Revisiting Hook Mountain

I went to Hook Mountain for the second time last year. The numbers were a little disappointing because the air was so still. Not good winds. So it goes with raptor migration timing. We (it was a Saw Mill River Audubon trip) observed 8 species of raptor.

Only the Broad-winged Hawk barely exceeded the count of 10 (12). Most of them flew individually, but there was one group of 3, inspiring a joke that, in a situation like this, three Broad-wings make a kettle.

SMRA arranged three trips this year: two in September and one this October.

September 7 was hot and dry, and the air slow-moving. During the two-and-a-half hours, we saw only five raptor species, individuals for each species not exceeding 3: Osprey, Sharpies, Cooper’s, Broad-winged, Red-tail, and Peregrine.We also had fly-bys or Double-crested Cormorant, a Great Blue Heron, both species of vulture, and a small movement (4) of Chimney Swifts. The better parts of the trip were the hikes up and down the mountain. We heard and saw a late-singing Yellow-throated Vireo, and got very good looks at a Northern Parula and a couple Black-throated Green Warbler.

September 18 was even worse. Overcast and not much cooler. Sparse rain intermittently fell. Again, not good winds – not from the right direction. And again, the numbers were not exciting even though we waited for two hours, unless you’d count 30 TV’s a thrill: 1 Osprey, 1 Sharpie, 1 Cooper’s, 2 Broad-wings and 1 Red-tail. The hiking was quiet, too.

October 26. Autumnal colors burned against the sky and coated the mountainside. The gray-blue Hudson water glimmered.

Winds blew favorably.

Our ascent was quiet, save for a Red-bellied Woodpecker and few kinglets calling. I spotted a Brown Creeper working its way up several trees.

We stayed on the top for almost two hours. Our raptor numbers were small but more varied and constant than the September watches’. We observed a Sharpie movement – 18 in total, all individuals. They came close enough to easily determine which were adults and which were immatures. At least two fell for the owl prop, but they quickly saw through the trick and flew away when they drew near enough.

As typical, we saw a few Red-tails, including the all-year resident of Hook Mountain, as counter Steve Sachs noted. At a a certain point, we watched one Red-tail kite for up to thirty seconds. Hovering so still in one place, wings furled out, tail feathers twitching to match the wind, it looked as if it were pinned to the sky, as SMRA trip leader Anne Swaim put it.

Other raptor sightings included 1 adult Bald Eagle, several TV’s, 1 Black Vulture, and 1 Red-shouldered Hawk. I didn’t expect to see a Northern Harrier, which soared over Rockland Lake and then traveled east.

When the raptor show was lacking, the passerines filled the voids. A Golden-crowned Kinglet flitted around the lone juniper tree, deftly clinging to the thin branches. Two Purple Finches – a male and a female – fluttered over our heads. I alone heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch toot once. A Yellow-rumped Warbler flashed from bush to bush. Two individual Common Ravens flew around the mountain’s north side. A flock of half a dozen Red-winged Blackbirds traveled northward. One bluebird called a couple times. Unexpectedly, a Pine Siskin zoomed over. We were able to catch the yellow on its wings and hear its zhreeeeee call.

A chilly wind picked up as midday approached. We decided to call it quits. Just as we were about to leave, a Cooper’s Hawk slowly glided by, its crop full with breakfast. Our descent was slightly treacherous. We took care not to slip on the leaves. I nearly took a misstep on hidden rocks a couple times. A raven croaked. Blue Jays “jayed.” I found a dead junco – stiff and solid, likely to have collided with a tree – on the trail. A flock of three Golden-crowned Kinglets and a White-breasted Nuthatch foraged on low trees next. A Hermit Thrush darted through the trees mid-canopy. A Winter Wren skulked among a clump of half-rotted logs.

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