I went on my first hawk watch on Monday and it was such a fun and unique experience that I wanted to share it with everyone. Unlike songbirds, hawks migrate during the daytime so it is possible to actually watch them on their journeys south! The excitement comes from keenly watching the skies and not knowing which raptor may fly overhead at any given time. There’s also something awesome about actually seeing migration happening in the moment!
Where to Hawk Watch?
Hawks prefer to migrate over land using thermals and updrafts to help them with their flight (similar concept to if you’ve ever gone paragliding, you need those thermals to get up high enough so you can just glide). This means that there are certain places around North America which are excellent for watching hawks fly past, particularly where the hawks are trying to navigate around large bodies of water or if there is a ridge or a mountain that creates an updraft that the hawks can take advantage of.
The Hawk Migration Association of North America has a list of hawk watch sites, including the one I did at Greenland Road in Ottawa, Canada.
During fall migration you want to choose a day where the winds are coming from the North (makes sense, I’d want to fly with the wind at my back too!). If you’re in Ottawa, check out the Ottawa-Gatineau Hawkwatchers Facebook group for information about when and where to go.
Being The Afternoon Birder, I arrived at the site around 10:30am and things were already in full swing! There was a group of 10-12 people bundled up in their winter clothing (those winds are cold coming from the north!!) and standing on the side of Greenland road keenly watching the skies. Jon Ruddy, the organizer, came over and excitedly told me about the Golden Eagle and 2 Northern Goshawk I’d missed earlier in the morning.
I quickly set up my camera and monopod and started looking overhead. Before long, someone called out that they could see something flying over and Jon confirmed, “Bald Eagle! Two of them!”
The morning continued in a similar fashion, with bursts of excitement as something was seen overhead followed by lulls where you’re standing around in the cold waiting expectantly. In addition to the hawks, you’ll also see other birds migrating past like, in our case, two large groups of Brant.
Once you start hawk watching, you quickly get sucked in and won’t want to leave the site in case you miss something exciting flying over! Eventually the cold begins to set in and during a lull in the action you may finally decide it’s time to get lunch. You just have to hope you don’t find out later that a Golden Eagle flew in low over the group just after you left…
For a list of what was seen during the hawk watch, click here for the eBird list.