As autumn progresses, local residents
and visitors to the Northwest New Jersey Skylands gather to watch the
raptor migrations as they fly along the thermals created along the path
of the world's oldest mountain range the Appalachian Mountains.
Raptors are birds of prey. They are big birds and readily
noticed. Some of the common raptors seen in the Sussex/Warren hills include
bald eagles, golden eagles, red tail hawks, red shoulder hawks, broad
wing hawks, rough-legged hawks, northern goshawks, cooper's hawks, sharp-shinned
hawks, northern harrier or marsh hawks, ospreys, American kestrels, merlin,
peregrine falcons, turkey vultures and black vultures.
While this may seem like quite a list there are other
raptors that may appear at any time. It takes time to become familiar
with the raptors. But don't rush. Set your sights and proceed according
to your own personal schedule. Expect the unexpected! Nothing is guaranteed
with birding except that you should have a most enjoyable day. Don't
forget to "stop and smell the roses!" It is hard to beat a clear cool
day on a Skylands Mountain.
Birds are indicators as to the quality of life on our
planet. As you gain experience, patterns in their behavior will start
to take shape. If and when these patterns change, you'll want to know
why. As you learn, your interest and concern for our natural environment
Many observation sites exist along the Appalachian
Trail, and easily accessible areas such as Sunrise Mountain and High
Point State Park are very popular during this time of year. At these
observation points there will be many friendly "birders' who will help
the novice identify birds in the flights of the day. Remember that nothing
can be guaranteed. Some days you can see as many as 600 or more birds
in an hour's time. Sometimes you get left with nothing. More times than
not you will be rewarded. Bald eagles are always a special sighting,
particularly the first time. Listen to the comments of those around you.
It is always a thrilling experience, for even the most veteran of bird
Sometimes birders will bring a fake owl mounted to
a piece of plastic pipe to the mountain. This will set some hawks crazy notably
the broad wing hawk. Broad wings drop in to buzz the owl, trying to attack
the artificial bird. This gives observers a good close up view of broad
Checklist for an enjoyable raptor watch.
The best migration days occur during a clear cold
front with a northwest wind blowing in your face cold enough
to have tears run down your cheeks. For this reason it is better to
have too many clothes than too few! Remember to layer your outerwear.
And don't forget a pair of substantial shoes or hiking boots. There
can be a remarkable temperature change during the day, and as you walk
to higher elevations. Stay home if there is any sign of bad weather.
Bring something special to snack on and a thermos
of something warm to drink. You're going to burn some calories. Remember
to bring all your garbage out of the area.
Once the hunting season begins, it's always safer
to do your birding on Sunday. Hunters are free to hunt private hunting
grounds on Sunday, but state lands are out of bounds.
Bring binoculars. While many prefer an eight-power
binocular, anything in the seven to ten powers will do. A camera is
optional. While hawks are very difficult to photograph, the scenery
is always beautiful. Bring an extra roll of film; you never know!
Get a good field guide such as A Field Guide to
the Birds by Roger Tory Peterson, Peterson Field Guides Hawks by William
S. Clark/Brian K. Wheeler or Hawks in Flight by Pete Dunne, David Sibley
and Clay Sutton. Matching the pictures in the book with the real thing
is quite satisfying.
Bring your children or grandchildren. With some
guidance and proper dress, they will love the trip. Remember that they
will get hungry.
Make a realistic time schedule. Plan on spending
between 2 and 4 hours observing. Planning to observe for a full day
becomes a chore.
Bring a notebook and pen or pencil. Some birders
keep life lists of all the birds that they have seen, and, with over
8,000 bird species in the world, your list may someday be quite long.
Be aware of reptiles as you walk rocky terrain.
In the early morning, snakes warm themselves on rocks.
Bring a cell phone for emergency.
Bring a medium size empty cardboard box. Should
you find an injured raptor you can place the bird into the box and
get help from a state and federally licensed rehabilatator. A good
starting place would be The Raptor Trust. Remember it is against the law to possess a wild bird- alive
or dead- a wild bird feather, a wild bird nest or a wild bird egg without
federal and state permits.