October is prime time to discover nature's splendor at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. Here, several thousand birds of prey will soar by on their southbound migration, and a jaw-dropping view of fall foliage will stretch for nearly 70 miles."This is the month when people come to Hawk Mountain for both the mountain and the migration," says Hawk Mountain President Lee Schisler, Jr.
"Unless we have heavy rain or fog, nearly every visitor during October should see hawks in flight, and even better, you have a chance to see several hundred on any one day. An added bonus is that mid-month, the fall foliage is unbeatable," he adds.
Autumn color is worth a trip itself. The scenic overlooks at Hawk Mountain boast one of the best views in the East, and the leaves at Hawk Mountain already have started their once-a-year show. In early October, color is courtesy of early-turning red maples and black gum trees that will deepen over the next week to a dark ruby. Stands of birch will add a punch of gold. Historically, the peak of fall foliage at Hawk Mountain is Oct. 15 through 25.
As of Sept. 30, the 71st Autumn Hawkwatch recorded 10,773 birds of prey since August 15, representing 15 different species at the world-famous raptor sanctuary, including two southern rarities, the Swainson's hawk and the Swallow-tailed Kite.
The total includes 7,729 broad-winged hawks, the Sanctuary's most numerous migrant, as well as 1,304 sharp-shinned hawks, 537 ospreys, and 130 bald eagles.
Other totals include 372 American kestrels, 216 Cooper's hawks, 150 red-tailed hawks, 95 Northern harriers, 83 merlins, 18 peregrine falcons, 39 turkey vultures, 20 red-shouldered hawks, and 3 golden eagles.
This week, Hawk Mountain biologists expect the last push of broad-winged hawks to pass as the long-distance migrant moves on to Central and South America. Now, the sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks, two "Accipiters," will become the most dominant species in the sky. Accipiters are fast-flying hawks with short, rounded wings and rudder-like tails, ideal for maneuvering through forests at top speed. Visitors can expect to see large numbers, particularly "the sharpies:" an average 4,430 pass Hawk Mountain each season, and counts of 300 or more are possible on windy days.
By mid-month, the three species of North American falcons will join the flight: the once-endangered peregrine falcon, the medium-sized merlin, and the colorful but tiny American kestrel. Hawkwatchers also will have an opportunity to spot rarely-seen birds such as the Northern harrier, and our third Accipiter, the elusive Northern goshawk.
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is a prime observation point for autumn raptor migration because of its location along the easternmost edge of the Appalachian Mountains-what ornithologists call the 'Appalachian flyway.' When wind hits ridge, favorable updrafts carry hawks aloft, offering an effortless 'ride' as the birds follow the Appalachians south.
In addition to hawks, other migrants follow the same route, including hummingbirds, monarch butterflies, songbirds and waterfowl. This month, the red-headed woodpecker, cedar waxwing, and American goldfinch are expected to pass, as well as large flocks of blue jays and skeins of Canada geese.
Visitors to Hawk Mountain are encouraged to wear sturdy shoes, dress in layered clothing, carry binoculars or rent them on-site, and bring a light lunch in a carry-in, carry-out daypack. Sandwiches, water and light snacks are available for purchase in the Visitor Center.
Trails are open daily, from dawn until dusk and Hawk Mountain members always are admitted free of charge.
The official Autumn Hawkwatch continues through Dec. 15, and is the longest-running hawkwatch in the world. For more information, call the info line at 610-756-6000 x7, or visit www.hawkmountain.org.