 30-minute hike to the most visited observation area is a mile each way.
The visitor center and trail starts near the top of the mountain and is a moderate walk with an elevation change of less than 300 feet. A shorter 100step accessible trail leads to a fine overlook.
For a wealth of information, including daily raptor count updates, call 610756-6961 or go to www. hawkmountain.org.
Migrating raptors take advantage of the updrafts at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.
Thousands of raptors annually migrate south at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, including many bald eagles.