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HMANA’s Northern New England Meet Up Summary

Meet Ups are a relatively new idea for us at HMANA. Rather than only offering week-long raptor themed tours during 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 hawkwatchers 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, NJ in Fall of 2016 was a great success. This year, we chose to focus on some lesser-known and more northerly watch sites – Pack Monadnock, NH and Putney Mountain, VT – 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 OWN sites this time of year, which we totally understand!

Four participants from MA, NJ and NY 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 as well as raptor data and population trends with a special focus 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, NH’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 hawkwatch. Reds, oranges and yellows shine bright across this forested landscape from VT’s Green Mountain peaks to those in NH’s White Mountains. While hoping for a little 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 really 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 NH.

Sunday morning birding plans were changed due to the poor weather forecast. With rain predicated to move in during the afternoon, we decided to head straight to Putney Mt rather than start with a little 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!” Tough words to hear, but words that every hawkwatcher 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 corn fields. A drab fall Indigo Buntings was picked out among some of 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 not only the birds seen and new sites visited, but just by connecting with fellow hawkwatchers, which is what these Meet Ups are all about. As I travel to different sites around the country, my heart is always warmed by how welcoming hawkwatchers are and how willing most are to share their sites with newcomers.

Meet Up events are still a work in progress as we try out what works and what our members enjoy. We are committed to offering more, perhaps alternating between spring and fall in 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 brown@hmana.org.