Marie McAden



Hawk migration starting in S.C. mountains

Posted 9/2/2010 12:16:00 PM

One of North America’s great birding events — the annual raptor migration — is just getting started in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. Caesars Head State Park offers the best seat in the house to view this extraordinary natural phenomenon.

With its 3,266-foot outcropping atop the dramatic Blue Ridge Escarpment, the park is the only place in the South Carolina mountains offering the natural characteristics needed to attract the migrating raptors. The birds love being carried skyward by the thermals and updrafts generated by wind currents on the south-facing escarpment.

At the peak of the migration in late September, it’s possible to see hundreds, even thousands of birds of prey winging it along the Appalachian Flyway as they make their way from their summer grounds to warmer climates in Central and South America.

The park is an official North American Hawk Migration site and participates annually in the hawk count. In 2008, more than 12,000 Broad-winged Hawks — the most prevalent species to cross the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area — were counted by park staff and volunteer birders.

The high-flying visitors also include the Bald Eagle, Osprey, Sharp-winged Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Merlin, American Kestrel, Mississippi Kite, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture and the occasional Peregrine Falcon.

“We’ve had days where we’ve seen 6,000 birds,” Caesars Head Interpretive Ranger Tim Lee said. “They circle around in what’s called a kettle. Once they get enough lift, they line up like kindergartners and begin to head out. We count them as they’re leaving the kettle.”

The counting period runs from Sept. 1 to Dec. 1. During the migration season, volunteers can usually be found throughout the day at the Caesars Head Overlook and will be happy to answer questions about the birds.

On Sept. 25, Lee will lead the annual Hawk Watch. The popular program, which runs from 10 to 11:30 a.m., is free, but pre-registration is required. To find out more about the event, call the park at (864) 836-6115 or click here.

You can also keep track of the daily bird count at www.hawkcount.org.