Ashland Hawk Watch

All posts tagged Ashland Hawk Watch

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

I sat at the Ashland Hawk Watch with a local birder also named Joe this past Monday enjoying a beautiful day without many hawks.  Joe had seen 276 species of birds in Delaware for the year, and came to Ashland to add one more…a Golden Eagle.  Being a slow migration day, we simply enjoyed some conversation and the occasional Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawk that whizzed by.  I told Joe that you never know when you are going to “strike gold”.  Golden Eagle migration is at its peak in the first half of November, and they can come through just about any day in any weather.

At 11:50 a.m., just after other birders, Hank and Carol appeared, I saw a bird out of the corner of my eye and yelled to everyone, “get on that bird”!  Sure enough, it was an immature Golden Eagle!  Joe and I high-fived to celebrate his 277th species of the year in the state.  This was Golden Eagle number 20 for the fall migration season at Ashland Hawk Watch.  Between 2007 and 2012, the most we have seen during any hawk watch season was 13 in 2009.  Sighting a Golden Eagle means much more than just a number, however.

I got an "ok" shot of the Golden Eagle that passed Ashland Hawk Watch on Monday, November 11, 2013.  Note the small head, long tail, and white on the base of the tail and inner secondary feathers.

I got a photo of the Golden Eagle that passed Ashland Hawk Watch on Monday, November 11, 2013. Note the small head, long tail, and white on the base of the tail and inner secondary feathers.

Golden Eagles in eastern North America are rare, and are more common in western North America and even wild areas of Asia and Europe.  Most of the small eastern population nests in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Labrador in remote, rugged, wild places.  Rare and wild are two adjectives that certainly apply to Golden Eagles.  Add to that exciting, majestic, agile, and powerful.  To me, they represent a symbol of wilderness, like hearing a wolf howl or seeing a whale breach.  This most powerful and fierce North American raptor stakes claim to territories of the far north that I can only dream of.  It rules over these wild and remote landscapes as a top-tier predator.  Seeing a Golden Eagle is to imagine the beautiful northern ecosystems it has been, to get a taste of unspoiled wildness, and sense its supremacy over the furred and feathered.

Golden Eagles are the size of a Bald Eagle but usually hunt more like a fierce, fast, large, agile, and powerful hawk.  Our national symbol is more likely to be found eating carrion, plucking dead fish floating on a lake, or stealing food from other eagles and Osprey.  Goldens are known to  do these things too, but usually represent themselves as first-class hunters.  They eat mostly rabbits and squirrels across their range, but they are also known to capture and kill large prey such as goats, deer, seals, coyotes, bobcats, and large birds like swans, cranes, and herons.  Seven methods of attack have been described for Golden Eagles. My two favorites, however are “low flight with sustained grip attack” and “walk and grab attack”.  The former  is used to ride on the back of large prey, gripping it until the prey dies, and the latter to capture prey that are hiding behind an obstruction.  These birds can dive at almost 200mph and even hunt in small packs like wolves.  (The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved from The Birds of North America Online database:; Nov, 2013).

This Golden Eagle photo is from Kim Steininger, a volunteer at the Ashland Hawk Watch.

This Golden Eagle photo is from Kim Steininger, a volunteer at the Ashland Hawk Watch.

Golden Eagles may be one of the most revered, honored, and embodied birds in the world.  In J.R.R. Tolkien’s Return of the King, one of my favorite scenes is when the Gwaihir, basically gigantic Golden Eagles, come to the rescue, killing dragons, and flying away with the good guys on their backs.  Check it out!

