In Massachusetts, September is considered the kickoff month for hawkwatching, which is the organized identification and counting of migrating raptors at designated watch sites. Hawkwatchers from all over New England set their eyes to the skies as raptors funnel out of our region and head toward wintering grounds to the south. Massachusetts hawkwatchers regularly see 12 diurnal raptor species every fall season, with several other species possible.
Eastern Mass Hawk Watch maintains ongoing hawkwatches at multiple sites. Wachusett Mountain is the premier hawkwatching spot in Massachusetts. From the observation deck on the summit, observers enjoy a full 360° view of the surrounding region. Wachusett will generally have an EMHW volunteer counter present between September 1 and mid-October, except during unfavorable or inclement weather conditions. Mount Watatic is another mountaintop hawkwatching site, offering a more rustic but serene experience for hawkwatchers able to hike the 1,832-foot mountain located at the southern end of the Wapack Ridge near the New Hampshire border. Mount Watatic will generally have an EMHW volunteer counter present during the peak of Broad-winged Hawk migration, between September 10th and 25th, except during unfavorable or inclement weather conditions. Pinnacle Rock in the Middlesex Fells Reservation, Malden, is an option closer to Boston. A coastal site at approximately 200 feet of elevation, Pinnacle Rock is typically most productive in October for accipiter migration. Our website, www.emhw.org has further details on each of these locations, including specifics on hiking trails and migration timing. You can also visit www.hawkcount.org to see migration counts from recent seasons.
Founded in 1976, EMHW is an all-volunteer, member-based conservation organization whose mission is to promote the study, conservation, and preservation of hawks locally and on a continental scale by monitoring migration in Massachusetts; to share data for research and conservation purposes; to promote education and awareness of the identification of hawks and the issues related to migrating hawks; and to instill an appreciation for hawks in general. Membership is $15 annually and offers access to our annual newsletter.
Hawkwatching might seem like an intimidating branch of birding due to difficulties with identification and frequently distant birds. However, hawkwatchers, especially those of us at EMHW, pride ourselves on being a welcoming community, and we are constantly looking to share our experience and teach hawkwatching to interested birders. The spectacle of a big raptor migration is undoubtedly one of our state’s can’t-miss birding experiences. A truly massive Broad-winged Hawk flight has to be seen to be believed. Binoculars are a must for any hawkwatcher, but little else is needed to get started: water, sun protection and a warm layer. Please join us at a hawkwatch site near you this fall.
Brian Rusnica is President of Eastern Mass Hawk Watch.