HawkWatch International began its 16th season of raptor migration research at Chelan Ridge, located southwest of Twisp.
As volunteers keep track of the types and numbers of raptors they see during the annual southern migration, the public is encouraged to visit the observation station. Free education programs on raptor and migration ecology are provided to visitors.
Sometimes, depending on staff availability, captured hawks are brought from a banding site to the observation station so that visitors can see them up close before the birds are released.
The data collected at the Chelan Ridge site helps scientists understand raptor migration and population trends, as well as unearth changes in the environment, according to a HawkWatch news release.
Raptors are good indicators of environmental health because they feed at the top of the food chain.
HawkWatch partners with the Okanogan and Wenatchee national forests to monitor and learn more about raptors migrating through the Eastern Cascades of Washington within the Pacific Flyway.
The Chelan Ridge site is one of eight counting sites run by the organization, and one of the only six locations where birds are captured, banded, and released. After exploratory surveys in 1997, an observation post along the primary migration route used by Pacific Northwest birds of prey was created, with standardized counts starting in 1998.
Steady winds along the ridge make it a good location to see eagles, hawks and falcons migrating south.
The seasonal count is usually 2,000-3,000 birds from up to 17 species. The most commonly seen species are the sharp-shinned hawk, red-tailed hawk, Cooper’s hawk, northern harrier, golden eagle and American kestrel.
As long as the weather allows, the project will run through Oct. 27. The migration reaches its peak at the end of September and the beginning of October.
A four-wheel drive, or high clearance vehicle, is recommended for the rough road leading to the site, but they aren’t necessary. From the parking areas, it is about a half-mile hike to the observation ridge.