RIPLEY - Every spring, thousands of different birds including hawks, eagles and vultures migrate over Western New York near the area of the Ripley Hawk Watch. In their journey to the nesting areas in the north, these birds pass through a natural corridor formed by the Allegany Plateau and Lake Erie.
According to the numbers reported on hawkcount.org by the Ripley Hawk Watch, or RHW, there have been 21 different species of raptors and vultures sighted since 1985, including bald eagles, golden eagles, ospreys and peregrine falcons. The RHW has officially counted more than 250,000 raptors and many other birds since 1985, including New York state's first ever sighting of whooping cranes in 2011.
Between March 15 and May 15 daily reports of all raptor sightings by the RHW are posted on www.hawkcount.org. The RHW also publishes their data annually in the scientific journal Hawk Migration Studies, which is maintained by the Hawk Migration Association of North America, or HMANA.
The migration of hawks such as this Northern Harrier can be spotted throughout the spring during the Ripley Hawk Watch. Part of the Hawk Migration Association of North America, the hawk watch has officially counted more than 250,000 birds since 1985.
Photo by Dave Cooney
According to RHW coordinator and reporter Gil Randell, the best resource for both new and experienced birders is the Hawk Count website.
"There is a silhouette guide that anyone can download for free which is a great resource not just for beginning hawk watchers, but also for people with experience that just need a refresher," said Randell. "Another good website for both beginner and experience birders to check out is the HMANA page."
Randell, who has been birding for more than 60 years, says that he's always been interested in raptors and that's what drove him to join this group originally. He has been involved with the RHW full-time since 2003 as an observer, official counter and compiler and, since 2009, as the coordinator. According to Randell, there's no cost to participate in the hawk watch, and if people don't have their own equipment, they have a few sets of spare binoculars so that everyone can still participate.
Weather conditions determine which of the three primary sites are actively manned by qualified observers during the RHW season. The sites include Shorehaven on Route 5 with favorable conditions created by southerly winds, about a mile east of Forsythe Road; Parker Road, just north of Barber Road with the most favorable conditions coming from westerly winds and Creamery Road, just south of Barber Road; and the intersection of Creamery and Belson roads, both finding northerly winds to create the best conditions for raptor sightings.
To get to the Shorehaven site, take Route 394 to Barcelona; turn left at the traffic signal and drive 3.5 miles to the Route 5 site just west of Shorehaven on the right.
For the Parker Road site, take Route 394 to Westfield and turn left onto Route 20. Drive 3.8 miles and take a slight left onto Old Route 20; in a few hundred feet turn left onto Parker Road and drive a few hundred yards to site on left of road.
For Creamery Road, take Route 394 to Westfield and turn left onto Route 20. Drive 2.8 miles and turn left onto Creamery Road and go up the hill to the site.
Randell can be contacted through email at email@example.com or by calling 753-2333 with any further questions.