Hawk Watching Harvey Knob
There’s an annual event in the Roanoke area that, despite having some 10,000 participants, goes unnoticed by almost everyone. Yet all you have to do is turn your eyes skyward to witness it.
The mountains that surround us make great seats from which to watch the annual fall hawk migration. Heated air from sun-warmed cliffs and rock outcroppings couples with warm air rising from the lowlands to create forceful drafts, or thermals, that the hawks use to soar upward. And, by gliding near the crest of the ridges, they are able to take advantage of the winds that strike the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains where air currents are forced upward over the mountain crests.
Sometimes as early as mid-August, ospreys, American kestrels and a few bald eagles begin the procession southward. The migration begins in earnest in the middle of September as broad-winged hawks take to the skies. Peak daily sightings of 1,000 or more are not uncommon. In early October, peregrine falcons join the movement, while later in the month, one of the smallest hawks, the sharp-shinned, becomes the dominant migrant. Joining the procession at this time are the larger Cooper’s hawks. Making use of the cold winds of November, red-tailed hawks, northern harriers and red-shouldered hawks zip by leafless trees. Soaring over a Roanoke Valley that could be covered by December snows, northern goshawks and golden eagles bring the migratory season to a close.
Members of the Roanoke Valley Bird Club (roanokevalleybirdclub.com) have been gathering at Harvey’s Knob Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 95.3 just north of Roanoke for decades. According to club president, Elly Wefel, anyone is welcome to join them for the hawk watches, or any of dozens of other outings throughout the year. One of the most rewarding aerial attractions is the opportunity to witness a kettle, a flock of broad-wings riding a thermal, the hundreds of birds rising as one giant spiral in the sky. Broad-wings may end up taking journeys of more than 4,000 miles, migrating from the boreal forests of Canada to Peru. The club also sends data to the Hawk Migration Association of North America.
Other good hawk-watching places close to Roanoke include the Roanoke Mountain Overlook at Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 120.4, Woodpecker Ridge Nature Center in Botetourt County and the Allegheny Trail’s Hanging Rock Raptor Migration Observatory on Peters Mountain along the Craig County, Va./Monroe County, W.Va. border.
Learn more from Leonard Adkins at habitualhiker.com.
From Roanoke, drive east on U.S. 460 to its crossing of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Blue Ridge, at parkway milepost 105.8. Take the parkway north toward Peaks of Otter, to milepost 95.3, the Harvey’s Knob Overlook, where there is also an Appalachian Trail crossing.