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Special to The Record
I blame Stiles Thomas. Ever since I met my birding mentor more than two decades ago, I’ve fallen prey to the strangest autumnal affliction: raptor fever.
Here are the symptoms:
*Several months ago, you circled the middle of September on the calendar.
*You start reviewing your hawk-identification books and videos as though you were evaluating players for your fantasy football team.
*When you leave the house, you always take your binoculars.
Although most people seem immune to this raptor rapture, those of us thus folks can’t help ourselves. We must keep our eyes peeled at all times for migrating birds of prey, and when we fall asleep at night, we count kestrels instead of sheep.
Incurable hawk-watchers in North Jersey are blessed. Three excellent hawk watches are nearby: the Montclair Hawk Watch in Upper Montclair, Mount Peter Hawk Watch in Warwick, N.Y., and State Line Hawk Watch in Alpine.
Montclair offers great views of New York City. Mount Peter is a stone’s throw from the Appalachian Trail. State Line has a snack bar, restrooms and great views of the Hudson River.
The many bonuses of hawk-watching at these locales include enjoying autumn weather in a picturesque spot and getting knowledgeable birders to help identify those often unidentifiable flying objects.
A few raptors began hightailing it for points south weeks ago, but the biggest migration will peak any day now when thousands of broad-winged hawks (the smaller cousins of red-tailed hawks) are on the move.
The numbers of broad-wings can vary greatly from lookout to lookout and year to year, depending on when the birds fly through the region and the route they take -- which typically depends on the weather, wind speed and wind direction.
On a good day, you might see hundreds and hundreds of broad-wings, plus other cool birds and monarch butterflies.
Ideal conditions begin with the wind out of the northwest. The sky should be filled with high white clouds so you can spot the raptors more easily. Broad-wings tend to be more plentiful when rising on hot air currents from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
One other reason why I love watching raptors as they make their magical migration each autumn: They are a gentle reminder that there’s a great big world out there, and it does not revolve around us humans.
Hawks, falcons and other birds of prey will be migrating well into November. I hope my raptor fever subsides by then.
In the meantime, I will be a raptor counter at State Line Hawk Watch this afternoon and the next four Thursday afternoons from 1 to 5 p.m. Please stop by, see some hawks, enjoy the scenery and help me look for raptors.
The Bird Watcher column appears every other Thursday. Email Jim at [email protected].
One addendum: The State Line Snack Bar is soemtimes clsoed during the day, so plan accordingly.