Militia Hill Hawkwatch: 17 Years and Counting
by Jane Henderson
A gala Halloween party at the park pavilion marked the end of another great hawk watching season. Over 70 people attended, and enjoyed a wonderful lunch buffet of everything from Marylea’s famous soup to Eva’s special wild mushroom dishes. Special guest falconer Tom Stanton arrived early in the day with a Peregrine Falcon and a six-month-old Harris’s Hawk. Many party participants were able to experience holding the hawk and having pictures taken with the bird.
And there was plenty to celebrate, notably a record number of Bald Eagles: 58 for the year. A total of 9619 raptors were counted during the season, making this the ninth highest year in the hawkwatch’s history. Fifteen species of eastern raptors were recorded, with the exception of Golden Eagle.
A hoped-for feature of the hawkwatching season at Militia Hill is always a big flight of Broad-winged Hawks, and the year 2004 did not disappoint. The first ones appeared on September 13th, when 292 flew over late in the day. Hawkwatchers had been concerned that Hurricane Ivan might keep the Broadwing migration away from our area, as Hurricane Isabel had in 2003. But, on September 20th, 3130 Broadwings were tallied. In an Internet Overview, Militia Hill was called a “sweet spot” for Broadwing migration.
On September 23rd, the so-called “Big Day”, 805 more Broadwings were counted. On that day Militia Hill witnessed its 9000th raptor for the year at 2:30 PM. The following day, September 23, a total of 239 Broadwings were tallied. On both of those days, Militia Hill’s totals were larger than those of Hawk Mountain. The total count of Broadwings for the year was 6988 birds.
And now, back to the Bald Eagles. The first one for the year, an adult bird, appeared in the afternoon on September 1st, the first day of the official hawk watching season at Militia Hill. That day, there was a total of 43 people and 25 raptors. On subsequent days more Bald Eagles were sighted: September 4th: four; September 11th: five; September 12th: nine; September 14th: three.
Then on September 19th, a Great Day, when six Bald Eagles were counted, many observers were treated to the sight of an Osprey with a fish, which is always a treat to see. But then a Bald Eagle struck the Osprey’s back, causing the bird to drop the fish, which the Eagle then swooped down and caught in mid-air.
And the Eagles continued to come: September 20th: four; September 22: one; September 23rd: 3; September 24th: six; October 3rd: three; and on October 11th: one, the 50th Bald Eagle for the year. On October 12th, the 51st Bald Eagle was tallied, tying Militia Hill’s record. On October 16th: the 52nd and 53rd Bald Eagles, and on October 17th, the 54th. On October 20th: two more Bald Eagles, and on October 23rd: two more, which made the total 58 for the season.
On October 9th, a Peregrine Falcon flew over, quite low, carrying prey. A total of 15 Peregrines were tallied. Other falcons sighted this season were 15 Merlins, and 134 American Kestrels. A total of three Northern Goshawks were sighted, as well as many of the more common accipiters: 1044 Sharp-shinned Hawks and 126 Cooper’s Hawks. Also, 51 Northern Harriers and 375 Red-tailed Hawks.
Of course, although identifying and counting migrating raptors is the hawkwatch’s priority, observers make note of other species in the air and at the feeders. The first Snow Goose flew by on October 3rd. On October 11th, there were eight more, on October 12th there were 6, and on October 28th, 140. On September 4, 25 Brant came over. On September 9th, 17 Common Nighthawks were tallied, and on September 12th there were twelve more. On September 9th, compilers counted 60 migrating Greater Yellowlegs. On September 25th, there were two Common Loons, and a third on October 23rd. A number of Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets were also seen.
Other bird sightings from the hill throughout the season included: White-crowned Sparrow at the feeder, a large flock of Cedar Waxwings, 20 Pine Siskins, Northern Parula, Black-throated Green and Palm Warblers, White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, Brown Thrasher, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Tree Swallows and Chimney Swifts were common visitors. Monarchs were notably scarce this season. In the past, observers had been accustomed to seeing over a hundred of them a day. This year a daily total was more likely 10 or fewer, a cause for serious concern. Unusual butterflies identified this year were Fiery Skipper and Variegated Fritillary, along with the more common skippers, hairstreaks, sulphurs, swallowtails and Red-spotted Purples.
At 8:30 AM on October 22nd, Ranger Bob Drake saw a coyote on the lower loop.
On October 24th, observers watched Air Force One fly over on the way to one of President Bush’s campaign stops. And, as usual, everyone enjoyed seeing the Pitcairn Autogiro during the annual Vintage Air Show out of Wings Field. On October 7th, an article about Militia Hill Hawkwatch by Brian Kern appeared on Page 1 of the Accent Section of the Springfield Sun. Staff Photographer Bob Raines took the photos which featured hawkwatch regulars. The story included a little history of the hawkwatch, and explained the contributions of the many park volunteers.
Each year, for the two month-long hawkwatch season, volunteers provide environment awareness to regulars and visitors to Fort Washington State Park. Besides identifying, counting and recording migrating raptors, this year we studied butterflies, moths, caterpillars, dragonflies, mushrooms and insects of all kinds including Praying Mantis and Katydids. At the conclusion of the Halloween party, when pictures had been taken and everybody was still perched on the picnic tables, Andy Fayer presented hawkwatch founder Marylea Klauder some gifts of appreciation from the compilers: A DVD of Winged Migration; On the Wing, by Alan Tennant; and a dinner gift certificate. A fitting end to a great season on the Hill.
VOLUNTEER COMPILERS -2004
|Bob and Sandra Glendinning
Tom & Susan Lloyd
Val and Jim Best
Betty & Herb Cutler
John and Carol McGonigle
Wyncote Audubon Society
Pete and Diane Gray
Blue Bell School in memory of Al Mazer
The Andy Fayer BIG DAY FUND RAISER
George Burnett Memorial Fund
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
- Claire Burnett for help with the mailings, with the HAMANA forms, and for gardening in many areas of the park
- Wild Birds Unlimited of Dreshertown Plaza for generous contributions to the bird feeding program
- Mike Winters, Eric Ihlein, Marc Watson, Bob Drake, Steve Cardell, Craig Walter, George Sample and Sheryl Lewis for all they do for us
- The 22 compilers who faithfully take their shifts, often under unpleasant weather conditions.
- Don Aiman for his help
- Lynn Jackson and Andy Fayer for our website
- Jane Henderson for writing the annual report, gardening and talking to groups
- Don Burke for his help with the Halloween Party and with visiting groups
- Dale Twining for continued deck maintenance
- Phil Klauder, Jr. for printing monthly bulletin board charts
- Philip Klauder for his love and support
- 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 gardening and her mushroom research and display
- Jim Best for building our new deck bench
- Val Best for so many great photos and so much good food
- Peaches for protecting our deck from those dangerous chipmunks
- Erle Ehly, Jeanette & Dale Twining for hot tea and coffee on cold days
- Frank Welsh for 100 hours of compiling every year
- All those photographers who have contributed photos to the annual album
- Tom Stanton for his visit at the Halloween Party with his Harris’s Hawk
- Elmer Schorle for talking to visiting classes …..
- andy Fayer for installation and storage of owl, weather vane, thermometer and phone bell, building the new deck bench and printing checklists……. AND
- Everyone who has helped scan the sky and found a migrant for us to count.