15 Years on the Hill: Militia Hill Hawkwatch Report 2002
by Jane Henderson
It rained on September 1st, the first day of the official hawkwatch season at Militia Hill in Fort Washington State Park. Not an auspicious way to start. But the weather and the birds cooperated on September 2nd, and, in the course of that day, 79 enthusiastic hawkwatchers made their way to the platform. The first Bald Eagle of the season was spotted that day, along with 12 Ospreys and a number of Common Nighthawks.
Broad-winged Hawks have always been one of the main attractions at Militia Hill. It is always anticipated that they will migrate over the hawkwatch in very large numbers, or “kettles.” The time for this occurrence is generally just after the middle of September – around the 18th or 19th. When those dates came and went without the big numbers of broadwings, it was assumed that the birds had taken an alternate route south, following the ridges to the west, and that there would be no joy on Militia Hill.
“Better late than never” proved to be the rule, however. On September 24th, over 7,000 broadwings passed overhead. That day, 20 observers celebrated when Raptor #150,000, in the history this hawkwatch’s 15-year existence, migrated through. Then, on September 29, over 1,000 more broadwings were tallied, which brought the total of that species to 9,400 for the year. And everybody agreed: Militia Hill is still a great place to watch the migration.
Of course, broadwings are not the only attraction on the Hill. By the end of September, 27 Bald Eagles had been counted, along with numerous Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, Northern Harriers, American Kestrels, Peregrine Falcons, Merlins, and Red-shouldered Hawks. On the 8th of October a Northern Goshawk was sighted, the first of the season. On October 22nd, the season’s first Golden Eagle as well as an Osprey carrying a fish flew by. On that date Militia Hill passed the 11,000 raptor mark for this year.
Songbirds were attracted to the butterfly garden adjacent to the hawkwatch platform, and they provided a bit of excitement this year as well. Nashville, Black-throated Green, Black and White, Wilson’s, Northern Parula, Blackburnian, Palm Warblers, and American Redstart all made appearances as well as Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Eastern Towhee. Late in October a Winter Wren appeared under the platform.
Many voiced concern about the Monarch migration, since so many had perished from exposure to unusually cold conditions on their wintering grounds in Mexico. But as October progressed, the Monarchs did appear. October 5 was their biggest day at the Hill, although overall numbers for this species were down. Other butterflies seen from the platform were Orange, Clouded and Cloudless Sulphurs, Red Admiral, Buckeye, Red-banded Hairstreak, Question Mark, Spicebush and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, and Sachems.
Five Wild Turkeys, a hen and four youngsters, appeared from time to time near the intersection of Church and Militia Hill Roads. Two Caspian Terns came overhead at the end of September. The first 50 Snow Geese were sighted on October 16. A very late Common Nighthawk came by on October 26. Good numbers of birds continued to be seen right up to the end of the month, even on several of the off-and-on drizzly days.
There were assorted mammals too. A little brown bat was found sleeping under the eaves of the new bathroom. Four people, on separate occasions, spotted a mink in the park. A groundhog, just below the platform, entertained everybody when it picked up an ice cream cone that a child had dropped, and proceeded to sit up and eat it just like a person.
A number of American flags affixed to the platform on 9/11 helped to commemorate the victims of the terrorist attacks a year ago. Appropriately enough, an adult Bald Eagle passed overhead on that day.
There were two air shows in nearby locations, and the planes were very much in evidence at the hawkwatch. The vintage aircraft show out of Wings Airfield included the Pitcairn Autogiro. On a subsequent day, Thunderbirds and Warthogs from the Willow Grove Air Show thundered overhead. On October 22nd, Marine Helicopter One was sighted. It was carrying President Bush on his way to a campaign stop.
As always, several couples chose Militia Hill as a wedding site, and some were photographed on the hawkwatch platform with colorful foliage as a backdrop.
Throughout the season, hawkwatch volunteers took turns teaching groups from area schools, retirement homes and other institutions about the hawk migration at Militia Hill. Many of these groups come back year after year.
