One of central Pennsylvania’s best birding features is the spring migration of Golden Eagles along Tussey Mountain. This ridge runs south of State College from northeast to southwest and is the route that essentially the entire eastern population of Golden Eagles follows north each March.
Hawk watching and I have an uneventful past. I’ve never been present for a good hawk flight day, despite spending time at many of eastern North America’s best hawk watch locations: Hawk Mountain, Snicker’s Gap, Cape May, Kiptopeake, Waggoner’s Gap. To be fair, many of these trips were too early or too late in the season for big flights of hawks. Even so, I haven’t been impressed with hawk watching. In addition, I’m not great at identifying raptors perhaps because basically all I ever saw in Virginia and Pennsylvania were Red-tailed Hawks. More diverse groups such as warblers held my interest.
The peak of spring Golden Eagle migration along Tussey Mountain is in the first two weeks of March—perfect timing with spring break. Each year I was out of town, missing the migration even if I had decided to make it up to the ridge. 2010 was no exception, but I wanted to see a Golden Eagle in Centre County before I left the state. So on March 1st, a few days before leaving for New Mexico for spring break, I made the trip up to the Tussey Mountain site.
The weather in town wasn’t a bit chilly, but I was unprepared for the wind on the mountain. I came dressed in jeans, a sweater, a jacket, and a knit hat; I forgot the essential gloves. After a hike through snow for about ⅔ of a mile, I found several hawk watchers bundled up in the open clearing. I looked out of place and miserably cold.
Because of the wind and snow squalls, very few hawks were moving around. Some bluebird and nuthatches flew by, but otherwise all other life was staying warm out of the wind. Eventually a large hawk flew by on the Centre County side of the mountain, which we finally decided was a Golden Eagle based on its shape and manner of flying. Well, I’d seen one, I didn’t freeze, and I still have yet to be amazed at a hawk watch. (Later in the month but before I returned from New Mexico, the counters saw 20 to 30 eagles several days in a row which would have been amazing.)