During the recent couple of mornings, a tide of Neotropical migrants has been rolling along the crests of the Appalachian ridges and Piedmont highlands of southern Pennsylvania. In the first hours of daylight, “waves” of warblers, vireos, flycatchers, tanagers, and other birds are being observed flitting among the sun-drenched foliage as they feed in trees along the edges of ridgetop clearings. Big fallouts have been reported along Kittattiny Ridge/Blue Mountain at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and at Waggoner’s Gap Hawk Watch. Birds are also being seen in the Furnace Hills of the Piedmont.
Here are some of the 300 to 400 warblers (a very conservative estimate) seen in a “wave” found working its way southwest through the forest clearing at the Second Mountain Hawk Watch in Lebanon County this morning. The feeding frenzy endured for two hours between 7 and 9 A.M. E.D.T.
Not photographed but observed in the mix of species were several Black-throated Blue Warblers and American Redstarts.
In addition to the warblers, other Neotropical migrants were on the move including two Common Nighthawks, a Broad-winged Hawk, a Least Flycatcher (Empidonax minimus), and…
Then, there was a taste of things to come…
Seeing a “wave” flight is a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Visiting known locations for observing warbler fallouts such as hawk watches, ridgetop clearings, and peninsular shorelines can improve your chances of witnessing one of these memorable spectacles by overcoming the first variable. To overcome the second, be sure to visit early and often. See you on the lookout!
As we enter September, autumn bird migration is well underway. Neotropical species including warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and nighthawks are already headed south. Meanwhile, the raptor migration is ramping up and hawk watch sites throughout the Mid-Atlantic States are now staffed and counting birds. In addition to the expected migrants, there have already been sightings of some unusual post-breeding wanderers. Yesterday, a Wood Stork (Mycteria americana) was seen passing Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and a Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) that spent much of August in Juniata County was seen from Waggoner’s Gap Hawk Watch while it was hunting in a Perry County field six miles to the north of the lookout! Both of these rarities are vagrants from down Florida way.
To plan a visit to a hawk watch near you, click on the “Hawkwatcher’s Helper: Identifying Bald Eagles and other Diurnal Raptors” tab at the top of this page to find a list and brief description of suggested sites throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. “Hawkwatcher’s Helper” also includes an extensive photo guide for identifying the raptors you’re likely to see.
And to identify those confusing fall warblers and other migrants, click the “Birds” tab at the top of this page and check out the photo guide contained therein. It includes nearly all of the species you’re likely to see in the lower Susquehanna valley.
Each autumn, Eastern Golden Eagles transit the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed as they make their way from nesting sites in eastern Canada to wintering ranges in the mountains of the eastern United States. The majority of these birds make passage during late October and early November, so when a Golden Eagle is observed at a local hawk watch during the month of September, it is a notable event. So far in 2021, both Waggoner’s Gap Hawk Watch north of Carlisle and Second Mountain Hawk Watch at Fort Indiantown Gap have logged early-season Golden Eagles, the former on the seventeenth of September and the latter just yesterday.
To learn more about identifying Golden Eagles and other birds of prey, be certain to click the “Hawkwatchers Helper: Identifying Bald Eagles and other Raptors” tab at the top of this page.
And for more specific information on Golden Eagles and how to determine their age, click the “Golden Eagle Aging Chart” tab at the top of this page.
The smoke has cleared—at least for now—and Broad-winged Hawks are being seen migrating across lower Susquehanna valley skies. Check out these daily counts from area hawk watches…
Rocky Ridge County Park Hawk Watch northeast of York, Pennsylvania: 475 Broad-winged Hawks on Saturday, September 18th—including 388 during the two hours between noon and 2 P.M.
Second Mountain Hawk Watch at Fort Indiantown Gap in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania: 300 Broad-winged Hawks on Wednesday, September 15th— one more than was tallied passing the site on the previous day.
Waggoner’s Gap Hawk Watch on Blue Mountain north of Carlisle, Pennsylvania: 1,211 Broad-winged Hawks on Tuesday, September 14th and 1,485 on Sunday, September 19th.
Additional Broad-winged Hawks are still working their way through the Mid-Atlantic States as they continue toward tropical wintering grounds. And there’s more. Numbers for a dozen other migratory hawk, eagle, and falcon species will peak between now and mid-November. Days following passage of a cold front are generally best—so do get out there and have a look!
You can check the daily hawk count numbers and find detailed information for lookout sites all across North America at hawkcount.org
And don’t forget to click the “Hawkwatcher’s Helper” tab at the top of this page to see a gallery of photos that can help you to identify, and possibly determine the age of, the many species of raptors that occur in the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed.
