Raptor watchers bonanza

Ron SteffeThey soar by every day, fixed to migration routes that have guided uncountable generations of their forebears toward wintering grounds.

Along the ridge tops of Pennsylvania’s famed Blue Mountains – also known as Kittatinny Ridge – come eagles, hawks, ospreys, falcons, kestrels and merlins. Some glide effortlessly, others flap by on the currents of air that rise from the forested hillsides below.

For birdwatchers, or just someone who enjoys the sight of wildlife living wild, coming to Berks County’s Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and spending a few hours moving from trails to lookouts to gaze at the wondrous flight of passing birds of prey is indeed one of those exclusive moments where one may thoroughly enjoy an encounter with nature.

Mary Linkevich, director of communications and grants for the sanctuary, recently relayed some interesting facts.

“We get a bunch of calls from people wanting to know the best time to view the birds come fall,” she said. “I always say the best viewing is on days when the wind blows from the northwest after rain, days that have a moving front of cooler air.”

She told me that broad-winged hawks are currently passing in good numbers. She pointed out that now through early October is best for osprey, bald eagle and American kestrel viewing, and that species such as sharp-shinned, Coopers, red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks, and northern harrier are good candidates to be seen from September through November.

She noted that peregrine falcons fly by during a short time slot from mid-September till mid-October, and that golden eagles are most frequently seen during late October into December.

She said that 16 different species of prey birds pass here each year, and on good days one may see more than 1,000 different birds. She also said high numbers of song birds and diminutive hummingbirds will be encountered, too.

She certainly did not have to tell me that Hawk Mountain is a grand attraction, because birds of prey have always held my interest and wonder, and to a slight degree, envy.

I can envision that at this very moment, somewhere above a thick Canadian woodlot, a young bald eagle has caught a southward wind and now drifts with the currents of air, free and all seeing, toward a future encounter with the Blue Mountain Ridge.

Head to Hawk Mountain in a week or two, and you may be lucky enough to watch him wandering the sky above.

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