The Tussey Mountain Spring Hawkwatch
State College, Pennsylvania
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Tussey Mountain is a spring hawkwatch focusing on Golden Eagles, the lesser known cousin of our national bird, the Bald Eagle. Primarily a bird of the mountains and foothills of western North America, a small population of a few thousand Golden Eagles breeds in remote areas of northeastern Canada and migrates south to spend the winter in the U.S. These birds are most often seen in Pennsylvania during late October and November at well-known hawkwatching meccas like Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and PA Audubon's Waggoner's Gap near Carlisle. However, very little was known about the spring migration route until we started coverage at Tussey Mountain in the mid-1990s and discovered great spring flights of golden eagles as well as other raptors. Full-time spring coverage since 2001 has shown that Tussey consistently has the highest numbers of migrating Golden Eagles in the eastern U.S.
Tussey Mountain Spring Hawkwatch is collaborating with a team of researchers based at WVU that are working to better understand the ecology and demographics of eastern Golden Eagles - click here for more info. One impetus for the project is the potential risk to eagles by ridge-top wind energy development, especially in the central Appalachians. In the western US, Golden Eagles are known to be vulnerable to wind turbine collisions. The USFWS recently released Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance for wind energy developers to evaluate impacts from proposed projects to eagles - click here for more info - and has begun the process of issuing "eagle take" permits. This continues to be a controversial issue both nationally and in our region, where additional turbines have been proposed along ridges often used by Golden Eagles.
Tussey Mountain is designated a Pennsylvania Important Bird Area (IBA), based primarily on its importance as a spring eagle migration corridor, and also as a large block of intact forest habitat, over 50% of which is publicly owned. See the PA IBA site for more information.
The hawkwatch is located in Rothrock State Forest, about 7 miles southwest of State College, Pennsylvania (Lat = 40.7108 N, Lon = 77.9047 W, Elev = 2050 ft). Here's a map. Take Route 26 south from State College. Bear left at the flashing light in Pine Grove Mills, and continue on Route 26 to the top of Tussey Mountain (locally called "Pine Grove Mtn"). Park in the large gravel lot on the right near Jo Hayes Vista. Walk about 2/3 mile on the Mid-State Trail to the southwest along the ridgetop until you get to the powerline (if the winds are from the northwest, Jo Hayes Vista is also a good spot). Pick a comfortable rock, be patient, and enjoy the view. The best time to see golden eagles is during the first three weeks of March. Be sure to bring plenty of layers because weather can be brutal on the ridgetop. If you need a break, head down to Shaver's Creek to warm up!
The Tussey Mountain Spring Hawkwatch is directed by Dan Ombalski. Official counter for 2014 is Jon Kauffman. Our sponsor is the State College Bird Club, and we are funded through grants (sometimes) and the generosity of individual donors, as well as a partnership with Shavers Creek Environmental Center, which often provides lodging for our official counters. Past sponsors include the Diane Moore Memorial Fund of the Centre Foundation, The National Aviary, the James L. Baillie Memorial Fund, and the Juniata Valley Audubon Society. As you might imagine its not easy keeping the count funded each year - send your tax-deductible donation to the State College Bird Club, c/o Dan Ombalski, 141 Mulberry Street, Julian, PA 16844 (indicate for Tussey Mountain Hawkwatch).
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If you have questions or would like to visit the hawkwatch, feel free to contact Dan Ombalski at firstname.lastname@example.org, or David Brandes at email@example.com.Website maintained by David Brandes. All pictures copyright D Brandes or M Lanzone unless otherwise noted.