During the coming two weeks, peak numbers of migrating Neotropical birds will be passing through the northeastern United States including the lower Susquehanna valley. Hawk watches are staffed and observers are awaiting big flights of Broad-winged Hawks—hoping to see a thousand birds or more in a single day.
Broad-winged hawks feed on rodents, amphibians, and a variety of large insects while on their breeding grounds in the forests of the northern United States and Canada. They depart early, journeying to wintering areas in Central and South America before frost robs them of a reliable food supply.
While migrating, Broad-winged Hawks climb to great altitudes on thermal updrafts and are notoriously difficult to see from ground level. Bright sunny skies with no clouds to serve as a backdrop further complicate a hawk counter’s ability to spot passing birds. Throughout the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed, the coming week promises to be especially challenging for those trying to observe and census the passage of high-flying Broad-winged Hawks. The forecast of hot and humid weather is not so unusual, but the addition of smoke from fires in the western states promises to intensify the haze and create an especially irritating glare for those searching the skies for raptors.
It may seem gloomy for the mid-September flights in 2021, but hawk watchers are hardy types. They know that the birds won’t wait. So if you want to see migrating “Broad-wings” and other species, you’ve got to get out there and look up while they’re passing through.
These hawk watches in the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed are currently staffed by official counters and all welcome visitors:
Rocky Ridge County Park Hawk Watch—3699 Deininger Road off Mount Zion Road (Route 24) northeast of York, Pennsylvania.
Second Mountain Hawk Watch—off Cold Spring Road on the grounds of Fort Indiantown Gap in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania.
Waggoner’s Gap Hawk Watch—where Route 74 crosses Blue Mountain north of Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
—or you can just keep an eye on the sky from wherever you happen to be. And don’t forget to check the trees and shrubs because warbler numbers are peaking too! During recent days…
Why would otherwise sensible people perch themselves atop a rocky outcrop on a Pennsylvania mountaintop for ten hours on a windy bone-numbing bitter cold and sometimes snowy November day? To watch migrating raptors of course.
November is the time when big hawks and eagles migrate through and into the lower Susquehanna valley. And big birds rely on big wind to create updrafts and an easy ride along the region’s many ridges. The most observable flights often accompany the arrival of cold air surging across the Appalachian Mountains from the northwest. These conditions can propel season-high numbers of several of the largest species of raptors past hawk-counting sites.
Earlier this week, two windy days followed the passage of a cold front to usher-in spectacular hawk and eagle flights at the the Waggoner’s Gap Hawk Watch station on Blue Mountain north of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Steady 30 M.P.H. winds from the northwest on Monday, November 2, gusted to 50 M.P.H. at times. Early that morning, two Rough-legged Hawks, rarities at eastern hawk watches, were seen. They and two American Goshawks (Accipiter atricapillus) provided a preview of the memorable sightings to come. Two dozen Golden Eagles migrated past the lookout that day. Then on November 3, thirty Golden Eagles were tallied, despite west winds at speeds not exceeding half those of the day before.
Here are some of the late-season raptors seen by hardy observers at Waggoner’s Gap on Monday and Tuesday, November 2 & 3.
While visiting a hawk watch, one will certainly have the opportunity to see other birds too.
As a finale of sorts, near the close of the day on November 3, two Golden Eagles sailed past the north side of the Waggoner’s Gap lookout, one possessing what appeared to be a tracking transmitter on its back. An effort was commenced by the official count staff to report the sighting to the entity monitoring the bird—to track down the tracker, so to speak.
To see the count reports from Waggoner’s Gap and other hawk watches throughout North America, be certain to visit hawkcount.org
Nothing beats spending a day at a hawk watch lookout—except of course spending a day at a hawk watch lookout when the birds are parading through nonstop for hours on end.
Check out Waggoner’s Gap, a hawk count site located on the border of Cumberland and Perry Counties atop Blue Mountain just north of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It is by far the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed’s best location for observing large numbers of migrating raptors during the October and November flights.
Waggoner’s Gap is a hardy birder’s paradise. During the latter portion of the season, excellent flights often occur on days that follow the passage of a cold front and have strong northwest winds. But be prepared, it can be brutal on those rocks during a gusty late-October or early-November day after the leaves fall—so dress appropriately.
To see the daily totals for the raptor count at Waggoner’s Gap Hawk Watch and other hawk watches in North America, and to learn more about each site, be sure to visit hawkcount.org