A Spring Hawk Watch at Bare Mountain, Hadley

by David Spector

April 15, 2020 (Originally published April 11, 2013)

Editor’s note: You may be looking for places off the beaten path to get outside while also keeping a safe distance from others. To help you, we are republishing a number of seasonally appropriate blog posting based on our original 50th Anniversary blog on 50 places introduced in 2012.

Each fall billions of birds fly south from northern breeding grounds, and each spring those that survived migration and the non-breeding season return north. Among those are that are easiest to observe in these migrations are the diurnal birds of prey — hawks, falcons, and vultures — spectacular birds that, unlike most smaller birds, migrate by day.

One of my favorite spots to watch the hawk migrations is Bare Mountain, the second highest point on the Holyoke Range. Although this site does not get the numbers of hawks seen at better-known hawk watches directly above the Connecticut River corridor, I enjoy the steep climb to it, the relatively smaller wildflowers were not yet in evidence, with some evergreen ferns providing the number of visitors, and the wide view.

In late March, when I most recently walked up Bare Mountain, spring wildflowers were not yet in evidence, with some green ferns providing the brightest contrast with the late winter grayness. By mid-April there will be much more green, and early flowers will be starting to show. A few well-hammered logs showed where pileated woodpeckers have been at work, but I
didn’t see any of these giant woodpeckers on this trip.

At the top I enjoyed the nearly 360o view. Looking toward Mt. Hitchcock, the next peak to the west, and scanning the Connecticut River valley, once the floor of glacial Lake Hitchcock, I thought about the influence of illustrator Orra White Hitchcock and geologist Edward Hitchcock, eponyms of these features and of the Hitchcock Center.

I settled on a south-facing rock a little below the summit to watch for north-bound raptors. From this perch I could appreciate a hawk’s eye view of southern New England as I looked across the cities of Springfield and Hartford to the hills of southern Connecticut, only a few flicks of a wing from the Long Island Sound. I was rewarded for my watching with nice views of red-tailed hawks illustrating different tactics for crossing the Holyoke Range. One bird popped up from below and crossed the ridge very close to me, cutting over the depression between Bare Mountain and Mt. Hitchcock. The second hawk took advantage of the breeze deflected up by the mountains to circle hundreds of feet above the ridgeline before heading out to the north. By mid-April a greater diversity of hawks will be flying north through our area.

As I headed down the mountain, I watched a local turkey vulture rocking back and forth as it glided around Mt. Norwottuck, and two “croaks” alerted me to a raven gliding past. The woods gave little hint of the diversity of warblers, vireos, sparrows, thrushes, and flycatchers that would soon be nesting here, but, much as I enjoy that diversity, I was content with my handful of grand birds of early spring.

Directions: Park at the Notch Visitor’s Center of the Holyoke Range State Park, where Route 116 crosses the crest of the Holyoke Range, near the Amherst/South Hadley/Granby triple town border. Cross the busy street very carefully to the trailhead (opposite the north end of the parking lot) and follow the trail (white blazes) approximately one half mile steeply up to the top of Bare Mountain. Other hawk watching sites with more gentle access include points on Mt. Tom, Mt. Sugarloaf, Mt. Holyoke, and Quabbin Hill.

David Spector is a former board president of the Hitchcock Center and teaches biology at Central Connecticut State University.

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