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My Column: One-Woman Hawk Watch

Stephanie Seymour photo by Bob Perry; Broad-wing photo by Karl Soehnlein

My new column for The Record is about Stephanie Seymour of Ringwood, who has an official HMANA hawk watch site in her yard.

   No room to mention this in the column, but Stephanie has also recorded some wonderful songs about birds on an album called "There Are Birds." You can listen on Spotify or Apple Music, or go to

   You can read the column here:

By Jim Wright

Special to The Record | USA TODAY NETWORK - NEW JERSEY

   The next seven days are typically prime time for North Jersey raptor lovers. That's when thousands of broad-winged hawks are expected to fly over on their way to Mexico and beyond.

   Although many folks think they need to go to an established hawk watch like State Line Lookout on the Palisades to see lots of hawks, you might see plenty from your own patio.  

   Take Stephanie Seymour of Ringwood. She has brought raptor-gazing to a new level, registering her yard as an official watch site with the Hawk Migration Association of North America, which tracks daily raptor migration totals nationwide. (One-person hawkwatches like Stephanie's are rare. According to HMANA, a farmer in Arkansas counts raptors while he's working in his fields.)

   Stephanie took time last week to talk about her one-woman hawk watch.

   How'd you get the idea?

  A friend suggested I register as a private hawkwatch site, and HMA TheRecordBergenEdition_20230914_LF03_2-page-001NA graciously listed my yard. My hawkwatch is Purple Chickadee – my bird nickname. All my raptor counts are on

   Describe your lookout.

    It's on a mountainside in a woodsy suburban neighborhood. I look up and over the tree line in my yard, with 5 to 20 seconds to identify birds as they go overhead. Some birds circle on the updrafts and stay longer, which is always helpful.

    What kind of chair do you use?

     I have the Cadillac of reclining chairs – an awesome zero-gravity chair with a pullout tray with a cup holder and a place for my camera, phone, journal and anything else I need.

    How much time do you spend counting raptors each autumn?  

    Last fall, I watched for 67 days and totaled 374 hours. The previous fall, I counted for 55 days and 303 hours. I'm trying to break last year's numbers, but a lot depends on the weather.

   Why do it?

   If you'd told me years ago that I'd be a hawk watcher, I would have laughed. But when I realized my yard was in a migratory flyover zone, I began to watch. Then I got hooked.

   The anticipation of what might be is exciting. On a day when the raptors are really coming through, it's thrilling. Even seeing one bird fly over is cool because I think about each bird's journey, and I'm always amazed by nature. Every time.

    The toughest part of watching raptors that much?

    Not making any money. I might have to start cutting back a little bit, but we'll see.

    What was your best day ever?

     September 19, 2020. That day, 2,221 broad-wings flew through. The final 401 birds came through at about 5 p.m. in one huge group. It took my breath away. But I had to get it together to start counting. 

    The Bird Watcher column appears every other Thursday. Jim's next book, "The Screech Owl Companion," will be published next month by Timber Press. Email Jim at [email protected].