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Carter Hill Observatory in Concord. Courtesy photo.




Hawk-watch Session and Introduction to Hawk Migration

 
When: Thursday, Aug. 28, 6 to 9 p.m.
 
Where: McLane Audubon Center, 84 Silk Farm Road, Concord
 
Cost: $43
 
Info: 224-9909, nhaudubon.org
 
For more sessions and classes:
 
Tuesday, Sept. 16: Afternoon hawk watch at Carter Hill; evening session equipment review-field guides, ID materials and study guides.
 
Thursday, Sept 18: Afternoon session at Carter Hill hawk watch; evening session-bird families and birding by category.
 
Tuesday, Sept. 23: Plumages, songs and calls, behavior and ID tips
 
Thursday, Sept. 25: Tricky IDs, note-taking, eBird and NH Bird Records

 





Eyes like a hawk
A crash course in hawk migration

08/28/14



It’s hawk migration season again, and the McLane Audubon Center in Concord is hosting a series of hawk-watching sessions; the next session, Thursday, Aug. 28, from 6 to 9 p.m., will provide participants with an introduction to hawk migration.
 
The sessions incorporate bird-identification lessons. Participants can attend a session on the use of a field guide, for example; other sessions include identification through songs and calls, learning about different bird families, monitoring certain behaviors, and much more. The classes themselves can be taken as a series or can stand alone as a single session.
 
The Aug. 28 session, according to Ruth Smith, the centennial coordinator at the McLane Audubon Center, will start off with a crash course on the basics of migration season. Participants will then take their knowledge out to the field and use binoculars and a field guide to practice identifying specific characteristics
of hawks.
 
“Really, the basics of hawk-watching are understanding that you’ll need to be looking for key field marks,” said Smith. “You need to know where you are and what the habitat range is [in that area] because that will have a big impact on what you’re going to see.”
 
According to some of the specialists at the Audubon, migration season for hawks and other raptors (carnivorous birds with talons) starts at the very beginning of September. 
 
“If it’s dreary, rainy and cold outside, they are going to be hunkered down waiting for warm weather,” she said. “They also take off particularly if there is a north wind that they can ride south. They’re looking to expend as little energy as possible, so some of them can travel hundreds or thousands of miles without having to flap their wings once.”
 
The species of hawk you could find depends on the time of year that you look out for them. Phil Brown, the director of land management and raptor observatories at the New Hampshire Audubon, said that the more common birds come out early in the season.
 
“In early September, a lot of broad-winged hawks will come out,” he said. “By late October, they’ll be all gone. In fact, 80 percent of the migration will be over. But in October, there will be a much better chance of seeing a red-shouldered hawk. Any chance of seeing a golden eagle is going to be in late October.”
Brown said the most common species, such as the sharp-shinned hawk and the cooper’s hawk, can be easily misidentified.
 
“Despite seeing a lot of species all year long, those two species are a challenge for beginners and experts alike,” he said. “They’re identical in many ways. We offer some identification workshops where experts will give inside tips that will help discern species like sharp-shinned and cooper’s, merlins and kestrels, red-tailed and red-shouldered.”
 
In terms of basic identification, Brown suggests that hawk-watchers focus on the raptor’s behavior more than its size or color. 
 
“You want to look at its relation to the sky,” he said. “It can be hard to discern species through binoculars and scopes when you’re several miles out, and even more so when a bird is the same color as a lot of other species. You have to watch how it’s flying.”
 
There are some species, however, that can be identified fairly easily.
 
“[Turkey vultures] have a pretty distinct shape and behavior. They look like a flying ‘V,’ teetering back and forth,” Brown said.
 
The McLane Center uses an observatory at Carter Hill in Concord for a portion of its sessions and also hosts some at Pack Monadnock in Peterborough. For those who are eager to get started, Brown said any place with a wide open view of the sky could lend itself to a prime-time raptor show. 





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