Eyes to the Sky: A Fall Experience to Remember

Falconry

Hawks Soar Over Asheville in Annual Migration

Fall is a favorite time here in Western North Carolina, when the cooling weather provides ideal conditions for exploring all that this area has to offer. The changing leaves along the Blue Ridge Parkway present a feast for the eyes, and the migration sightings can provide memories to last a lifetime, particularly for hawk enthusiasts.

Each year in the fall, visitors and residents in Western North Carolina have the opportunity to witness the migration of hawks, falcons, eagles and vultures, as they pass overhead on their quest to find their new southern home for the winter. Early fall allows us mere mortals to catch a glimpse of these majestic birds. On the right day, spectators are likely to witness more hawks in just a few hours than most see in their lifetime.

Flying along the Appalachian Mountain range eases the long journey south, since the birds are able to coast along using the natural updrafts. Expect to see red-shouldered hawks, broad-winged hawks, red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks. Although keeping eyes to the sky during this time of year is almost guaranteed to render a sighting or two, locals have a few tips to improve your chances.

Choose Observation Time Carefully

The last two weeks in September and the first week of October tend to be the optimal time of year to observe the migrating hawks. The best opportunities for viewing are in the morning between 10 a.m. and noon, and in the afternoon between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Location is Everything

Every year people gather along the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Mills River Valley Overlook, located at milepost 404.5. In September of 2011, 2,549 hawks were spotted at this location in one day. Other popular viewing posts along the parkway include Craggy Pinnacle Outlook (MP 364.1), Craggy Gardens Visitor Center (MP 364.6) and Devils’ Courthouse (MP 422.4). Chimney Rock State Park is also a popular viewing point, as many gather for the Flock to the Rock Event held each autumn.

The Right Equipment is Essential

Those hawks won’t be flying a mere few feet above your heads, so be sure to bring along proper bird viewing equipment such as binoculars. And, if you wish to capture your sightings with photos to cherish in the future, a smartphone camera probably won’t cut it. The Compleat Naturalist and Wild Birds Unlimited, both located in Asheville, offer bird watching equipment for those who may find themselves unequipped to make the most out of the fall hawk migration.

Guided Tours & Bird Watching Groups

There are a few opportunities for joining guided bird watching tours in the area. Ventures Birding Tours offers day trips and several migration viewings in the fall. If you are itching to discover more about the birds that frequent this region, the Elisha Mitchel Audubon Society is a wealth of information. The local Audubon Society provides resources for bird watching and leads themed bird walks on a regular basis.

Enhance Your Experience

To enhance your hawk migration experience, consider participating in an unparalleled up-close encounter. The Sourwood Inn offers a Falconry package, which includes a two-night stay at their bed and breakfast, and a 90-minute hike accompanied by one of their resident falcons. Guests will learn about the history of falconry, the types of equipment needed, and all about the falcons themselves. Participants will then have an opportunity to handle the hawks.

Photo courtesy of Curtis Wright Falconry School.