Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hawk Watchin'

Clear blue skies and crisp Autumn air. My favorite time of year. No better time to be outdoors, wandering, observing, enjoying. We had picked a great day to go hawk watching.

It was a long ride to Stokes State Forest in the New Jersey Highlands. And then a short stroll along the Appalachian Trail to the top of Sunrise Mountain. When we got there we had the place to ourselves, but that wouldn't last. In fact, we were surprised the parking lot wasn't full when we arrived. It would be when we left.

The view from the summit. A gorgeous day. But where are all the hawks?

Maybe they're north, at Highpoint? I don't see any.

They were out there and eventually we started spotting them. The blue sky actually makes it harder, we could have used some clouds.

While we waited we enjoyed the fall foliage, far ...

... and near.

But we came for the birds. Like this sharp-shinned hawk.

This is a typical view typical of the raptors, distant silhouettes (click any image to enlarge). Part of the fun is spotting them at a distance and them figuring out what they are. Occasionally you'll get a close flyby, like the red-tailed hawk shown below, which thrilled us by spiraling below the summit.

Or the merlin which flew within yards of us, chasing another bird, an unidentified feathered missile which shot by the now twenty or so of us on mountain.

The most common migrants were vultures, black ...

... and turkey.

The least common included American kestrel, bald eagle, of which we saw but one of each, and osprey, like that shown above, of which we saw just three.

Other birds were on the move as well. We saw dozens of blue jays, all flying low, no doubt to avoid the hawks flying above them. Northern flickers were common, kinglets were on the move, and we saw our first of year juncos.

I mentioned above that part of the fun at a hawk watch is first spotting and then identifying the distant birds. Watching them flyby, hoping they'll come in close. Another big part is the people, enjoying the stories especially of the local watchers. It was also pretty cool to be eating lunch on top of a mountain, raptors soaring by, on such a beautiful day.

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