As I walked up to the lookout Jim Osbourn said, "You just missed a great bald Eagle show! Came in right over our heads." He was surrounded by kids from a Burlington school who were having a great time looking for hawks asking a million questions which Ted Murin, Jim Osborn , Mike Lester or I would try to answer. Just then the hawks were starting to come over in bigger numbers making things quite interesting. Little did we know what was yet to come. At first the kettles started forming in the northeast, then quickly spread in every direction. The count when something like,2-1-15-1-18-37-144 - and so it would go for the rest of the day. It didn't matter what direction you looked in. Some would just pop up from the tree line getting a bump up from Mt Philo, rising right over our heads, while others were picked up as pepper size dots way off in the distance.
This image has 39 broad-wings in it............ some of the kettles were closer and some pretty far out there - pepper sized specks.
There was a kettle out near the edge of Lake Champlain that was almost 300 strong. It looked like 300 dots flying all helter skelter and counting it would be fairly difficult. Thanks to Ted's perseverance, we figured 226 Broad-wings in it and 360 birds total. The Burlington kids left and were replaced by a group of environmental studies students from St Micheal's College. They arrived just as Ted finished counting a kettle of 140 Broad-wing Hawks. Everyone was fielding questions and showing them where to look. Plenty of eye-birds. One young man said he'd never seen an eagle and just then Jim yells out 'Bald Eagle!' Mike Lester had to leave to go to a class and boy he didn't want to go but he did. Scott Schwenk showed up just in time to take his place keeping things running smoothly. There were quite a few people that had come up to look for hawks migrating and still others that had no idea about the hawk migration just wanting to get out in the sun and fresh air. I think that everyone there got inspired by what was happening. They could sense that we were having a special day and joined in looking and calling out when they had found some birds. As it turned out this help was great because we couldn't watch everywhere and they caught a few hawks that were trying to sneak by low while we were looking elsewhere. Someone asked Ted how many he thought we'd seen so far - "over 2000" was all I heard. I did some quick addition that confirmed that its was way past 2000. That news only lasted a few second because more Broad-wings were passing by and even though the pace was very fast, Jim Osbourn very matter of fact said to one of the St Micheal's kids, "That's a Petrol Falcon. You can tell them from a Gas Hawk by how high they're flying. Gas Hawks fly low and Petrol Falcons fly..." Well you get the idea.
Image of a Gas Hawk Everyone was having fun and enjoying the hawk watch. As the day progressed it seemed as though no matter where you looked there were Broad-wings with an ever increasing number of Bald Eagles thrown in just for good measure. The kid from St Micheal's that wanted to see an eagle, not only got his first eagle but 20 more that made his day on Mt Philo one he'll never forget.
American Kestrel - I believe it's a juvenile but could be wrong. Anyone that knows better, please drop me an email so I can correct if need be.
I also heard one of the kids saying to her friend that she loved this class because it's so interesting and fun. Isn't this great! By 4:45 pm the sun was getting low, the hawks were running out of lift, the crowd of people gone except for a couple from Rutland whose names I don't remember (sorry). As the air cooled down so did the numbers of hawks. Time to add up the day's numbers.
Jim and Ted doing the numbers Ted was having trouble seeing straight after looking through binoculars all day so Jim "The Human Calculator" stepped in to help with the total. Even he was having trouble keeping all the numbers straight, but before long they announced that we had counted 2,758 Broad-wings and 97 other hawks for a total of 2855 hawks counted, migrating over Mt Philo this day.
Everyone was walking back to their car with the satisfaction of knowing that we had one amazing hawk count up here on Mount Philo, Ted Murin thought it was third highest but wasn't sure. It really didn't matter it was a big day that no one there will forget.
When I got home my son Montana asked what I'd been doing, I just showed him the page in my count book and he said holy cow is that all from today, you must have had an amazing day how many did you see? 2855.
As for me it was a personal high, one that I will never forget. A special thanks to Jim Osbourn, Ted Murin, Mike Lester, Scott Schwenk for there part in making this one very special Birding in Vermont day for me!
Good Birding to all!
Story and Photos © 2009 Peter Manship All Rights Reserved