As autumn progresses, local residents and visitors to the Northwest New Jersey Skylands gather to watch the raptor migrations as they fly along the thermals created along the path of the world's oldest mountain range the Appalachian Mountains.
Raptors are birds of prey. They are big birds and readily noticed. Some of the common raptors seen in the Sussex/Warren hills include bald eagles, golden eagles, red tail hawks, red shoulder hawks, broad wing hawks, rough-legged hawks, northern goshawks, cooper's hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, northern harrier or marsh hawks, ospreys, American kestrels, merlin, peregrine falcons, turkey vultures and black vultures.
While this may seem like quite a list there are other raptors that may appear at any time. It takes time to become familiar with the raptors. But don't rush. Set your sights and proceed according to your own personal schedule. Expect the unexpected! Nothing is guaranteed with birding except that you should have a most enjoyable day. Don't forget to "stop and smell the roses!" It is hard to beat a clear cool day on a Skylands Mountain.
Birds are indicators as to the quality of life on our planet. As you gain experience, patterns in their behavior will start to take shape. If and when these patterns change, you'll want to know why. As you learn, your interest and concern for our natural environment will increase.
Many observation sites exist along the Appalachian Trail, and easily accessible areas such as Sunrise Mountain and High Point State Park are very popular during this time of year. At these observation points there will be many friendly "birders' who will help the novice identify birds in the flights of the day. Remember that nothing can be guaranteed. Some days you can see as many as 600 or more birds in an hour's time. Sometimes you get left with nothing. More times than not you will be rewarded. Bald eagles are always a special sighting, particularly the first time. Listen to the comments of those around you. It is always a thrilling experience, for even the most veteran of bird watchers.
Sometimes birders will bring a fake owl mounted to a piece of plastic pipe to the mountain. This will set some hawks crazy notably the broad wing hawk. Broad wings drop in to buzz the owl, trying to attack the artificial bird. This gives observers a good close up view of broad wings.