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Hawks watchers on Jacks Mountain. The first viewing season is in the fall, until the end of November.

MCVEYTOWN — When Cindy Bickel says she’ll stare at you like a hawk, Belleville’s wife literally means it.

Bickel isn’t trying to get into your business, she’s just a birdie at heart. Unless, of course, you share a love for birdwatching like her.

You’ll often find Bickel and others at the lookout along Jacks Mountain between McVeytown and Belleville, scanning the skies for soaring raptors through his binoculars.

“I got involved because my mother came across the Hawk watch in the early 1990s and was hooked,” said Bikel. “I used to ride with her once in a while, but I really didn’t ride the mountain much until I retired myself.”

Today, dedicated observers like Bickel spend hours at the lookout, especially during the annual fall migration that began September 1 and continues through November 30.

The Jacks Mountain Hawk Watch is a group of trained volunteer observers who identify and record raptors passing overhead during seasonal migration.

With easy drive-up access to the lookout, the watch is a great place for the young and young-at-heart to witness the natural beauty of the Juniata Valley firsthand while joining in the hunt for soaring birds heading to the south to warmer climates for the winter.

“My favorite part?” said Bikel. “Watching hundreds of Broad-winged Hawks in large groups called Kettles rise from either valley and climb so high on thermals that they actually disappear from sight, often in clouds.”

And it’s not just hawks.

“There’s nothing more beautiful than an adult bald eagle or two gliding by and staring at us, unless it’s a golden eagle and then I get really excited,” she says.

Hawk Watchers is gearing up for its 29th year as the official site of the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA).

Visitors can see bald and golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, Cooper’s hawks, brown hawks, peregrine falcons, merlins, broad-winged hawks, American kestrels and ospreys throughout the season.

Bickel says his fellow falcon watchers also make time on the mountain special.

“The friendships forged with others who share the love of watches are priceless,” she says.

Bickel hopes other members of the community will watch the hawks from the lookout.

“It is best to arrive before noon as the car parks can fill up quickly. » she advises. “10 a.m. to 2 p.m. is often prime time to watch raptors on Jacks Mountain.”

In-flight photos

Members of the Jacks Mountain group took hundreds of photos of the birds and shared them on social media, especially Facebook.

Craig Kochel, a retired geology professor at Bucknell University, and Kenneth Tucker, a retired Huntingdon County clerk, hunter and naturalist, each posted stunning photographs of the hawks in flight.

“I have always loved photography, but I never had enough time to devote myself to it until my retirement.” Kochel said. “I have been photographing raptors, especially when they are migrating, for four or five years now.

“I know other people like to see pictures of birds of prey,” he added. “It’s good when I get a good one. It’s fun to post them (on Facebook). My hope is to spark some interest in others.

Even when photos don’t turn up, they can still prove useful in identifying bird species.

“There are a lot of intricacies with the different birds,” Kochel said. “When you only have a 10-second view, you can magnify the photo on the computer and see what it is. It’s definitely a good support for identification.

Kochel says the “citizen science” is also intriguing. Hawk watchers report their daily count of bird sightings on HMANA’s website, HawkCount.org. The numbers reported in Mifflin County help groups in other parts of the country determine when the birds will reach their areas.

“Anyone can access the site and see the wave of movement of the hawks”, said Kochel, who has been making the 80-minute drive from her Mifflinburg home to the Jacks Mountain Lookout for nearly 20 years. He has been an official observer of the Jacks Mountain group for eight years, carrying out counts a few days a week.

“It’s the closest place to watch the falcons,” he said. “It’s definitely the one with the best view.”

Welcome new members

Diane Stewart was walking home from the grocery store in October 2020 when she passed the gazebo and stopped to enjoy the view.

“I was in Belleville looking for produce and decided to head home via Belleville Mountain because it was such a beautiful day,” said Lewistown resident Stewart.

Stewart met Kochel, Tucker and site manager Darrell Smith and was hooked almost instantly. The view was breathtaking and the prospect of seeing the migration was tantalizing.

“They are the real backbone of the watch”, said Stewart. “They explained it to me.

“Last September I rode for a day or two and was hooked.”

Stewart decided to join the Jacks Mountain Hawk Watch, especially after learning she could report the number of bird sightings. She is in training to become an official observer.

“After a few weeks I went out and bought binoculars and showed up on the mountain three or four times a week,” said Stewart. “The thrill of seeing an eagle soar through space above the road and directly above us is exhilarating. And the camaraderie you feel with people you don’t even know is amazing.

She encourages others to experience it, hoping they find falcon watching as rewarding as she does.

“If anyone has an interest in seeing bald eagles, golden eagles, swarms of hawks or monarch butterflies during their migration, they will want to come to the mountain with a pair of binoculars and a chair,” said Stewart. “And, if by chance there are only a few birds migrating that day, there is always the beauty of the view whether you are looking at Ferguson Valley or Belleville. There is nothing quite like refreshing the soul.

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