THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
RAVE

Think of it as a Super Bowl for birders

Email|Print| Text size + By David Lyon
Globe Correspondent / August 20, 2006

Accidents of geography and meteorology make Cape May, N.J., a mecca for birders in the fall, especially those who like spectacle. Westerly autumn winds funnel migrating birds down the peninsula to Cape May Point , where the high fliers pause before crossing the 13-mile expanse of Delaware Bay.

Shorebirds, ducks, and songbirds make the first seasonal flights, but by mid-September, the skies are full of hawks, falcons, eagles, and vultures. Since 1976 , the Cape May Bird Observatory has kept tabs on the raptors with the Cape May Point Hawk Count , also called the Hawk Watch , creating a census over time to reflect the general health of each species. An official counter sits on a raised wooden deck, ticking off each passing hawk for a final count. (The 2005 tally was 41,283.)

The count takes place in Cape May Point State Park next to the 157-foot Cape May Light . Dozens of birders converge on the deck to assist, and many delight in the chance to make new converts to their avocation. A naturalist from the bird observatory is also often on-site.

Narrow-winged raptors like merlins, kestrels, and sharp-shinned hawks dominate the sky in early morning. As air columns heat up at midday, soaring raptors dominate: broadwing and red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures and ospreys. But many birders come just to watch the peregrine falcons, spotted here in their greatest concentrations north of Florida -- where, like so many ``snow birds," they head to spend the winter.

Hawk Watch daily dawn to dusk, September-November, Cape May Point State Park, Lighthouse Avenue, Cape May, N.J. Free.For information, contact Cape May Bird Observatory, Northwood Center, 701 East Lake Drive, Cape May, N.J. 609-884-2736 . www.njaudubon.org/Centers/CMBO .

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