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The Cumberland Gap Hawkwatch

This week’s blog post is written by Peter L., a Drummer, Ursids, and Gobblers alumni! He writes about the Cumberland Gap Hawkwatch and the experience of watching migrating raptors!

The Cumberland Gap Hawkwatch

A view along the cliffs above Cumberland Gap.

Peter L.

Perched atop the precipitous cliffs overlooking the Cumberland Narrows, the Cumberland Gap Hawkwatch offers a panoramic view of the nearby mountains and the city of Cumberland, Maryland. Situated within Wills Mountain State Park, which is just on the north side of the historic Cumberland Gap, Cumberland Gap Hawkwatch is unique for many reasons. There is a gated dirt road that goes from the edge of town in Cumberland towards the top of Wills Mountain. By walking a trail that comes directly off the road, you will arrive on the edge of a 200-foot sheer cliff face. Here, on the edge of the cliffs, the hawkwatchers sit to tally migrating raptors. Raptors such as hawks, eagles, falcons, ospreys, and vultures can all be seen at the Cumberland Gap Hawkwatch in the spring and fall.

Unfortunately, the Cumberland Gap Hawkwatch is not manned every day in migration season as most Hawkwatch sites are. The Cumberland Gap Hawkwatch was discovered only 6 years ago, and counts were occasionally conducted there until October 2015, when the counters who had watched there moved on to other interests. Because of the gate at the bottom of the road, a long walk up a very steep hill is required to reach the Hawkwatch. The cliffs may also be a deterrent to some. However, the panoramic views of up to 20 miles and the migrating raptors you see when you reach the top make it all worth it. This fall, for the first time in 2 years, a counter visited the Cumberland Gap Hawkwatch—it was me!

I had assisted with migrating raptor counts at the Allegheny Front Hawkwatch since last fall, but I had never conducted an official count on my own—until Cumberland. I found out about the Cumberland Gap Hawkwatch in October of this fall, and determined that I would like to go there and count. After I contacted the appropriate officials, I conducted my first-ever official migrating raptor count. On October 27, 2017, I tallied 36 migrating raptors, including 5 Golden Eagles. I counted at Cumberland Gap Hawkwatch 2 more times, on November 3 and November 17. All told, I counted 90 migrating raptors at Cumberland Gap Hawkwatch. All of the count data that I collected at Cumberland Gap has been posted to the Hawk Migration Association of North America’s website, HawkCount.org, and you can see the reports by following this link: https://hawkcount.org/siteinfo.php?rsite=720.

Another unique feature of the Cumberland Gap Hawkwatch is that the cliffs are also the home to a pair of nesting Peregrine Falcons. This is likely the first time Peregrine Falcons have nested in the Cumberland Narrows since the 1940’s. Peregrine Falcons started nesting on the cliffs at Cumberland several years ago, and it was the hawk counters who discovered them and alerted the Maryland Department of Natural Resources(DNR) to their presence. The area is now protected, and is closed during the summer when the Peregrines are nesting. After I reported that the Peregrine Falcons are still living on the cliffs, an official from the Hawk Migration Association of North America met with the Maryland DNR to ensure that the Peregrines remain protected.

I plan to count at the Cumberland Gap Hawkwatch this Spring and coming Fall. If you happen to feel adventurous this year, you should visit the Cumberland Gap Hawkwatch during migration season, which is March 5 – May 5 in the spring, and September 5-November 25 in the fall. I will be counting a few days there, and you might see me. Even if I am not there, you can keep an eye out for migrating raptors and enjoy the views!