Hawk watch counts 3,637 birds, attracts more than 2,000 visitors

To the Editor:
The two primary goals of the Helderberg Escarpment Hawk Watch were celebrated for the 20th time in festive style on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at the Thacher Park Overlook as core members of the hawk watch joined me to document the fall migration of raptors through our region and to educate visitors to the park about the thrill and wonders of this seasonal event.

New park manager William Hein, along with Emma Treadwell Nature Center staffers Savannah Wilson and Grace Brennan spent most of the day greeting visitors to this very special location and enjoying the birds and monarch butterflies soaring past.

The annual fall migration south of songbirds and birds of prey (raptors) actually begins in early August and extends through December each year. In our area, the peak for raptors is concentrated consistently around the middle weeks of September.

Watch volunteers Luciano Toffolo, Marian Sole, Colleen and Tom Williams, Richele Ford, and Sue Breslin inform site visitors about how the birds are influenced by factors such as weather, temperature, hours of daylight, and food supply to leave their northern territories and head south for the winter. Some species are participating in a migration that extends all the way down to South America.

This year we counted 121 raptors and had more than 860 human visitors on Sept. 11. For the approximate 50-hour, 11-day duration of the seasonal watch, we totaled 3,637 birds and more than 2,000 visitors. That  brings our 20-year cumulative numbers to over 30,000 raptors soaring and more than 40,000 park visitors ambling past the site. Wow!

The Helderberg Escarpment Hawk Watch is affiliated with HMANA (Hawk Migration Association of North America) and NEHW (North East Hawk Watch), and forwards the season’s species count to these national organizations for inclusion in their annual reports on raptor migration.

The Helderberg Escarpment Hawk Watch is also associated with the Audubon Society through local representative John Loz. As this is my 20th and final year directing the effort, John will be stepping up to lead the gaggle to new and exciting soaring heights.

It bears repeating: Thank you to Luciano Toffolo for his many years of dedication to the effort. Each year, he spends more hours at the site than anyone — taking photographs for educational and identification purposes, creating an annual DVD photographic record of the birds and the site, and educating visitors.

Thank you to birder Marian Sole of the Alan Devoe birding site downstate for her expertise in spotting and identifying all birds encountered at the site. She also forwards the numbers to Cornell’s Ornithological birding website, ebird.org, for inclusion in their daily birding numbers.

Thank you to Colleen and Tom Williams of the Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club. While I am a proud life member of the Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club, and the Helderberg Escarpment Hawk Watch has its origins in the Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club, these two members of the staff provide a direct link to what is probably the best, most active birding organization in the area.

If you want to learn about birds in this region join a Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club trip. Colleen and Tom are also very knowledgeable about birds and excellent educators. The site wouldn’t be the same without them.

Thank you also to Richele Ford, wildlife presenter extraordinaire. Each year, Richele brings a sampling of the raptors she cares for and spends the day educating park visitors about these wonderful creatures and their role in the environment. Hopefully we’ll see her again next year on Sept. 10, 2022, for festival XXI.

And thank you to Sue Breslin who just happens to be the best teacher I’ve ever met in my life. Thanks for bringing your skills and sunshine to the site. 

As we say at the hawk watch: “Keep looking up.”

Will Aubrey



Hawk Watch 

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