Nature lovers gather at Adams Farm for hawk watch

From left are observers Ted Purcell, Eric Mueller, Jack Miano and Ernie LeBlanc at the Adams Farm hawk watch.

From left are observers Ted Purcell, Eric Mueller, Jack Miano and Ernie LeBlanc at the Adams Farm hawk watch. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

A red-tailed hawk seen during the Adams Farm hawk watch.

A red-tailed hawk seen during the Adams Farm hawk watch. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

A bald eagle seen during the Adams Farm hawk watch.

A bald eagle seen during the Adams Farm hawk watch. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

A black vulture seen during the Adams Farm hawk watch.

A black vulture seen during the Adams Farm hawk watch. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 05-05-2024 5:00 PM

ATHOL – Area raptor enthusiasts have been gathering at Adams Farm in Athol since March 11 to take part in the annual hawk watch.

The team leader of the event is Mark Morris of Eastern Mass Hawk Watch, who has coordinated the event in recent years with Dave Small, president of the Athol Bird & Nature Club.

“We monitor the migrating raptor populations, both spring and fall,” Morris said. “We have two other sites; this one just started up in 2022. We did a 10-day trial (at Adams Farm), and we had some success there; 403 migrants in 10 days. So, we figured it was worth exploring further.

Morris said he gave a presentation in spring of 2023 at the Athol Bird & Nature Club, “and the merger has really been a catalyst to this whole thing. A hawk watch site really requires multiple observers; it’s a team sport, totally. So, we got Athol Bird & Nature Club and some of their terrific birders involved in order to get the coverage of the site.”

While there is no minimum set for the number of observers needed for the hawk watch, said Morris, he noted that watch sites are high in altitude with beautiful vistas and a wide-open sky, and so a lot of eyes are needed. He said the spring time frame for the event is “the prime time period for when you’re going to see the most hawks migrating. We know they’re going to be coming, but we don’t know exactly when. So, we need the coverage there.”

Daily reports are submitted to the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA).

“It’s a great way to assemble all of the data into one system,” he said. “We can really see the different trends of migrating raptors, which is very important right now because we have serious climate change going on. The raptors are losing habitat and breeding grounds. So, this is a very good way to monitor what’s happening on our planet because the raptors are a top-tier predator.”

Morris said there are several families of hawks and each occupies a different environmental niche.

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“They can’t all eat the same thing,” he said. “We wouldn’t have the beauty and the variety that we have. It’s the checks and balances of nature.”

Among the different families are the accipiters, which are primarily bird hunters, he said, adding they have short wings, a long tail and are built to navigate through the woods and track down birds. Other families, Morris said, include red tails and broad-wings, which ambush ground prey.

On Wednesday, April 17, 683 broad-wing hawks were sighted at Adams Farm.

“They’re the ones that draw the most interest because they travel in large groups – kettles,” Morris said. “In the morning, the sun hits the surface, creating thermal activity and the hawks use this. So, you have cold air aloft and warm air rising from the surface, thermal activity, and it kind of launches the hawks into the atmosphere. They do everything they can to get a free ride up and back. It’s really remarkable.”

As for those who take part in the hawk watch, Morris said that anybody with a pair of binoculars can participate.

The spring hawk watch will conclude on Saturday, May 11. Last year, said Morris, Adams Farm became an official HMANA site. In the fall, the activities will move to Wachusett Mountain in Princeton.

“We recorded 2,372 migrants,” he said. “Three weeks ago, we surpassed that number. So, I think we’re around 27-hundred birds here. I think we could approach 3,000.”

Anyone interested in taking part in next year’s hawk watch at Adams Farm or this fall’s event at Wachusett Mountain should contact the Athol Bird & Nature Club or email Morris at mdmremodeling@gmail.com.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.