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It’s in your nature: Following hawk migrations

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    Dominating the September hawk migration, dozens of broad-winged hawks will drop into the forest as the thermals dwindle. Look for them in the evening or early morning perched along some forest clearings. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

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    Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Found on the forest floor or field edges, can you identify the organism in this photo?

Published September 14. 2019 06:44AM

Readers in the Times News coverage area are fortunate. We have two world-famous hawk migration lookouts within a 30- to 45-minute drive. Bake Oven Knob, on the crest of the Blue Mountain separating Carbon and Lehigh counties, is in our own backyard, and for some, only a 4- or 5-mile car ride. Hawk Mountain, farther south on the Blue Mountain, is located straddling Berks and Schuylkill counties.

If you toss in Cape May, New Jersey, and are willing to take a 3- or 4-hour drive, you would find yourself at one of the Western Hemisphere’s best raptor viewing areas. (Totals for 2018 were nearly 37,000 raptors.)

Official counters have been manning the Bake Oven lookout since Aug. 15 with a trickle of migrants being recorded through the month of August. However, as September progresses, an almost daily increase of hawks can be expected. By the time you read this column, possibly thousands of broad-winged hawks may have already been observed and counted.

Last year by the peak date, Sept. 16, the counters recorded 1,666 “broadies.” September 2017 was even more spectacular, with Sept. 15 (1,600 “broadies), Sept. 17 (more than 2,600 broadies), and Sept. 19 (more than 1,600 birds).

Mid-September is traditionally the peak of the broad-winged hawk migration. Generally, after Sept. 20-22 the number of broad-winged hawks recorded drops off significantly. I’m not telling you that if you couldn’t get to the mountain by mid-September that you should skip your trip, au contraire. Bald eagles can be seen almost any day in September with four or five days “producing” about a dozen or more sightings.

Broad-winged hawks often can be seen in large swirling masses called kettles. Kettles form when the “broadies” encounter a large rising bubble of warm air called a thermal. The birds begin circling at the bottom of a thermal, gaining altitude as the warm air raises them higher and higher. Eventually, the thermal cools and the birds begin streaming down ridge until finding another thermal. I observed kettles that held over 300 birds at one time. I’m sure there have been many others larger.

Bake Oven offers great viewing of sharp-shinned hawks, whose numbers peak in early October, and then red-tailed hawks take over the number one spot as November approaches. Of course, you can observe migrating turkey and black vultures, kestrels, osprey, golden eagles, peregrine falcons (numbers pleasantly have been increasing), and many others. In September, hummingbirds will zip by, and some years hundreds of monarch butterflies drift by on their southbound trips.

You can reach Bake Oven Knob off Route 895, turning onto Germans Road about 2 miles from Ashfield. Travel Germans Road for about another 1 miles, turning south onto a “rough” Bake Oven Road. At the top of the mountain, turn left (to the east) onto a large dirt parking area on State Game Lands. A comfortable folding chair can be utilized there, and of course a short ½ mile walk on the Appalachian Trail will get you up close and personal on the ridge top. (It is a rocky, steep trail; wear appropriate footwear.)

Hawk Mountain, located a few miles beyond New Ringgold, is an easier walk to the lookout, but a fee to enter is charged. The office/headquarters area is a nice place to visit and shop as well.

Things are “a-popping” as birds prepare for the soon approaching winter; so get out there. …

Follow the hawk totals on www.hawkcount.org click on PA and select your hawk watch site. (I bookmark it to check it daily.)

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Found on the forest floor or field edges, can you identify the organism in the photo above?

Last Week’s Trivia: Probably because of its size, the pileated woodpecker does make winter berries and fruits a big part of its diet.

Contact Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com.

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