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September 25, 2018

Welcome Back, Spring!


Derby Hill Hawk Watching by Derby Hill

As we anticipate the first blossoms of spring, we also welcome back our feathered friends. Visit the Derby Hill Bird Observatory, a sanctuary of the Onondaga Audubon Society, to join this seasonal celebration.

Derby Hill is known as one of the best spring hawk-watch areas in the Northeastern U.S. due to its strategic location on the southeast corner of Great Lake Ontario. At this time of year, it is not unusual to see more than 2,000 raptors in a day. Indeed, the spring of 1995 saw a record number of Red-tailed Hawks sweeping through Derby Hill, (19,531 to be exact), and 4,591 of them were sighted in just one day – April 11.

In the 1950s, Scheider and VanBeurden recognized Derby Hill as a prime vantage point for viewing the spring migration. Then, in May 1997, the National Audubon Society officially designated Derby Hill as an “Important Bird Area.”

Bird movement is largely weather dependent and snow, heavy rain and strong northerly winds can reduce the number of migrating hawks moving through the area. Strong southerly wind-flows create the best conditions; however, some raptor families will fly even in “poor” conditions. Peak flights usually occur during the end of April.

Hawk counting began at Derby Hill in 1954 and daily counts started in 1979. Data are provided to the Hawk Migration Association of North America and used by state and federal agencies. Since then, a number of other significant sightings have been reported as well. They include a Swallow-tailed Kite in April 1976 and again in 2013, a Mississippi Kite in May 1990 and in 2008, and three Gyrfalcons, the latest spotted in February 1994. On October 7, 1979, a record number of mostly Parasitic Jaegers were counted and, in 1993, several spotters witnessed an immature White-tailed Eagle, a very rare sight south of Alaska.

A wide variety of hawks and migrant land birds from the tropics are regularly spotted in substantial numbers at Derby Hill. Other regulars include Bald and Golden Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Eastern Bluebirds, Sandhill Cranes, Common Loons and Ravens, Blue Jays and American Robins. Occasionally, spotters will see arctic species such as the Northern Shrike and Short-eared Owl as they head north to their breeding grounds.

Check out these sightings…

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Cooper’s Hawk by Steve Kolbe

Red-shouldered Hawk by Steve Kolbe

 …and views from the picturesque birding site:

Derby Hill Bluff Overlook
 
Sage Creek Marsh at Derby Hill

Derby Hill North Lookout

Derby Hill Counting Board

 Here are some things to remember when visiting Derby Hill:

Ø  Seeing the flights of the birds is very dependent on favorable weather conditions. The largest groups of birds pass over Derby Hill when there is a low-pressure system from the west with a high pressure producing strong southerly winds.

Ø  Don’t expect to see hawks before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.

Ø  Expect to have great conversation with out-of-state visitors. Derby Hill regularly receives visitors from out of New York State.

Ø  Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Birders are a very friendly and enthusiastic bunch, and love to share their extensive knowledge of identification with you.

Ø  If you plan to stay a while, bring a folding chair. Derby Hill has extras, but on a busy day, you take the chance of not getting one.

Ø  Bring lunch, binoculars, sunscreen and a hat or visor.

Ø  Dress warmly and in layers. Derby Hill is located on a bluff overlooking Lake Ontario and it can be more windy and chilly than neighboring inland areas.

Additional things to keep in mind when planning your trip to Derby Hill:

Ø  Leashed dogs are the only pets permitted

Ø  No camping, radios, ATVs or bikes are allowed

Ø  Smoking is permitted only when downwind of all other visitors.

Ø  Please remember to carry-in, carry-out your trash.
Come to Derby Hill for the 2014 Bird Festival! From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday May10, enjoy a full day of family fun including live hawk identification, birding and nature walks, kids’ activities, drawings, arts and crafts and a silent auction. Chomppers’ Smokin’ Barbeque will also be at hand with many succulent selections. Admission and parking are free.

The Derby Hill Bird Observatory is located on Sage Creek Road, just off NYS Route 104B in the town of Mexico. The observatory is made of up 90 acres and includes North and South Lookouts as well as Sage Creek Marsh. For more information about Derby Hill or the festival, visit www.onondagaaudubon.com.                                                                                                            

For more springtime fun, go to www.visitoswegocounty.com.

Cheers,
Kelly

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