2001 Season Report
by Jane Henderson
A small American flag, attached to the railing of the Militia Hill Hawkwatch platform and bravely blowing in the breeze, served as a grim reminder of the terrible events that took place on September 11, 2001. Conversations on the Hill often focused on those events and their aftermath, even while migrating raptors were being identified and counted.
On the days immediately following September 11, observers noted an eerie absence of passenger planes and contrails overhead, and very little road traffic noise. It was as if life here had been suspended for a while. Shortly thereafter, though, hawkwatchers watched military planes from Willow Grove Naval Air Station as they began practicing maneuvers. The little flag on the platform continued to fly throughout the duration of the hawkwatch.
On the first official day of the hawkwatch, September 1, the first Bald Eagle of the season made an appearance. Kettles of Broad-winged Hawks came through, too. Their numbers were down this year from previous years. On three dates, this year’s biggest numbers were recorded: 526 birds on September 15; 648 birds on September 16; and 491 birds on September 27. The total number of Broad-wings for the two-month season was 2756. Observers speculated that, because of the huge fires in New York City, some of the birds might have been diverted toward the central flyway.
Other totals for the year were 42 Bald Eagles (close to the Militia Hill record of 44), 249 Ospreys, 845 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 149 Cooper’s Hawks (very near a new record for the Hill) and 8 Peregrine Falcons. American Kestrels, Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, Northern Harriers, and Merlins as well as Black and Turkey Vultures were also identified and counted. Absent from the count this year were Rough-legged Hawks, Golden Eagles, Northern Goshawks and Swainson’s Hawks.
Marylea Klauder, Militia Hill Hawkwatch founder, noted that one of the most challenging aspects of counting birds from a hawkwatch is the difficulty of distinguishing between local and migrating birds. Migrating raptors are tallied; local ones are not. Accurately counting migrating Black and Turkey Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks presents the greatest challenge, since so many of the ones we see from the Hill are local birds. She said, “We always try to be conservative in our count” so our numbers can be as accurate as possible.
As usual, much more went on at Militia Hill besides identifying and counting raptors. On September 17, Dottie Colburn from the Tri State Bird Rescue in Newark, Delaware released two rehabilitated Broad-winged Hawks directly in front of the platform, and observers watched them take to the air.
On September 5, eight Snow Geese migrated overhead, and on September 14, there were 30 more. This was remarkable because they arrived a month ahead of last year’s first sighting of these birds. On October 28, over 1600 Snow Geese were counted, their skeins sparkling white and beautiful in the sunlight.
Early in the season the sky was filled with chittering Chimney Swifts and migrating Monarch butterflies. The bird feeders attracted a number of interesting birds throughout the season: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Purple Finch, Pine Siskin, and White-throated and Chipping Sparrows. On the last day of the hawkwatch, October 31, a Rusty Blackbird made an appearance. Three groundhogs, as well as numerous gray squirrels and chipmunks enjoyed the seed that fell from the feeders. As many as 10 Wild Turkeys were spotted at different times in the park.
One day, a Swainson’s Thrush was discovered caught rather high up in a tree. A branch had snagged its wing, and the bird was frantically flapping and swinging. Rescuers tried shaking the tree to free it, but to no avail. With the help of some rope, thoughtfully contributed by a concerned person, the branch was brought down low enough so that the bird could be untangled and captured. It was taken to the animal rehabilitation center at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, treated for a fractured wing, and subsequently sent to a “foster home” (SCEE’s’s words) to complete its recovery.
The butterfly bushes and other plants attracted a number of butterfly species including Monarch, Tiger and Spicebush Swallowtail, American and Painted Lady, Pearl Crescent, Orange Sulphur, Hackberry Emperor, Red Admiral, Wild Indigo Duskywing, and Sachem, Zabulon, Peck’s and Tawny-edged Skippers.
Willow Grove Naval Air Station’s annual air show took place early in September. Hawkwatchers marveled at the Blue Angels’ spectacular maneuvers on September 9, just two days before the bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the plane crash near Pittsburgh.
Murray Carpenter, a reporter, and Tom Wolff, a photographer, both from the National Audubon Society, spent much of one day talking with regulars on the platform and taking photos. They are working on a story, which will feature our hawkwatch. The piece will appear in Audubon Magazine some time in the future.
