Hike, Hawk, Hook Mountain
The Core Team finally got a little hawkwatch together this past weekend. We met Frank and his family in Nyack to view migrant raptors from the top of Hook Mountain. This Rockland County ridge is one of the preferred promontories for hawk watching for New York City birders. Although none of us had been there before, we were game for someplace new.
I researched Hook Mountain before our trip to determine whether it was kid-friendly. Such a feature is important to our group as we are all blessed with delightful progeny. On the subject of child suitability, records are far from forthcoming. The only clue was that ascending to the top of Hook Mountain involved at least some time on a trail, which is conveniently accessed from one of the local golf courses. Allow me to at long last rectify this unfortunate internet omission. Hook Mountain is not, I repeat not, kid-friendly. It’s far from it, in fact. The trail to the top is at least a mile, and an ugly one at that, all mud and streams and loose rocks. Even worse, it’s all uphill. Now, I should establish the Core Team credentials regarding hiking. Sara’s no tenderfoot and I do alright myself for a city boy. Before birding drove a stake right through the heart of our hiking fun (and I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about) we thought nothing of peeling off five to seven miles of the Appalachian Trail as part of a day’s activity. Travel off the paved path, however, presents certain logistical challenges that are exacerbated by the presence of babies. Add the accoutrements of serious birding to the mix and you’ve got a hassle on your hands.
The trip up the mountain really isn’t that bad, even with little ones. However, once you attain the heights of Hook Mountain, your youngsters are certain to be underwhelmed. Birders congregate in a scrubby, bare patch of rock that overlooks the Hudson River. The view is magnificent but the accommodations leave much to be desired. There is simply nothing for a young child to do but watch for birds. If your own little one finds birding entertaining for at least an hour, you may find the trip up the mountain worthwhile. Parents of normal kids, on the other hand, will find themselves trudging back down the trail in ten minutes or less.
Once our group split up, with most of the children heading back to the cars, Sara, Frank, Mason and I settled in for a good old-fashioned hawkwatch. This was tough to do without hawks. It seems that the wind was not exactly conducive to migration on Saturday morning. Instead of kettles of hawks stretching the length of the Hudson, we made to with the stragglers that sauntered by. That being said, we did spot a few different raptor species in a couple of hours. Of course, we saw plenty of Turkey Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks. Osprey are also easy to come by on the river this time of year and we noticed a few. We spotted both Cooper’s Hawk and its smaller look-alike, the Sharp-shinned Hawk. Our favorite bird of the day was Peregrine Falcon. We actually spotted a pair of these incredible flyers harassing the red-tails. The skilled birders on the ridge, a group to which we do not pretend to belong, suspected that one of these falcons called the Tappan Zee its home while the other was likely just passing through. Besides raptors, pigeons, Blue Jay, and Chimney Swift, there weren’t many birds to be seen at this altitude. Ironic, no?
The best sighting of the day was a lot bigger than a bird. A B-17 Bomber, a relic of the World War II era, not only flew right past us, but actually circled Hook Mountain, giving us phenomenal views of every side. This plane, probably the guest of honor at some local air show, exuded power. That’s air superiority for you.
By the way, we didn’t spot any Broad-winged Hawk, which was our target species for the hawkwatch. We may have missed our chance this year. Maybe we’ll get lucky next week, but if not, there’s always next year.