As summer wanes in later August, my fellow bird nerds and I get excited for an annual event, raptor migration. Unlike many bird species that migrate at night, raptors such as hawks, eagles, and falcons, choose the day time along mountain ridges where they can ride currents and updrafts. This saves valuable energy as they head towards their winter grounds.
Across the world, official hawk watch sites are set up to count this spectacle. In the Flathead Valley, there are three such sites. Two are located in Glacier National Park (one on the shoulder of Mt. Brown and the other at the Lake McDonald Lodge looking up) and the other is along the ridge in the Jewel Basin Hiking Area.
While both sites have basically the same bird species, the distribution is different. Mt. Brown tends to have a disproportionate amount of Golden Eagles while the Jewel Basin Hawk Watch Site tends to have mostly accipiters, or forest hawks, specifically the Sharp-shinned Hawk.
I had the fortune of being the primary observer for our first survey in August and wrapped things up on November 1st. I took my camera up on the last day to share with you the incredible spot. While much of my hiking involves going to a destination, hanging out for a bit, then heading back with stops along the way, doing a hawk watch count is unique in that that we hike to a spot and stay there for 4-6 hours.
The serendipity of what raptors will come by is always thrilling, but it’s not all about the raptors. Many song birds will whiz by the sites, grouse cluck through the beargrass, and sometimes flocks of geese and pelicans can be seen. The mammals are fun as well. This year we had sightings of black bears and bobcats on the drive up with moose and mountain goats on the trail.
I also got a new camera which I’m learning to use and will be talking about more in the future as a replacement hiking camera. It’s rough in spots, but I’m figuring it out!