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September sees Hawk Watch return to Grandfather Mountain

Spectators are welcome and encouraged to witness the annual phenomenon of Hawk
Watch on Grandfather Mountain throughout the month of September, during which visitors can grab a front-row seat to one of nature’s most stunning spectacles – thousands of raptors migrating over the mountains and heading south toward their wintering grounds. (Photo Courtesy of Grandfather
Mountain Stewardship Foundation / Monty Combs)

Grandfather Mountain, the not-for-profit nature park run by the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, is gearing up for its annual Hawk Watch, which takes place throughout the entire month of September and is included with park admission. Visitors can grab a front-row seat to one of nature’s most stunning spectacles – thousands of raptors migrating over the mountains and heading south toward their wintering grounds.

Guests are invited to join the mountain’s naturalists as they count and celebrate the number of passersby in the sky.

Guests are invited to join the mountain’s naturalists as they count and celebrate the number of passersby in the sky, included with park admission. Weather permitting, participants will be able to observe the migration from viewing locations on Linville Peak (across the Mile High Swinging Bridge) and Half Moon Overlook (the first major overlook when entering the park). (Photo Courtesy of Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation)

Participants will be able to observe the migration from viewing locations on Linville Peak (across the Mile High Swinging Bridge) and Half Moon Overlook (the first major overlook when entering the park).

Raptors are birds of prey, such as hawks, eagles, owls and vultures. The telltale signs of the raptor are sharp talons, a hooked upper bill and keen eyesight. While some raptors remain in place during winter, most will travel south, where food is more abundant.

Grandfather Mountain is a prime spot for viewing this phenomenon because it sits along the eastern escarpment of the Appalachian Mountains, and its rocky peaks generate strong thermal uplifts and allow excellent visibility.

Perhaps the most dramatic visual display comes courtesy of the broad-winged hawk, which migrates in groups of hundreds or thousands, called kettles. Those sightings are most common around the second or third week of September.

During 2015’s Hawk Watch, Grandfather Mountain President and Executive Director Jesse Pope spotted a kettle of some 4,800 broad-wings passing over in less than 30 minutes, along with numerous other kettles of considerable size, amounting to nearly 10,000 raptors in one day.

Aside from offering quite a show, Hawk Watch serves an important purpose. The annual counts from Grandfather Mountain and other locations help track hawk populations and migration routes over time and provide important data to inform land management decisions.

Raptors are birds of prey, such as hawks, eagles, owls and vultures. The telltale signs of the raptor are sharp talons, a hooked upper bill and keen eyesight. While some raptors remain in place during winter, most will travel south, where food is more abundant. Grandfather Mountain is a prime spot for viewing this phenomenon because it sits along the eastern escarpment of the Appalachian Mountains, and its rocky peaks generate strong thermal uplifts and allow excellent visibility. (Photo Courtesy of Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation)

In fact, Grandfather Mountain is one of more than 300 Hawk Watch sites officially designated by the Hawk Migration Association of North America.

Counts will be conducted every day the weather permits – the hawks don’t typically fly in fog or storms – from an area inaccessible to the general public and will be posted daily at HawkCount.org.

Furthermore, Grandfather Mountain is welcoming volunteers to aid in the official count. Volunteers must attend a mandatory orientation session on Aug. 26 at 1 p.m. to participate. Registration is required. Those interested should contact Jacob Morse, Grandfather Mountain’s research coordinator, at [email protected] or 828-737-0833.

“This is just one of those truly awe-inspiring experiences that makes Grandfather Mountain such a special place, and one where you can take in the natural world in all its glory,” said John Caveny, director of education and natural resources with the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. “It’s so rewarding to see our guests have the opportunity to witness these creatures on their fall migration and share in the wonder with our staff and volunteers.”

Along with the migration, September is a very transformative month and a time when Grandfather sees a number of seasonal changes, where the mountain goes from the flora and fauna of summer to those of autumn.

To learn more about Hawk Watch at Grandfather Mountain, visit www.grandfather.com/hawk-watchThe nonprofit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation strives to inspire conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value the wonders of Grandfather Mountain. For more information, visit www.grandfather.com.

Courtesy of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation.