Broad-winged Hawks Begin Their Fall Migration Through West Virginia
The third week in September is normally the peak season for broad-winged hawks to migrate through West Virginia. Hundreds of volunteers will also travel to Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory in Monroe County to help count the migrating hawks, eagles and falcons.
Rodney Davis, a retired heavy equipment operator from Sinks Grove, is one of the most active volunteer counters at Hanging Rock. "I don't know what draws people, specifically. I don't know if they're drawn to the raptors when they come up here, or just the fact that it's just such a beautiful place to come."
The observatory deck atop Peter's Mountain stands above a steep and slanted rock ridge. Below is a view of rolling farmland and the George Washington National Forest. Here, you can see as far east as the Blue Ridge Mountains in VA, and as far west as the Winter Place Ski Resort, about 70 miles away in Raleigh County.
The unusually steep ridge also provides a special opportunity for migrating raptors. The birds use the air currents that drift up from the mountain to glide south, as they make their way to warmer climates. On Tuesday, volunteer counters at the Hanging Rock Observatory tallied 347 raptors-including 7 bald eagles. That's down from 1,592 total raptors they counted last year on the same day. Volunteers say that fewer colder days in September might be the reason the migration has been slower this year. They expect more broad-winged hawks to fly over Hanging Rock in the next week or so.
Even though the hike up to the observatory tower is only about a mile long, Davis reminds visitors to expect the hike to be very steep. Last year, over 2,000 visitors during the raptor migration season, including visitors from 36 states and 16 countries.
Hanging Rock is located along the Allegheny Trail hiking system, which runs entirely through West Virginia. The Allegheny Trail also connects to the Appalachian Hiking Trail, about 12 miles east of the Hanging Rock Observatory. In October, visitors will be counting more owls, falcons and eagles that will travel along Peters Mountain.
Directions to Hanging Rock: From US 219 and Gap Mills, WV: Take US 219 to Union, then travel on Rt. 3 east towards Gap Mills for 8.8 miles. Just before the Cheese n’ more store, take a sharp right on Zenith Road and proceed 3.5 miles to Limestone Hill Road. 1.4 miles after you turn left onto Limestone Hill Road, there will be a hairpin turn to the left. Proceed another 0.4 miles until you get to the top the hill. At this point there will be a parking area above the road on your right, but you have to watch for it; it is easy to miss. It is a small gravel area that will hold 8 or 10 cars at most. The tower is a hike of a little less than 3/4 mile from the lower parking area and between .8 and .9 mile from the upper lot. The hike from the upper lot is a little longer but somewhat flatter on the lower half. The trail entrance from this lot is marked with yellow paint which signifies the Allegheny Hiking Trail.
For more information about the Hanging Rock Observatory, click here.
Music from the audio story features Luiz Bonfa, a Brazilian guitarist who passed away in 2001.