Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Raptors Are Coming

From Cape May, New Jersey, Kenn writes: Now is the season when birds of prey, or raptors – the hawks, falcons, eagles, and their fellow-travelers, the vultures – are migrating south. For the most part, these birds move on a broad front, spread across the landscape, and we don’t notice them in big numbers except in a few places where they’re concentrated by geography. But there are a few favored spots where the hawks follow ridges or shorelines and where huge numbers can be seen under the right weather conditions. Cape May, New Jersey, is one of the best such concentration points north of the Mexican border. The entire southern one-third of New Jersey is a peninsula, of course, and at Cape May it narrows to a point just a few miles across. During their fall migration, especially when winds are from the northwest, raptors will move south along the outer coast of New Jersey. When they get to the tip of Cape May Point they face a quandary, because most of them are reluctant to cross the open water of Delaware Bay, even on clear days when they can see land on the opposite side. Most of them will pass low overhead before they move off northwest along the Delaware Bay shore, apparently to find a crossing point to continue their journey south along the coast.

Today the weather was shaky at best, with winds from the south and occasional rain, and there were very few raptors around. But birders are ever hopeful types, and everyone around Cape May is talking about tomorrow. A cold front is supposed to come through tonight, and by tomorrow the winds are supposed to be from the northwest, so we’re all anticipating a big flight of hawks on Sunday.