A Record 128 Golden Eagles Spotted in Skies Over Oneonta!
The City of Oneonta was the site of an historic event on October 25, although very few were aware at the time. Hawk counters at the Franklin Mt. Hawkwatch overlooking the city and the Susquehanna River valley tallied 128 migrating Golden Eagles, by far the highest single day total for the species in eastern North America.
Flying on northwest winds which provide lift from the Franklin Mt. ridge, the big raptors glided past steadily from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. when the gathering dusk ended the flight. Counters Peter Fauth and Becky Gretton, along with many visitors, were awestruck by the concentration of the relatively rare birds, many of which passed over Oneonta on their southbound journey. Gretton noted, "There was a spirit of celebration that grew and grew among the humans on the mountain."
Golden Eagles are similar in size but not closely related to the local population of Bald Eagles, according to Andy Mason, co-President of the Delaware-Otsego Audubon Soc. which sponsors the hawk watch. Although the species is more common in the west and in Alaska, the eastern population is estimated at a few thousand birds which nest in far northern Canada and migrate down through the Appalachians in fall. "We have known for some time that we are on a major flyway for goldens," said Mason, "but we have never experienced a phenomenon like this.
The previous single day high count was 75, set at the Allegheny Front hawk watch in western Pennsylvania in 2015, and Franklin Mt. had a big day with 71 in November, 2005, said Mason, but the October 25 flight shattered those records. No one at the Franklin Mt. site, now in its 31st year of operation, had a ready explanation for the huge movement of Golden Eagles. Mason speculated that possibly weather conditions or food supply were factors, noting that the birds were migrating well ahead of the traditional mid-November peak for their passage. Other lookouts had also reported larger than normal numbers of Golden Eagles through October.
Golden Eagles have been a focus of the local Audubon group, said Mason. A project using baited camera traps has documented that a significant number of the birds overwinter in Delaware and Otsego Counties, previously unknown to ornithologists. DOAS also has instituted an educational campaign to alert hunters to the dangers of lead ammunition, which can be lethal if ingested by both species of eagles when they feed on carcasses or gut piles of shot deer. The group is encouraging the use of copper bullets as an alternative.
The Franklin Mt. Hawkwatch will continue through November and into December, with counters present except on rainy days. Visitors are welcome at the site, with the best conditions for viewing Golden Eagles and other raptors coming the day or two after passage of a cold front, which brings strong northwest winds.
More information on the hawk watch, including directions, is available at www.franklinmt.org, or at (607) 652-2162.