The Rockfish Gap Hawk Watchers
are getting ready for peak season as raptors start to make their journey
southward through the Rockfish Gap.
The watchers are
refreshing their identification and spotting skills to get ready for mid-September
when thousands of raptors will fly over Rockfish Gap. This year, they're inviting the whole community
to take in the sights.
"It's really great to have visitors up here
and have people aware about what's happening with the raptors," Gabriel Mapel
Mapel counts hawks at Afton
Mountain every week. Right now, the season is just taking off.
"Starting to see a few
more broad wings coming through but in the next couple weeks it should pick up,
it's just really exciting that the peak is just around the corner," he said.
In just three hours, the
Hawk Watchers counted a handful of birds migrating through the valley.
"In the peak time, a slow
three and a half hours would probably be 200," Mapel said.
This year, the Rockfish Gap
Hawk Watchers are hosting an open house September 14 at the beginning of the
"We've gotta a lot of people coming up wondering what's going on, and we like
to help educate the people, what we're doing, why we're doing it, and let them
enjoy the sights and the birds," Vic Laubach, a fellow hawk watcher, said.
In addition to their
educational board, new this season, thanks to a grant from the Hawk Migration Association
of North America, they'll have volunteer hawk counters on hand to answer
questions and share ways to get up close and personal with the stars of the
"We're going to have some
displays of some mounted raptors you can look at up close; we hope to have a
falconer on site who will bring a live falcon or a hawk with them," Laubach
Lucky visitors might get
to see a raptor - or 1000- migrating over Rockfish Gap.
"We've had hours of up to 3,000 birds," Mapel
The Rockfish Gap group teams
up with bird watchers from all over the country to track the North American
raptor population. Their counts are key to
monitoring migration changes, and preserving the birds they love.
Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch Press Release
The start of the 38th season at Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch has begun and we're off to a great start! We've already tallied 172 hawks in the first 10 days, including 10 Bald Eagles, 17 Osprey and 117 Broad-wings. We will be holding an OPEN HOUSE at the hawk watch on Saturday, September 14, from 11am-2pm. We hope you can stop by to meet our volunteer counters, learn about what we do, how we do it and why, try out some binoculars and spotting scopes, and view our new educational display. Free refreshments will be provided, educational materials and mounted specimens of many raptors will be on display, and we're hopeful that a falconer will be on sight with a live raptor.
We had an awesome season last year with 21,497 total raptors including three new season records (224 Bald Eagles, 370 Cooper's Hawks and 26 Merlin) and three runner-up records (275 Osprey, 64 Red-shouldered Hawks and 267 American Kestrels)!
The Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch is held on the grounds of the Inn at Afton, located right off I-64 (exit 99) at the intersections of Rt 250, Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway. We're just 5 miles east of Waynesboro and 20 miles west of Charlottesville. The hawk watch provides panoramic views of Rockfish Gap and the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the Piedmont Region to the east. Be sure to bring your binoculars, a lawn chair and sunscreen! We'd love to have you visit and experience the raptor migration (and help us spot the hawks)!
If you can't make it to the open house, we'll be counting through November, so come visit when you can. Counters are present daily unless it's raining. Peak migration typically occurs during the 3rd and 4th weeks of September, and thus the BIG weekend this year will likely be Sept. 21-22.