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Volunteers keep eagle eye on hawk count in Acadia

As he peers through binoculars, Jim Zeman spots a couple of raptors soaring on the horizon between two islands off Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park.

Jim and Kathy Zeman, volunteers at Hawk Watch in Acadia National Park

Jim Zeman, left, and his wife, Kathy Zeman, peering through binoculars, are longtime volunteers at the hawk count on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park.

Zeman quickly shares the hawk count with the others on the mountain top on a sunny early September afternoon.

“Over the water, I see them,” Zeman says. “They are crisscrossing each other – two Broad-wings.”

Zeman and his wife, Kathy, both of Bucksport, are longtime volunteers in the Hawk Watch program on the Cadillac Mountain summit in Acadia National Park. The annual hawk count is conducted partly by volunteers like the Zemans and Carol Thompson, who logs the daily numbers from Cadillac on an internet site maintained by the Hawk Migration Association of North America.

September is peak season for the hawk count. On Sept. 11, for example, volunteers counted 579 birds of prey in flight including 289 Broad-winged Hawks, 129 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 108 American Kestrels, along with others such as 14 Osprey and five Bald Eagles.

hawk watch

At Hawk Watch atop Cadillac, you may not even need binoculars when a Sharp-shinned Hawk swoops close by, as photographed by one frequent volunteer in an earlier season. (Photo courtesy of William Lawless)

Using their binoculars or spotting scopes, volunteers identify the birds on the fly.

During a visit on a sunny early September day, Thompson pointed to a red-tailed bird diving on the horizon over Sheep Island, one of the Porcupine Islands.

“He’s a little kestrel,”  responded Zeman, a retired AT & T manager. “An American Kestrel. He has like pointy wings. Look at the tail. He flies around like a butterfly.”

Thompson, who is from Bath, N.H. and volunteers at the park, clearly enjoys the hawk count. “I love seeing the birds, being able to talk to people and families and tell them what’s happening with the wildlife,” she said, adding that her husband, Russell, is a driver for the Island Explorer.

The hawk count is open to the public each day, depending on the weather, and is located off the Cadillac North Ridge Trail, which starts off the parking lot at the top of 1,530-foot Cadillac Mountain. This week is a good one for watching because it is International Hawk Migration Week. People should bring binoculars, though the birds can be seen with the naked eye.

The best conditions are when the winds are coming from the north or northwest, allowing the birds to fly south and glide on thermals and drafts. With a southerly wind, people likely will not see many birds.

Raptors follow migrating songbirds, Jim Zeman said. “They will stop and take a songbird for a meal if they can,” he said. Continue reading