Greg Inskip, a former member of the Board for the Delaware Nature Society, is the biggest Golden Eagle aficionado that I know.  He has studied them through the course of several winters at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland.  He sums them up in this way…

“Like big cats, bears and wolves, eagles are apex predators with a mythic dimension that goes back thousands of years. Bald and golden eagles are both big, powerful birds that command attention even if they are just gliding past or soaring high overhead. Golden eagles are much scarcer in the east and are exciting to see for that reason too.  Golden eagles in particular have impressed Europeans, Asians and Native Americans alike with their high flight and aggressive athleticism, strength and speed in diving attacks on prey. Usually these attributes are not directly in view when the eagles are gliding past a hawk watch, but the power is still there to be seen, as it can be seen in lions or wolves resting at their ease.”

For some Native American tribes, Golden Eagle feathers are as symbolic as the crucifix for Christians.  They are the national animal of five nations including Mexico.  They have also been symbols used by the Roman Empire and other European civilizations, in the Arab world, in the Bible and even by the Nazis.  Needless to say, this bird has awed and inspired cultures all over the northern hemisphere for centuries.

So I think that species number 277 that Joe witnessed on Monday at Ashland was not just another tick on his list, but rather another link in the chain of humans that have stared, wide-eyed, at this great symbol of the untamed wild.

I will leave you with this video that Alan Kneidel captured of a Golden Eagle flying over Ashland Hawk Watch on November 2, 2013.  Come try to see one for yourself soon, as the Hawk Watch season ends on the last day of November.


By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

This chair is waiting for you! We invite you to enjoy the Ashland Hawk Watch and help us scan the skies for hawks, eagles, falcons, and many other species of birds.

This has been a record-breaking fall migration for raptors at the Ashland Hawk Watch, located at the Delaware Nature Society’s Ashland Nature Center.  As of yesterday, 15,027 raptors have been counted passing the watch since September 1, 2012.  Previous total counts in past years, September through November, are as follows:

  • 2007 – 6,255
  • 2008 – 7,143
  • 2009 – 13,071
  • 2010 – 13,976
  • 2011 – 13,705

These numbers are dictated by the migration of Broad-winged Hawks that come through in September.  This year has been excellent, with 12,020 counted.  In some years, Broad-winged Hawks migrate to our west in the mountains, and we don’t get as many.  This year, they concentrated their migration through the Piedmont, where Ashland Hawk Watch sits. 

The tally board at Ashland Hawk Watch displays the migration of raptors here through the fall and is updated daily.

Now is a good time to visit the Ashland Hawk Watch.  On a day with winds out of the north, you may see lots of Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, Red-tailed, and Red-shouldered Hawks with some Bald Eagles, Northern Harrier, American Kestrel, and Merlin mixed in.  The big highlight this past week has been the arrival of our first Golden Eagles.  These huge raptors that breed in wilderness areas of northern Quebec and Labrador migrate through our area in small numbers.  If you are lucky, you might see one at Ashland over the next three weeks.  Other interesting birds regularly being seen at the hawk watch bird feeders are Purple Finches and Pine Siskins, northern birds that are not seen here every year.

Kim Steininger, one of the dedicated Ashland Hawk Watch volunteers, captured this great image of a young Golden Eagle as it passed Ashland Hawk Watch on Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Ashland Hawk Watch is responsible for recording all raptor species that pass by in their migration and our data is sent to the Hawk Migration Association of North America.  Additionally, we record the height that all birds are flying by, and this data is sent to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Natural Heritage Division.  The Ashland Hawk Watch as well as our southern counterpart, the Cape Henlopen Hawk Watch, is a cooperative program between DNREC, Delaware Nature Society, and the Delmarva Ornithological Society.  Come visit the Ashland Hawk Watch any day of the week through the last day of November, but especially when the winds blow out of the north.  Keep your fingers crossed for one of the rare Golden Eagles, and experience the beauty of autumn in the golden and red foliage of the surrounding hillsides.  Witness the season pass right before your eyes in the form of migrating talons, feathers, speed, and beauty…the raptors.

