By Matt Heid
AMC Outdoors, October 2007
Each fall, tens of thousands of raptors wing their way south through the skies of the northeast. En route these birds of prey concentrate around prominent mountains and ridgelines where updrafts lift them effortlessly skyward. The migration extends from late august through mid-November, but October is the best month for diversity—more than a dozen species travel during this period. Hawks are most common, especially broad-winged, red-tailed, and sharp-shinned, though ospreys, peregrine falcons, and bald and golden eagles all migrate as well. These seven sites are ideal for observing the avian spectacle. They also offer sweeping vistas across the foliage-drenched landscape of fall.
The rounded rise of 485-foot Bradbury Mountain caps 590-acre Bradbury Mountain State Park in southwest Maine. An easy quarter-mile hike leads to the summit, where open ledge peers south across dappled coastal plain toward the Atlantic Ocean and islands of Casco Bay. Hundreds of raptors congregate overhead, taking advantage of this small bump in an otherwise low-lying landscape. Established in 1939 as one of Maine’s first five state parks, Bradbury also features a 41-site campground ideal for an overnight visit.
Info: 207-688-4712; www.maine.gov/doc/parks/programs/db_search; Maine Mountain Guide (AMC Books)
Little Round Top
Bristol, New Hampshire
Little Round Top is the state’s oldest hawk watch site, a small summit in central New Hampshire where volunteers have counted raptors since the 1960s. A short 10-minute walk leads to the summit, where a panoramic view encompasses the nearby town and surrounding landscape, highlighted by the glittering waters of Newfound Lake. As with most watch sites, the best time to visit is on clear, windy days when raptors take advantage of strong air currents but stay close to the ground to avoid increased turbulence aloft.
Info: www.hmana.org/watches.php; Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide (AMC Books)
Mount Wachusett bulges upward in central Massachusetts, the state’s highest promontory east of the Connecticut River. This prominent and much-visited landmark is notable for its trails, views, and small ski area—and the thousands of raptors spotted each fall from its 2,006-foot summit. Seventeen miles of trails trace the mountain slopes and lead upward to the peak; the Pine Hill and Mountain House trails are particularly nice. Less energetic bird watchers can drive to the summit to enjoy an expansive view that stretches on a clear day from Mount Greylock to the Boston skyline.
Info: 978-464-2987; www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/central/wach.htm; Massachusetts Trail Guide, Map 3: Mount Wachusett (AMC Books)
A 54-acre swath is kept open atop 1,476-foot Blueberry Hill for an annual blueberry harvest, creating a 360-degree view that surveys the foliage-painted landscape and raptor-studded sky of the southern Berkshire region. Located in Phelon Memorial Forest, a 1,000-acre parcel owned by the New England Forestry Foundation, the hilltop is readily accessed in a short three-minute walk from the trailhead. The site is also close to the Connecticut River valley, a favored migration route for bald eagles and ospreys.
Info: 978-952-6856; www.newenglandforestry.org; email@example.com
In the fall of 2005, 14,454 hawks—and more than 20,000 total raptors—were spotted above an open field at the Audubon Center of Greenwich in Fairfield County. Nestled a short distance north of New York City on a 285-acre preserve, this renowned hawk watch site has been monitored every fall since 1985. The National Audubon Society’s first environmental education center opened here in 1942; today it continues to provide visitors with information about the preserve’s seven miles of trails, diverse ecosystems, and the raptors soaring above.
Info: 203-869-5272; http://greenwich.audubon.org
Morris County, New Jersey
A designated overlook perches at 1,025 feet in New Jersey’s Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Management Area. From the platform, viewers can peer across the rolling forests of the state’s Highlands region and toward the distant skyline of Manhattan, which punctuates the horizon more than 30 miles away. A 20-minute stroll leads to the 180-degree viewpoint, which also offers a commanding view of thermal-riding raptors overhead. This year the location celebrates its 10th anniversary as a designated hawk watch site of the Hawk Migration Association of North America.
Info: www.njfishandwildlife.com/wldcth-wk.htm; www.hmana.org/watches.php
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is considered by many to be the premier hawk-watching site in the Northeast. Rising as the southeastern-most ridge of the Appalachians, the 1,300-foot promontory abruptly protrudes from the low-lying landscape to the east and creates updrafts ideal for southbound raptors. With data stretching back to 1934, the sanctuary boasts the world’s longest record of raptor populations. Last fall, the sanctuary logged 25,516 raptors, the highest number in more than two decades. Eight miles of rocky trails run through the sanctuary; South Lookout, one of the best watch sites, is a short 300 yards from the visitor center.
Info: 610-756-6961; www.hawkmountain.org
Contributors: Wayne R Petersen, Director, Massachusetts Important Bird Areas Program, Mass Audubon; Tia Pinney, Naturalist, Mass Audubon; Susan J. Russo,Visitor Services Manager, Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge; Laura Morgenthau