A major highlight for the year was the publication of a very nice article about Militia Hill in the September 2002 issue of Audubon Magazine. Entitled “Think Globally, Hawk Locally,” by Murray Carpenter, the piece explains the geology and the history, as well as the flora and fauna of the Hill. It also highlights the work of the many dedicated volunteers who do everything from identifying and counting migrating hawks to planting trees and assembling picnic tables.
October 31st, Halloween, marks the end of the official Militia Hill Hawkwatch season. Traditionally, that day is marked by a noontime picnic at the Pavilion. The days leading up to the 31st were marked by rain, drizzle and more rain.
Fortunately, the weather cooperated splendidly on Halloween. This was especially welcome, since October 31st, 2002 was also the scheduled date of the Rededication of Fort Washington State Park, Militia Hill Day Use Area. Roger Fickes, Director, Bureau of State Parks Department of Conservation and Natural Resources served as Master of Ceremonies. Other speakers were John Plonski, Executive Deputy Secretary for Parks and Forestry, DCNR; The Hon. Lita Indzel Cohen, PA Representative, 148th District; Robert Puksta, Honorary President, The Friends of Fort Washington State Park; and Ruth Pfeffer, who spoke on behalf of the Militia Hill Hawk Watchers. The ceremonies began at 10:00 AM, and ended with a ribbon cutting at 10:30. About 30 people attended.
The picnic, which followed, was a great success as usual. 68 people attended and enjoyed the various salads, entrees and desserts. All lined up atop picnic tables afterwards for the annual picture. Many people returned to the hawkwatch after the picnic for the bittersweet last session of the official season.
VOLUNTEER COMPILERS -2002
|Don Aiman||Dick Flavell||Sheryl Johnson|
|Harvey Bass, Jr.||Bert Filemyr||George Layne|
|Anita Beaumont||Shirley Gracie||Bill Murphy|
|Alan Brady||Marya Halderman||Matt Sharp|
|Erica Brendel||Cliff Hence||John Ward|
|Clair Burnett||Jeff Herbst||Chris Walters|
|Randy Clouser||Chuck Hetzel||Frank Welsh|
|Andy Fayer||Jim Hunt|
Tom & Susan Lloyd
Val & Jim Best
Wissahickon Bird Walkers
Betty Carey & Nancy Goens in memory of Stephen Conrad Waaky
Caesar Massaro Memorial Fund
Amy Fite Memorial Fund
Ruth Pfeffer in memory of Jackie Lee, wife of Lavern Lee
Betty & Herb Cutler
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 speaking at the Park Re-dedication
- Clair Burnett for help with the mailings, with the HAMANA forms, and for gardening in many areas of the park
- George Burnett for hours of trimming around the butterfly garden, weed whacking, mowing, gardening in many areas and other projects
- Wild Birds Unlimited of Dreshertown Plaza for generous contributions to the bird feeding program
- Mike Winters, Eric Ihlein, Marc Watson, John Russell, Steve Cardell, George Isaacson, and Craig Walter for all they do for us
- Ruth Pfeffer for speaking at the Park Re-dedication, for winning the education award at a flower show and for talking to groups.
- The 22 compilers who faithfully take their shifts, often under unpleasant weather conditions.
- Don Aiman for his help with the records
- Lynn Jackson for our website
- Jane Henderson for writing the annual report, gardening and talking to groups
- Don Burke for his help with the website, the Halloween Party and helping with groups
- Dale Twining for continued deck maintenance
- Philip Klauder, Jr. for printing monthly bulletin board charts
- Philip Klauder for help with the website and his love
- Cutler Camera for donation of binoculars, album and party photos
- All those who have brought cookies, candy and other treats to help keep us hippy and happy.
- Dick Flavell for care of the bird feeders and bird baths and many cups of decaf to keep me warm
- Eva Abreham for mushroom research and display
- Val Best for so many great photos and our new shirts. And for Peaches, too.
- Randy Clouser for his contribution to the report
- Erle Ehly, Jeanette & Dale Twining for hot tea and coffee on cold days
- Chuck Hetzel for chain-saw massacre of bittersweet vines
- Frank Welsh for 144 hours of compiling every year
- 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. And all those who helped me fold 5000 park maps