On a prominent hilltop in Casco a couple of weeks ago, Dick Anderson saw something forming that he’d never quite seen before: a “kettle” of hawks.

A kettle is a collection of birds spiraling upward in a thermal. Anderson and others saw it form right over Hacker’s Hill on Sept. 11, during the first-ever “hawk watch” on the 750-foot mountain.

“It was astounding,” said Anderson, former director of Maine Audubon. “I went sort of berserk. It was such an unusual sight.”

Suffice it to say, Hacker’s Hill on Quaker Ridge Road in Casco now has the attention of some serious hawk-watchers. Folks may recognize Mount Agamenticus in York or Bradbury Mountain in Pownal as long-standing hawk-watch locations, but birdwatchers and others may want to put this Lakes Region spot on their list.

The watch was organized by Loon Echo Land Trust, a group seeking to preserve access to the convenient and scenic parcel, which has been for sale. A capital campaign is currently ongoing to preserve its public access.

By all accounts, the watch was a success. On Sept. 1, about 50 people participated between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.; about 170 hawks were counted.

Every year many hawks migrate south and do so with remarkable efficiency. They wait in trees and along fields, sometimes en masse, until just the right conditions are present.

One “birder” anxious to check out this newfound hawk-spot point is Eddie Woodin of Scarborough.

“A hawk migration is an amazing spectacle,” Woodin said. “They’ll rise in these thermals, or kettles, right to the top until it stops rising. Then they’ll all freeze, point south and just start to drift. They keep going until they pick up another thermal, which can lift them hundreds if not thousands of feet. This doesn’t burn a lot of energy; they can cover 200 to 400 miles a day doing it.”

Anderson tallied what was seen at the hill that day: 115 Broad-winged hawks; 23 turkey vultures; six Northern Harriers; three red-tailed hawks; three sharp-shined hawks; three ospreys; two Cooper’s hawks; three bald eagles; and seven unidentified hawks.

Anderson said the annual hawk migration is pretty regular and typical to forecast. Mid-September is the best time, but some raptors should be glimpsed up through the first week of October.

“Some migrate early and some later,” Anderson said. “Broad-wings go early, which is why we saw so many of them that day. With the right weather conditions you can have half the hawks in a certain area pick up and leave.”

The ones seen flying past Hacker’s Hill are most likely pouring out of Canada on their way to Central and South America, Anderson said.

The best conditions will be after a stretch of wet weather when a clear day breaks with a north wind. While leapfrogging thermals on their way south, a stretch of wet weather will typically cause hawks to layover and congregate in the forests and fields, feeding and waiting for the next good day.

Woodin has watched hawks for the past 25-plus years and is intrigued by the possibility of Hacker’s Hill – easily accessed by car – as another chance to observe the migration.

“I think Hacker’s has great promise,” Woodin said. “What was counted there supports that there is indeed an inland migration as well as a coastal one.”

Loon Echo will continue to host educational events at the hill. It is the most accessible property that Loon Echo hopes to own and manage, making it a great location for a variety of educational opportunities. A fall landscape photography day in mid-October is planned, with several well-known Maine photographers who will give photography advice and assistance.

The public is encouraged to contact Loon Echo Land Trust to support the campaign to protect Hacker’s Hill. Information can be found at www.LELT.org or by calling 647-4352.

 

Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at: [email protected]