The weekly report from the nation’s birdwatching capital… by Seymore Thanu
Happy Hawk Day! The best-est, most anticipated, most feather-wonderful day of the whole calendar year! Today is the FIRST DAY of the Cape May 2010 Hawk Watch Season. From September 1 until November 30, the Cape May Hawk Watch Platform at Cape May Point State Park will be center stage for all things raptorial. And as Woody Allen says, all you have to do is show up.
September 1. In Cape May, the Raptor Capital of North America, that date ranks right up there with February 14, April 15, and July 4; all the little milestones that mark the passage of human lives.
Since 1976, the Cape May Bird Observatory has been orchestrating a count of migrating birds of prey from the state park. Sponsored by Leica Sports Optics, counters and interpreters point out hawks, answer questions, and introduce visitors to one of nature’s greatest annual spectacles – the autumn hawk migration. Last year, a total of 36,939 hawks, eagles, falcons, and vultures were tallied.
Sound like a lot? It wasn’t. At least not by Cape May standards. The average count here is 50,000 birds of prey each fall. Of course, last year’s counter was not the best: some guy they packed in moth balls years ago and rehired largely because he knows the boss and agreed to work cheap.
But this year’s counter is as good as the last was mediocre. She has a AAA rating from Hawk Migration Council of the Western Universe and is endorsed by the Synod of Counters, The Eagle Lovers of America and Pinochle Club, and the Legion of the Talon and Feather.
She is a Purple Haze Level Member of the Order of Falconiformes, past president of the National Sisterhood of Professional Hawk Counters, four-time winner of the Stratosphere Scrapers Award, not to mention this year’s inductee into the Royal Creche of Stand-Out Hawk Counters.
Her name, by the way, is Melissa Roach, and in addition to her other achievements, she’s a returning veteran of the Cape May Hawk Count.
What kind of hawks, eagles, and falcons do we count? Well, all kinds. All of the species commonly found in the Eastern United States, anyway. Last year’s count included over 14,000 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 5,700 Cooper’s Hawks and 4,000 American Kestrels.
These are the big three; the birds that constitute the bulk of the Cape May hawk migration. Mixed in were over 2,600 Osprey, almost 2,000 Red-tailed Hawks, and 545 Red-shouldered Hawks. Broad-wingeds? Poor year. Only 752. But the falcon flight was nothing to gloss over. Over 1,200 Peregrine Falcons were tallied and almost 2,000 Merlins.
The big news last year was the Bald Eagle total. Almost 500 birds were counted (an average of about 5 eagles per day). Many more eagles were seen, but since there are a pair of Bald Eagles nesting locally, a lot of sightings were dismissed.
What do you need to do to see migrating hawks? Just show up. The Hawk Watch is conducted from sunrise to late afternoon/early evening (whatever you call the 5-6pm range as long as there is enough light in the sky) seven days a week. If it’s raining, the counters relocate to the raised (and covered) pavilion.
Not only that, it’s free.
Where can you go these days and get world-class entertainment for free? One place is Cape May Point State Park. September 1 through November 30. Raptor Capital of North America. See you there!
For those of you who may not have been familiar with last year’s hawk counter, please don’t think Seymore is being rude and rash with his cutting remarks about him. Seymore has an extremely tight bond with the former (and first) hawk counter; that other guy from the Cape May Bird Observatory, his nom de plume.
The Cape May Bird Observatory (CMBO), is THE place for anything to do with nature. Located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking Lake Lily in Cape May Point, the center is open 9:30-4:30pm every day. Ask any of our staff or volunteers – they are always glad to help with anything you need. Check out the newest books, bird feeders, and some great merchandise – including our exclusive CMBO logo jewelry, clothing, totes, and more. Look at the sightings log or our website to check what’s being seen, pick up a bargain from the used and vintage books section, look at some of the wonderful Charley Harper merchandise, or just browse. If you aren’t fortunate enough to be in the area, visit us online www.BirdCapeMay.org – where birding Cape May is a click away.
Seymore Thanu is none other than New Jersey’s own Pete Dunne, Director of the Cape May Bird Observatory and Chief Communications Officer for New Jersey Audubon. Author of several books on and about nature (available at the CMBO) he has written for virtually every birding publication and for The New York Times.