Nearly 100 Bald Eagles have already been tallied this season at the Bake Oven Knob autumn hawk count, which began its 50th consecutive season in August.
The Bake Oven Knob hawk count will continue through Nov. 28. From now until that date, there will be an intern or volunteer on duty from approximately 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
In 1956 Maurice Broun, curator of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, sent several young assistants out to the hawk shooting blinds along the Kittatinny Ridge where gunners were still shooting migrating hawks from blinds. One of those young men was Donald Heintzelman and one of the places he visited was Bake Oven Knob. Heintzelman visited the Knob in autumn several times in the following years, and in 1961 initiated the Bake Oven Knob autumn hawk count.
Heintzelman spent only 36 hours on the rocks at Bake Oven Knob that first autumn, but in a few years other volunteers were helping with the count and the number of hours climbed above 500 in some years. Thirty-seven seasons after he began the count, Heintzelman handed over responsibility for the count to the Wildlife Information Center, now known as the Lehigh Gap Nature Center.
For the past 11, LGNC has secured the services of a research intern - a student who staffs the lookout on weekdays, ensuring complete daily coverage of the count throughout each autumn. Volunteers cover the weekend days, and coverage has exceeded 750 hours in recent years.
Sixteen species of diurnal raptors are seen regularly at Bake Oven Knob and other Kittatinny Ridge watchsites. Bald and Golden Eagles are among the stars of the show, with Peregrine Falcons and Ospreys among the favorites of hawkwatchers. Two kinds of vultures, Black and Turkey, are counted among the migrating raptors.
Mid-September is peak season for Bald Eagles and Ospreys, with a dozen Bald Eagles and several dozen Ospreys a common daily count in weather conditions that concentrate the birds along the ridge. Those conditions generally include moderate winds and the recent passage of a major weather system.
Many hawk watchers flock to the lookouts in mid-September in hopes of seeing large numbers of Broad-winged Hawks, a common forest raptor of the Northeastern United States and Canada. These birds rely on solar energy in the form of thermal air masses to power their migration, which takes them to South America. Groups of birds called "kettles" circle upward in these thermals before soaring out of the top of the rising warm air mass. Kettles of 10 to 30 Broadwings are common, and kettles along the Kittatinny occasionally number in the hundreds. It is possible to see more than 1,000 Broad-winged Hawks on a mid-September day at Bake Oven Knob, Hawk Mountain, or any other hawk watch site in the region.
Following Broadwing season, early October brings the peak of the migration for Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks as well as our three falcons, American Kestrel, Merlin, and Peregrine Falcon. Late October and early November are peak times for Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Golden Eagles.
The annual HawkFest celebration held each September includes live raptors from Carbon County Environmental Education Center, a display of live, local amphibians and reptiles, a display regarding hummingbird migration, and "hawk talks" at the lookouts where LGNC volunteers will explain the phenomenon of hawk migration and how to identify the 16Hawkwatchers scan the skies for migrating raptors at Bake Oven Knob's North Lookout. different kinds of raptors seen each year.
To see the results of the daily hawk migration at Bake Oven Knob and many other watchsites, visit http://www.hawkcount.org. For directions to Bake Oven Knob, visit the web site http://lgnc.org or call the Lehigh Gap Nature Center at (610) 760-8889.