Counting at Hawk Mountain

Saturday was one of the four days this fall that I am scheduled to count hawks at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in eastern Pennsylvania. The day started out pretty dismal as a huge mass of rain from the south was working its way up the northeast. I initially headed to some lakes to check for scoters and brant which had been reported around the state during the storm but came up empty.

The storm ended around noon and I was soon up on north lookout, waiting for the raptors to start flying. I didn’t have to wait long as the afternoon started off with a young Osprey.

North Lookout, clearing off after the rain

Sharp-shinned Hawks dominated the flight early in the afternoon but the real star of the day were the Red-tailed Hawks. We ended up with 74 redtails and it always seemed like there were 1 or 2 in sight. Sometime in the middle of the afternoon, an off-duty counter came up and asked, “Did you hold the golden for me?” He had walked the mile up to the lookout just to see a Golden Eagle. Since we hadn’t seen any yet, I answered that of course we had held it, and it is on the way. Well, the sun started to lower and it got colder so he decided it was time to leave, despite not seeing a Golden Eagle. Not a minute after he left I lifted by bins up to the horizon, and wouldn’t you know it, a large bird appeared. We quickly yelled down the trail, telling him to hurry back and we were all treated to a fantastic view of an adult Golden Eagle that slowly made its way towards us, circled, and then continued on.

adult Golden Eagle

I tried to phonescope the eagle since there were enough observers around to determine its age and other details. I only managed one shot of the eagle with my phone, thru my binoculars and it turned out better than I would have expected. If you look closely you can see the golden nape of the eagle as well as the distinctive way it holds its wings, not quite as board-straight as a Bald Eagle.

Passerines were pretty sparse except for a fairly exceptional number of tree swallows there were flying around the lookout. We counted ~70 throughout the day but they were moving around and it is hard to know whether that is accurate or extremely low.