On October 18, Sandy Bowers, who has a regular column in the Philadelphia Inquirer, came to talk with people on the platform. Her article, along with photos of a few regulars, appeared in the October 22 edition of the paper. In discussing some of the challenges involved in identifying and compiling raptors, Marylea told Sandy that the clear blue sky that day was making her feel frustrated because it was so difficult to find the birds. Because of Marylea’s comments, Ms. Bowers referred to her as “grumpy” in the article. After the article came out, Marylea was teased for a few days, and nicknamed “Grumpy.”
The first group of Militia Hill Hawkwatch hats appeared on October 5 and sold out immediately. At the end of the season, nine dozen of these handsome hats had been sold. Nearly every regular at the hawkwatch now wears an official hat.
One day, hawkwatchers went to the rescue of a man in the parking lot who said a bug had jumped into his ear when he went to use the public phone. He was justifiably terrified of being stung inside his ear. Vigilant hawkwatchers called 911, and shortly thereafter an ambulance arrived. The medics took the man inside the vehicle. After about half an hour, during which a saline drip and some tweezers were administered, the man emerged, smiling and holding a tiny plastic bag. It held a 1″ long cricket which had been responsible for all the concern and commotion.
The annual arrival of huge numbers of ladybugs occurred on October 11, along with even greater numbers of box elder beetles. They covered the bulletin board as well as anyone who wore white clothing. On that same day, ground was broken for a new bathroom near the observation deck. This one will have running water, and will be heated so that it can remain open all year. It is expected that it will be ready for use sometime next year.
The annual Halloween picnic drew over 70 people this year. Held in the pavilion at the lower end of the park, it opened with a harp and flute concert and the singing of “America the Beautiful.” Marylea’s famous chicken and cheese soup warmed everybody up on that cloudy, chilly day. And there were platters of meat, salads and vegetables, as well as an amazing array of beverages and desserts. No one went home hungry. When the food was gone, the customary group picture was taken.
Getting together on the Hill proved to be a healthy antidote to the steady dose of scary and often conflicting news reports from government officials and the media. The hawkwatch has always provided a feeling of community, and this year that aspect of it has been particularly welcome.
So, while Militia Hill’s 2001 hawkwatching season did not set major records, it did come close with the numbers of Bald Eagles and Cooper’s Hawks. Compilers recorded many good flights and many exceptional looks at some great birds.
VOLUNTEER COMPILERS -2001
|Don Aiman||Andy Fayer||Jim Hunt|
|Hank Ballerstedt||Dick Flavell||Sheryl Johnson|
|Harvey Bass, Jr.||Bert Filemyr||George Layne|
|Anita Beaumont||Steve Grunwald||Bill Murphy|
|Alan Brady||Marya Halderman||Elmer Schorle|
|Erica Brendel||Cliff Hence||Matt Sharp|
|Clair Burnett||Jane Henderson||John Ward|
|Randy Clouser||Jeff Herbst||Chris Walters|
|Erle Ehly||Chuck Hetzel||Frank Welsh|
|Jack Fanelli||Charlie Wonderly|
Our Hawk Watch is a group effort. Many people help to make each season a success.
This year we would like to extend a special thanks to ……
- Cliff Hence for the group photo of the Halloween Party
- Nancy Hence for the graphic artwork
- Bert Filemyr for graphic services
- All those who have contributed either cash or seed for the feeding program
- Bill Murphy for the care of the butterfly garden and the bird feeders
- Bob Puksta for care of the bird feeders and bird bath
- Clair Burnett for help with the mailings, with the HAMANA forms, and for arranging for our Militia Hill hats.
- George Burnett for hours of trimming around the butterfly garden and many other projects
- Wild Birds Unlimited of Dreshertown Plaza for generous contributions to the bird feeding program
- Eric Brown, Eric Ihlein and the entire park staff for all they do for us
- Ruth Pfeffer for doing the dishes after the Halloween Party
- Don Aiman for his help with the records
- Lynn Jackson for our website
- Jane Henderson for writing the annual report
- Don Burke for his help with the website and the Halloween Party
- Dale Twining for continued deck maintenance
- Philip Klauder, Jr. for printing monthly bulletin board charts
- Philip Klauder for help with the website
- Cutler Camera for donation of binoculars and the album
- All those who have brought cookies, candy and other treats to help keep us hippy and happy.
- All those photographers who have contributed photos to the annual album
- Everyone who has helped scan the sky and found a migrant for us to count