KEMPTON – Not only did the 2011 Autumn Hawk Watch of the annual raptor migration count at the world-famous Hawk Mountain Sanctuary surpass the 10-year average with a total of 22,776 total species, but sanctuary biologists say that the unseasonably warm autumn weather that has extended into a relatively mild early winter has resulted in raptors still being seen on their southern migration.
"Some cold-weather migrants lingered to our north or are just starting to move now," senior monitoring biologist Dr. Laurie Goodrich said. "That makes January a great time to visit, especially to watch for red-tailed hawks and bald eagles."
Last year's annual Autumn Hawk Watch, which began Monday, Aug. 15 and concluded Thursday, Dec. 15, produced season records with 669 Turkey and 295 Black Vultures, with the majority of migrating raptors being 13,323 broad-winged hawks. This was the highest number for this species since 1986, and nearly all broad-winged hawks pass the sanctuary during a two-week window, typically the second to third week in September.
In addition, 4,446 sharp-shinned hawks and 296 Bald Eagles were greater than the 10-year average for those species. Although most other species were less than their 10-year average, the overall total was 4,675 more than the average of 18,101.
"Looking back, the warmer weather may have made migrants linger, but it also stretched our season," Goodrich said. "That means November and December became a great time for people to spend time outside although the hawk counts were below average for that time of year."
As the world's first refuge for birds of prey, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary has long been considered the destination for hawk watch enthusiasts. Located on the Appalachian Flyway, the rocky overlooks at Hawk Mountain provide an ideal location to watch the spectacle of raptor migration.
"Each year thousands of people make an annual pilgrimage to the sanctuary," Hawk Mountain president Jerry Regan said. "Some come for the incredible views, others to walk the trails, but most want to sit at North Lookout for the chance to see large numbers of migrating raptors, and the hawks, eagles and falcons are what make the sanctuary a favorite and famous destination."
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary has conducted bird migration counts since 1934, and its database represents the longest-running record of hawk migration in the world, and the long-term data allow scientists to monitor the conservation status of these normally secretive birds. Declining trends in any one raptor population can alert conservationists to potential problems in the environment.
In addition to its scientific value, Hawk Mountain educators use the hawk count to introduce thousands of schoolchildren and an average 70,000 visitors to the phenomena of migration and the importance of conserving birds of prey. This annual events allows the sanctuary to train young conservation interns from around the world and teach them how to monitor wildlife, record and analyze data, and interpret the migration for the public.
Lookouts and trails at the sanctuary are open dawn to dusk daily along Hawk Mountain Road, located off Route 895 between New Ringgold and Molino. Hours of operation for the visitor center are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily during January and February and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at other times of the year.
Trail fees for non-members are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for children aged 6-12. Sanctuary members and children six years old and younger are admitted free, with family memberships costing $40 for year-round admission.
For more information on birds of prey and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, visit the website www.hawkmountain.org.