The Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, north of Reading, has just released the data on its fall migration count, which ended yesterday.

Located on the Appalachian flyway, the area is a funnel for migrating raptors, which ride the updrafts.

This year, the 121-day "Hawkwatch" count tallied 12,191 birds of prey, including a record 255 bald eagles.

"This is the first year we were seeing a bald eagle nearly every day of the count, and in general, more and more people are telling us they have seen a bald eagle," said spokeswoman Mary Linkevich. "It’s cool considering how few eagles were in Pennsylvania just 40 years ago, and to know that the population can be restored w/in a lifetime is a reassuring sign. "

Another prime tally: 40,000 humans. The rocky overlooks are a destination for birding enthusiasts from the region and beyond.

Overall, the raptor total fell below the most recent ten-year average of 19,262 birds. In fact, the number of migrating hawks was the lowest since 1996. But senior monitoring biologist Laurie Goodrich said this doesn’t necessarily point to a problem.

 "There are many factors that can impact the number of birds we see here," she said in a prepared statement, "and potential problems emerge only when we study trends over the long-term."

That seems to be happening in the case of the American kestrel, which was once plentiful across rural Pennsylvania. This year – reflecting a trend elsewhere across the Northeast – just 294 kestrels were counted at Hawk Mountain, compared to a ten-year average of 539 a year.

According to Sanctuary experts, causes may include loss of nesting and wintering habitat, mortality from West Nile virus and pesticide use, and increased predation by the Coopers Hawk.

However, 2008 was a big year for the Pine Siskin. Between Oct. 10 and Nov. 20, more than 11,000 Pine of the tiny winter finches passed by, including 1,435 on Nov. 11.  In comparison, between 1991 and 2007, the annual Pine Siskin total has ranged from less than 100 to 1,211.

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary has conducted bird migration counts since 1934. Its 68-year database is touted as the longest-running record of hawk migration in the world. The long-term data allows biologist to better track the status of the birds.

 

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Hawk Mountain 2008 Autumn Totals:

Black Vulture                         40

Turkey Vulture                        355

Northern Goshawk                27

Sharp-shinned Hawk            3,357

Cooper’s Hawk Mountain    529

Unidentified Accipiter           31

Red-tailed Hawk                   1,800

Red-shouldered Hawk          137

Broad-winged Hawk             4,289

Rough-legged Hawk             5

Unidentified Buteo                46

Golden Eagle                                    131

Bald Eagle                             255

Unidentified Eagle                2

Northern Harrier                    143

Osprey                                    474

Peregrine Falcon                  61

Merlin                                      129

American Kestrel                  294

Unidentified Falcon               13

Unidentified Raptor               72

Mississippi Kite                    1

 

TOTAL                                    12,191