Established in 1974, Putney Mountain Hawk Watch is the only autumn raptor watch in Vermont that is monitored full time. Last year, it operated for 73 days. I worked 65 of those days, and each was unique. There were dead-calm days with few raptors, and days with more than 1,000 sightings. At season’s end, we had tallied 9,250 birds of prey, our second highest total ever.
Over the years, we have had many noteworthy moments. Once, a Peregrine Falcon took a Blue Jay in mid-air and then kited on updrafts while plucking and eating its prize. Another time, squadrons of monarch butterflies descended into binocular range as the day’s thermals cooled. We have watched warbler fallouts, raven acrobatics, wavering Vs of both Canada and Snow Geese counting cadence down the skies, and raucous mobs of Blue Jays drifting south.
Both amateur and professional naturalists volunteer for the watch crew. Rare birds, lepidoptera, dragonflies, or native wildflowers might be among the topics of conversation on any given day. Experienced birders help grade schoolers work through hawk IDs. The mood is social until someone calls out birds. Then everyone’s focus turns to the skies. — John Anderson
John Anderson is a 20-year veteran of the hawk watch and for 15 years has been the site’s online raptor reporter, record keeper, scribe, and handyman.
Dry ridgeline. Mixed forest, predominantly red oak. A two-acre summit clearing.
Primitive hiking and mountain-biking trails. Moderately difficult. Steep in spots. Ledgy. Walk from parking area to summit clearing is 0.7 miles. Not wheelchair-accessible.
More than 200 species. Osprey, Bald and Golden Eagles, Northern Harrier, Northern Goshawk, Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, Red-shouldered, Red-tailed, Broad-winged, and Rough-legged Hawks, American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Turkey Vulture. Occasional: Black Vulture, Swainson’s Hawk. Canada and Snow Geese, Common Loon, Common Raven, Barred Owl, Hermit Thrush, Golden- and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and warblers. Snow Bunting in November.
When to go
Count runs from September 1 until the second Saturday of November. Peak Broad-winged flights September 10-25. Most productive hours 10-3. Heavy rains or low cloud ceilings occasionally close the hawk watch.
Summit trail is part of a 20-mile recreational trail system. Maps available online at Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association (www.windmillhillpinnacle.org). No restrooms or food.
Summit owned and maintained by the Putney Mountain Association. Open every day. Free. No overnight camping or fires permitted.
Mountain’s exposed ridgeline can produce inclement weather. Bring sunscreen, food, and water. Dress for the weather. Spotting scopes and folding chairs helpful but not required.