| Listening to Jerry McWilliams, founder of the Presque Isle Hawk Watch, recount the history of the Lake Erie phenomenon is akin to having a front row seat to a gifted storyteller with all the insight and insider knowledge that makes a person immediately want to jump in the car, drive to the hawk watch site, and start counting!|
Although preceded by many years of informal counts and observations, the Presque Isle Hawk Watch on the shores of Lake Erie became official in 2008. Situated at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center in Presque Isle State Park, the hawk watch takes flight every spring from March 1st through May 31st.
Known for the record-setting numbers of Turkey Vultures that migrate overhead each year (daily high average of 2,800), the site also boasts impressive counts of other well-known raptor species including an average season daily highof 26 for Bald Eagles and 1731 for Broad-winged Hawks. Presque Isle is also an excellent spot for catching sight of the unexpected. Over the years, Short-eared Owls, a smattering of Swallow-tailed and Mississippi Kites, a large flock of whimbrels, an ibis, an Olive-sided Flycatcher, and a couple of Yellow-headed Blackbirds have all graced the shores of Lake Erie. And a rather famous trio of radio-tagged Whooping Cranes were reported at the Ripley Hawk Watch in New York, just 20 miles northeast of the Presque Isle Hawk Watch.
The magic is in the south and southwest winds. These winds nudge the birds against the southern shore of Lake Erie, creating a stacking effect that results in an incredible overhead spectacle of birds in flight. Over a narrow strip of shoreline, hawk watchers, beguiled tourists, and park visitors need only look up to see nature in motion and feel they are part of the rhythm of migration. As an added treat, the southerly winds that are so vital to migrating raptors also bring a host of other winged delights including red admiral butterflies, black saddlebag and green darner dragonflies, and thousands of American Robins, Blue Jays, American Crows, and blackbirds.
Whether a seasoned counter or a first-time watcher, birders of all levels enjoy the Presque Isle Hawk Watch. And with plans to expand the site to include a new observation deck in the coming years, there will be even more to love and enjoy!