New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)

A look inside this week’s Hawk Watch Week

- ROBERT MILLER Earth Matters Contact Robert Miller at earthmatte­

There were cabbage whites and sulphurs fluttering along clumps of unmown grass at the Jane Pratt Farm preserve in Bridgewate­r last week.

It’s been a good year for monarch butterflie­s as well, said Renee Baade of Newtown.

But Baade’s eyes, while taking in the sweet rural scene, were mostly focused on the sky. She is the compiler at the Botsford Hill hawk watch, one more devoted volunteer in the corps of citizen science.

For two weeks in September, she drives to her station near the Bridgewate­r-Roxbury town line and watches for a few hours a day — more if the joint is jumping — and counts what’s passing overhead. She and thousands of other volunteers then send their numbers to the Hawk Migration Associatio­n of North America. The data from all the counting stations is at

Over the decades, these counts have built up a substantia­l amount of informatio­n about which raptors — hawks, eagles, falcons, vultures and kites — are on the move south.

“That’s why they’re gathering all this data — to understand the hawks better and protect them better,” Baade said.

The big show now and

for the next week or so, are broad-winged hawks, which can migrate through the western half of the state by the thousands. Internatio­nal Hawk Watch Week is Sept. 18-25, coinciding with the rush.

“That’s why all these crazy people are doing their little watches,” she said.

David Babington of Washington is the compiler at the Chestnut Hill watch in Litchfield. Like Baade, he’s been at his September post for 20 years.

He said studies have shown that two hawk watches even a few miles apart will see different birds. That’s why it’s so

important to have many counting stations to get an accurate idea of what’s migrating.

“It’s location, location, location,” he said.

The two big hawk watches in the state are at the Greenwich Audubon Center’s Quaker Ridge site near its headquarte­rs and at Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven.

The Quaker Ridge watch is, reliably, the best place to see the stream of broadwinge­d hawks in the state. Ryan MacLean, bird education specialist at the Greenwich Center said in one two-day stretch at the center, people counted 30,000

broad-wings flying over.

Lighthouse Point gets more variety — more falcons, more blue jays, more dragonflys, more migrating songbirds.

Steve Mayo, Lighthouse Point’s compiler, said he’s also seeing a new species — COVID-driven humans taking up bird photograph­y with a passion.

“That’s a new phenomenon,” he said.

Hawks migrate because they need to eat, MacLean said in a recent webinar.

Our most commonlyse­en hawk — red-winged hawks — are generalist­s. They can winter-over in Connecticu­t, feeding on the

rodents scurrying through the snow.

On the other hand, sharp-shinned hawks and Cooper’s hawks hunt small songbirds. When those birds fly south, the hawks follow them.

Broad-winged hawks eat reptiles, lizards and amphibians, MacLean said. They fly to South America to get their winter fare in rainforest­s, while our chilly frogs and snakes hibernate.

To save energy, broadwinge­d hawks ride thermals, soaring along the warm air rising from the state’s ridges. But when they hit Long Island Sound, they take a hard right, away from the water and over the coast, past places like Quaker Ridge and Lighthouse Point.

The best hawk-watching days happen when there’s a cold front and a good northwest wind pushing the hawks south.

David Babington, the compiler at the Chestnut Hill watch in Litchfield said climate change may be affecting and slowing down the migration.

“We used to get northwest winds after cold front,” he said. “Now, we’re just not getting the cold fronts.”

At Renee Baade’s station at Botsford Hill last week, there was a wind from the south, dispersing the migrators.

“We’ll see threes here and there, twos here and there, all broad-wings,” Baade said.

Which is mostly how the morning progressed — a scattering of hawks against a mix of blue and gray.

Because the hawks are high up, it takes good eyes to see them.

“They’re so small and so way up there,” Baade said.

That, and patience. Birding is like fishing — you cast your line or lift your binoculars and hope.

“Some days, you can have a perfect wind, a perfect sky,” Baade said. “And where are the hawks?”

Even a day with almost no hawks, however, tells ornitholog­ists something.

“Zero data is still data to the scientists,” Baade said. “Maybe it shows how crazy we are.”

 ?? Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticu­t Media file photo ?? A red-tailed hawk circles in the sky at Audubon Greenwich in 2019. Internatio­nal Hawk Watch Week runs through Saturday.
Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticu­t Media file photo A red-tailed hawk circles in the sky at Audubon Greenwich in 2019. Internatio­nal Hawk Watch Week runs through Saturday.
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