October 4th – 6th, 2019
Pack Monadnock, New Hampshire / Putney Mountain, Vermont
Meet-Ups are a relatively new idea for us at HMANA. Rather than only offering week-long raptor-themed tours during the migration or the colder months, we decided to expand our range of tour offerings to include these shorter, weekend-long events that are more universal in their budgetary appeal. Meet-Ups are designed to facilitate hawk watchers and HMANA members exploring new watch sites together and enjoying social interaction and sharing ideas. On top of that, they offer local instruction focused on birding and HMANA’s unique theme of raptor migration. Our first (and only other) Meet-Up in Cape May, New Jersey, in the Fall of 2016 was a great success. This year, we chose to focus on some lesser-known and more northerly watch sites – Pack Monadnock, New Hampshire, and Putney Mountain, Vermont – during a migration window of high species diversity, with the crisp days and fall colors of New England in full effect. The only downside is that many folks can’t be torn away from their sites this time of year, which we understand!
Four participants from Maryland, New Jersey, and New York joined HMANA staff, Julie Brown, and HMANA tour leader Phil Brown for the weekend. The Meet-Up started Friday night with a presentation about HMANA programs, raptor data, and population trends, focusing on the above-chosen sites. This was followed by an enjoyable dinner together at a local pub, where we got to know each other. Saturday morning started with some birding at Peterborough, New Hampshire’s Edward MacDowell Lake, a bird area during migration but a little sluggish for migrants on this chilly morning. A fly-over Red Crossbill and an uncommon Pied-billed Grebe were notables here, and all participants enjoyed the near-peak fall colors and serene setting. Expecting cold and windy conditions on the mountain, the bundled group arrived at Pack Monadnock for a chilly start that quickly turned sunny and mild. So much for the long underwear and wool hats!
The view from Pack alone is worth a visit to this hawk watch. Reds, oranges, and yellows shine bright across this forested landscape from Vermont’s Green Mountain peaks to those in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. While hoping for a bit of wind to keep birds low and close, the lack of wind, heat shimmer, and cloudless sky made us work for most of the raptors we saw. The bulk of birds were high, but close looks at adult Red-shouldered, Red-tailed Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks were some highlights. Bald Eagles and American Kestrels drifted by while dozens of Sharp-shinned Hawks quarreled their way south. One bird the group, really wanted to see was Northern Goshawk, a somewhat regular at Pack. We did have one individual tear through but, unfortunately, too quickly for many to get on. Canada Geese were the stars of the day, totaling over 1,700. Main counter Levi Burford and Pack observers shared their scopes, pointed out birds, and helped familiarize the group with the site. A late-day Peregrine Falcon was just what the group needed before heading down the mountain for a group dinner. A total of 93 birds were counted for the day, a respectable number for an early October day in New Hampshire.
Sunday morning birding plans were changed due to the poor weather forecast. With rain predicted to move in during the afternoon, we decided to head straight to Putney Mountain rather than start with a bit of birding. As soon as the group arrived, site coordinator John Anderson told it like it was: “If we see anything today, it will be a miracle!” Tricky words to hear, but words that every hawk watcher is familiar with.
We all understand that not every day can be a perfect migration day! Due to the south winds and approaching rain, no ridgeline migration was expected. After chatting with the Putney counters, sharing muffins, and hearing a bit about the site’s history, we decided to hike down the mountain and try our luck finding some migrants along the Connecticut River. After a quick stop at a local apple orchard for hot cider, we went to Putney Great Meadows, a well-known birding destination made up of large agricultural fields along the river’s edge.
Before long, we saw an adult Bald Eagle fly by (likely a local), and an Osprey, a nice close Peregrine, and a couple of Sharp-shinned Hawks. Sparrow diversity wasn’t bad either with Savannahs, two White-crowned, and a Lincoln’s zipping about in the vegetation between train tracks and cornfields. A drab fall Indigo Buntings was picked out among the other migrant and local birds that frequented this site.
We wrapped up our weekend midday, happy to have seen a few birds Sunday before the rain set in. Participants got a good feel for the region through the birds seen and new sites visited and by connecting with fellow hawk watchers, which these Meet-Ups are all about. As I travel to different places around the country, my heart is always warmed by how welcoming hawk watchers are and how willing most are to share their locations with newcomers.
Meet-Up events are still a work in progress as we try out what works and our members enjoy. We are committed to offering more, perhaps alternating between spring and fall in the coming years. If you have ideas for sites that you’d like HMANA to feature in a future Meet-Up, please let me know at email@example.com.