The Sandy Hook Migration Watch, funded and run by the Sandy Hook Bird Observatory of the New Jersey Audubon Society, takes place at the Observation Deck near the North Pond at the northern tip of Sandy Hook. Formerly a hawk watch, in 2003 the hawk watch became the Migration Watch, collecting data on diurnal migrants like loons, cormorants, Northern Gannet, herons, and egrets along with raptors. Birds are counted from March 15 to May 15.
The Sandy Hook Hawk Watch began in 1979 under the guidance of Cape May Bird Observatory's Pat Sutton, with funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The old hawk watch site was on the mortar battery near the lighthouse, now too overgrown with vegetation, and off-limits to the public. Counts were recorded from 1970 to 1993.
After a hiatus of some years, the count was resurrected in 1999, in its present location. The new location offers a panoramic view of the point of Sandy Hook, the Atlantic ocean, and the skyline of New York City. A variety of habitats can be observed from the observation deck, and flocks of passerine migrants frequent the adjacent trees and shrubs. You can download the panorama, a 125K PDF file; use the Zoom tool in the PDF window to expand the image for viewing.
Nineteen species of diurnal raptors have been recorded on the counts, with over 10,000 migrating hawks passing by during the spring of 1985. More typical yearly totals range from 4,000 to 6,000 birds of prey.
The bulk of the flights consists of Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks, American Kestrel, and Merlin. Short-eared and Barn Owls have also been recorded. Mid-April tends to be the peak time for large flights, but good counts can continue into May. Rarities have included Swallow-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite, Swainson's Hawk, Golden Eagle, and Northern Goshawk. Rough-legged Hawk and Goshawk are most likely to be seen in March; Swallow-tailed Kite tends to appear in the last week of April; May offers the best chance to see Mississippi Kite.
To reach the watch location: from Garden State Parkway Exit 117, take Route 36 east to the entrance for the Sandy Hook unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area. Head north on the Hook road, following signs to the northern beaches. The Observation Deck is near Parking Lot K, the most northern of the parking lots. To reach the observation deck, walk approximately 100 yards up the path at the northern end of the parking lot.
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