Tim Lee talks about hawks at Caesar's Head State Park.
Migratory birds, be they hawks or song birds have fly ways (which we're going to talk about in just awhile)
that they follow each year. One of those fly ways comes along the Appalachian Mountains, here within the Eastern United States.
That's us, Caesar's Head Hawk Site, and then of course I mentioned there was the count site along the Atlantic fly way. There's a reason they come through here. That reason has to do with the escarpment. Both of these updrafts allow the hawks, which have the body shape to capture that wind to be able to get rise.
Early on, we thought that the birds that were heading into Central and South America were going to take the shortest fly way, which meant right over the Gulf of Mexico. There’s only one small problem with that. At the time of fall migration is also hurricane season. So they would have to fly across open water, and usually many times encounter hurricanes or tropical storms.
Most of the migratory birds follow the coast. They all move down to the Gulf of Mexico but they're staying over land, hence then going through Veracruz. Now when they first start out in a kettle, and they start moving around, a kettle is a term used to describe a large number of hawks that are circling in order to gain elevation. It's hard to count them, they are literally just like pepper floating on water. But once they get enough lift, they're kind of like kindergartners, they line up and they do kind of line up like kindergarteners, not in a perfect line, but pretty close and they begin to head out. So you count them as they come out of the kettle one at a time.
Now if you ever have the opportunity during the fall of the year to go to Veracruz, Mexico, that is where the million hawk count years come from. Millions of hawks fly in to Veracruz on their way in to Central and South America each year. They count their birds off by hundreds, not ones.
How do you identify them? How do you know what's up there? The silhouettes can start to tell you which hawk you have flying over. If you look at Osprey for example, you're going to notice that their wings have elbows and you'll here somebody go "yep, here he comes, got to be an Osprey, I see those elbows sticking out". If you hear someone say "there's a flying plank out to the right", it's probably a Bald Eagle. All eyes go that way.
When you see a hawk in the sky with broadened wings, slightly rounded, but an elongated tail that's squared off, then you have a Sharp-Shinned Hawk. Coopers Hawks have the rounded tail feathers. Hawks are eagles, they’re hawks like Red Tails, they are Osprey, They include the Vultures. So Hawks is the generic term that describes all of the large birds of prey.
Of course as you know, the Peregrine falcon was extinct in South Carolina. They were re-introduced here in the late 1980's and we actually do have two locations where they exist today. One of them is of course on Table Rock Mountain. On a good day, if you're lucky, you get to see Gray Boy. He's unusually light gray for a Peregrine, so we refer to him as Gray Boy. The other Peregrine Falcons that are nesting are nesting in the Jocassee Gorges area.
There's also a really good website, and as you guessed it, it's hawkmountain.org, okay. You can go there to see updates. There's another one I'm going to refer you to that's called hawkcount.org, pretty easy, counting hawks, hawk count. That has all of the official sites and the daily reports of how many hawks have flown over and it also gives you history. So if you want to go back and look at that year of 2002 and how many birds came over. If you want to look back to see on average, how many Broad Wings (by the way, it's just over four thousand Broad Wings on average per year that come through). You can get that information from there as well.
And then of course, you can always get more information at the Caesar's Head Hawk Watch Program.