Saturday, November 05, 2011

Raccoon Ridge Delaware Water Gap, Hawks and American Chestnuts

Today was a bright, clear and brisk day for a hike to Raccoon Ridge at the Delaware Water Gap. The day was cool, so we needed lots of layers, but there was not much wind so it was a very comfortable hike.
View from the ridge

Brian Hardiman, the official counter for the Raccoon Ridge Hawk Watch, spoke to us about raptor identification. He told us how to identify the major groups: accipiters, buteos, falcons, eagles, harriers, osprey, and vultures. They are identified by silhouette, and also flight patterns and behavior. With some more expertise, the exact type of bird is identifiable. He also told us about the migration cycles and which birds come through at particular times of year. November is the time for Red-Tailed Hawks and Golden Eagles.

Brian spoke to us about the history of Raccoon Ridge. There has been a hawk count at the ridge for nearly as long as Hawk Mountain, which dates back to the 1930s.

I asked Brian some questions about hawk conservation. There really are mixed results. Many bird populations are actually increasing, due to increased awareness of pesticide dangers, improved water quality, and even re-introduction programs for Bald Eagles. This year there were record counts of Broad-Winged Hawks. Other populations are decreasing and their migration patterns are impacted by climate change. Hawk counts such as the one at Raccoon Ridge are important to identify these patterns and potential environmental threats, and also for education (perhaps inspiring future environmentalists!), and of course, recreation and the enjoyment of viewing nature.

Counts from Raccoon Ridge and many other hawk count sites are found at Hawkcount.

Another view from the ridge

The browns and golden colors of November are visible.

The river below

Look! In the sky! A hawk!

Mike Manes also explained to us the dire situation of the American Chestnut. The American Chestnut was once a prominent and common tree in the hardwood forests. The population was nearly decimated in the early 1900s with the introduction of a non-native blight. The blight either kills the tree outright, or severely stunts its growth. Almost all Chestnut trees in the Eastern forests are infected by the blight. Here Mike is standing by a Chestnut tree. In the past these trees were over one hundred feet tall and up to ten feet in diameter. You can see how the blight stunts the growth. Signs of blight were visible on this tree. More information is available at the American Chestnut Foundation, a group trying to reintroduce the American Chestnut into the Eastern forest.

Today was a fabulous day for hiking and also learning about our environment, how it is changing, and how we can work to protect it!

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