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

The birding has been truly fantastic over the last few weeks.  Migrant songbirds like warblers, vireos, thrushes, flycatchers along with more hawks than we have ever seen at Ashland have caused lots of excitement, and sore necks from looking up all the time!  Yesterday I led a morning bird walk at Ashland Nature Center and there were so many birds we barely left the parking lot.  Included in our total of 51 species for the morning, were 12 species of warbler, 3 species of vireo, 6 species of thrush, and others like Red-breasted Nuthatch, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  If you want to see the full list from yesterday, it can be found at ebird.

Hank Davis got good photos of some of the birds we saw at Ashland yesterday morning. This was a nice, bright Blackburnian Warbler.

At the Ashland Hawk Watch, which is open daily through the end of November, we have had some really exciting days recently.  On September 11th, 2,665 raptors flew over.  On the 16th, 6,305 raptors were tallied, which was our single biggest day at the Hawk Watch ever.  On the 19th, 1,195 raptors were counted.  Most of these hawks are Broad-winged Hawks, which migrate through in huge numbers in September, and it is one of the greatest wildlife spectacles to catch in Delaware.  This is a particularly good year for them here.  Full raptor numbers for Ashland Hawk Watch can be found the Hawkcount site.  Come visit the Hawk Watch soon, and help us scan the skies for hawks!

Bay-breasted Warbler is tough to find and yesterday we found two lurking around the Ashland parking lot. Photo by Hank Davis.

There are a lot of free guided bird walk opportunities with the Delaware Nature Society to catch the phenomenon of migration this fall.  Other than the daily Ashland Hawk Watch, here is a list of what you can do…for free…no registration required!  Of course, if you attend, your membership in the Delaware Nature Society is appreciated.  Directions to most of  these sites can be found at  Middle Run Natural Area can be found on Possum Hollow Road just before the Tri-state Bird Rescue.

Sundays: Bucktoe Creek Preserve, Kennett Square, PA.  8am.  Year-round.

Mondays: Bucktoe Creek Preserve, Kennett Square, PA.  8am.  Year-round.

Tuesdays: Middle Run Natural Area, Newark, DE.  8am.  September and October.

Thursdays: Abbott’s Mill Nature Center, Milford, DE.  8am.  Through December 20.

Thursdays: Ashland Nature Center, Hockessin, DE.  8am.  September and October.

Saturdays: Burrows Run Preserve, Hockessin, DE.  8am.  September.


Black-throated Green Warbler was one of the more common of the 12 warbler species we saw yesterday morning. Photo by Hank Davis.

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

This amazing photo of an immature Golden Eagle was taken by Hawk Watch volunteer Kim Steininger in November as it flew past Ashland Hawk Watch.

Ashland Hawk Watch, in its 5th autumn, began on September 1 this year.  As of the end of November, it has proven to be one of the best years yet, with 13,548 raptors counted…so far.  Cyrus Moqtaderi, in his third year as the Hawk Watch Coordinator, is staying on to count a bit more in December.  We couldn’t be happier!  Migration is continuing, and we expect to see more Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, and possibly more Golden and Bald Eagles, and perhaps a few surprises.  The Hawk Watch will be operating sporadically over the next few weeks, usually on days fit for raptor migration.  Cyrus will announce when the Watch will be open the day prior on the de-birds list-serve.  If you don’t subscribe to this e-mail list-serve, you can look up posts here.  Just sort the posts by date and pick the latest post from Cyrus.

Here are the numbers for the season through November:

Black Vulture – 742

Turkey Vulture – 1,621

Osprey – 469

Bald Eagle – 306

Northern Harrier – 144

Sharp-shinned Hawk – 3,169

Cooper’s Hawk – 538

Northern Goshawk – 4

Red-shouldered Hawk – 375

Broad-winged Hawk – 4,455

Red-tailed Hawk – 806

Golden Eagle – 11

American Kestrel – 680

Merlin – 80

Peregrine Falcon – 27

Short-eared Owl – 1

The Ashland Hawk Watch is a joint project between the Delaware Nature Society, Delmarva Ornithological Society, and the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife