You probably already knew this fun fact: raptors migrate by day and songbirds migrate at night. A ridgeline hike paired with overnight camping during a full moon week in September and October is a wonderful opportunity to view hawk migration by day and songbird migration at night.
For over 10,000 years, raptors have traversed the Pacific Coast Flyway along the eastern slopes of the Northern Cascades in Washington state. Since 1998, scientists with HawkWatch International (HWI) have perched along Chelan Ridge to conduct a yearly count. Seven main species of raptors travel along the Methow Valley ridgelines during migration season: accipiters, buteos, falcons, eagles, osprey, turkey vultures and northern harriers. Visitors are welcome to come learn about migration ecology, raptor identification and ongoing research efforts.
Side note: The drive is not for the faint of heart, it is comparable to the road to Harts Pass, only narrower. Visit https://hawkwatch.org/chelan for directions to the Chelan Ridge HawkWatch site and to check out current count totals.
Nearby campgrounds, such as South Navarre near the Chelan Ridge HawkWatch site, are a unique spot to observe nighttime migration of songbirds. The week of a full moon is the best time to observe the midnight migration peak as flocks of birds travel north to south. Early morning is the best time to view resting song birds in meadowlands.
The western tanager, yellow and yellow-rumped warblers, western and mountain bluebirds, Bullock’s orioles, and rufous and calliope hummingbirds are just a few songbirds migrating through the Methow Valley. The Summer Blossom trail located near the South Navarre campground is a stunning ridgeline trail where hikers can observe more hawks during the day.
The Birdcast migration dashboard at https://birdcast.info uses weather satellite data to observe nocturnal bird migration by county. This last weekend, there were 191,800 estimated birds in flight above Okanogan County at 12:20 a.m. In mid-September this number is expected to be closer to 400,000 birds. The migration dashboard shows numbers of birds in flight, direction, speed and altitude.
Songbirds navigate by star patterns and the rotation of the night sky. Bright lights disorientate birds during nighttime migration, causing the birds to circle endlessly — expending valuable energy and leaving them exhausted and vulnerable to predators. To help songbirds safely navigate a night sky, the National Audubon Society recommends homes and businesses turn off exterior decorative lighting, install downward facing shades to eliminate upward glare, use automatic motion sensors and timers, and use window shades or turn off interior lights on upper stories.
To protect migrating birds this season, visit the Methow Dark Sky Coalition website at www.methowdarksky.org for affordable ideas to be dark sky friendly. To get started, follow these simple outdoor lighting guidelines to protect the Methow’s dark skies:
- lights should only be on when needed.
- only light the area needed.
- be no brighter than necessary.
- minimize blue light emissions.
- be fully shielded.
The biggest threat to hawks is human activity. When humans remove natural grasses, predatory birds lose their primary food source: rodents. Hawks die from consuming poisoned rodents, fish that contain lead sinkers, and carcasses containing lead ammunition. People can be good neighbors and protectors of hawks by using traps instead of poison for rodents, opting for non-lead sinkers and ammunition, and cleaning up hooks and spent ammunition when fishing and hunting.