the Turkey Point Hawk Watch
The Turkey Point Hawk Watch is an all-volunteer effort to count diurnal birds of prey (hawks, eagles, and vultures)
as they pass over Turkey Point and its historic lighthouse during the
fall southbound migration. The Hawk Watch was started in 1994 by
Charles Gant and Gary Griffith, members of the Cecil Bird Club. In
each of the first two seasons, over 2,500 birds of prey were
counted. The highest season total count to date was in 1999, when
over 7,000 raptors passed through.
Hawk Watch is coordinated by the Cecil Bird Club
and is staffed entirely by volunteers,
both club members and others. All are welcome to come to the Watch,
either to help in the official counting for a given day or to drop by for
a casual visit to admire the spectacle as these beautiful birds pass
Turkey Point is part of Elk
Neck State Park, and the Hawk Watch is made possible by the
kindness and cooperation of the park's staff. The Cecil Bird Club
extends a special thank you to the Maryland Department of Natural
Resources, the Elk Neck State Park administrative staff, and the
park rangers, all of whom have welcomed us and made special facilities
available to the Hawk Watch volunteers.
Where the Watch Is Located
Turkey Point is located in Cecil County, in the northeast corner of
Maryland. The Point is a peninsula of land between the Elk and
Northeast Rivers, at the head of the Chesapeake Bay. The peninsula
is roughly triangular, with the point facing south, and this shape
funnels and concentrates migrating birds, which are often reluctant to
reach Turkey Point, take I-95 or Route 40 into Cecil County. Exit
at Rt. 272 south and enter the town of North East. Continue
straight through town and remain on Rt. 272 south. Continue past
the main part of Elk Neck State Park (camping area, day use areas, and
administrative offices) and past the community of Chesapeake Isle.
Rt. 272 ends at the Turkey Point parking lot, about 11 miles south of the
town of North East.
Park at the lot and walk past the
barrier onto the gravel lane, with the cliffs and the Northeast River on
your right. Continue south on this lane, which will soon veer
inland, passing through two meadows and then through a small woodlot, to
emerge at the Point and its historic lighthouse. The official hawk
count is usually conducted in the meadow just before the lighthouse, near
the new Hawk Watch sign, but on some days, depending on wind conditions,
it may take place at the lighthouse area itself. Just look for
people with binoculars, looking up. It is exactly 0.9 mile to the usual
watch site from the parking lot and another 0.1 mile from the meadow to
the lighthouse. Most of the walk is on a gravel lane on level
ground, although the first part is a short uphill section with
spectacular views of the water from the top of the cliffs.
Seventeen species of diurnal raptors as listed below have been observed
at the Turkey Point Hawk Watch. Those marked with an asterisk are
not seen every season. All others are regular and seen annually.
- Black Vulture
- Turkey Vulture
- Bald Eagle
- Swallow-tailed Kite*
- Northern Harrier
- Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Cooper's Hawk
- Northern Goshawk*
- Red-shouldered Hawk
- Broad-winged Hawk
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Rough-legged Hawk*
- Golden Eagle*
- American Kestrel
- Peregrine Falcon
most common species at the Hawk Watch is Sharp-shinned Hawk. Though
not as numerous, Bald Eagles are seen almost daily throughout the season,
as are both vultures.
the Hawk Watch concentrates on diurnal birds of prey, Turkey Point is
also an important stopover for migrating Saw-whet Owls. A banding
project in fall of 1996 tallied more than 300 Northern Saw-whets.
Barred Owl, Eastern Screech-Owls, and Great Horned Owls are resident
year-round. The Cecil Bird Club traditionally sponsors an evening
owl walk near Halloween. Individuals who wish to look for owls on
their own need to get special permission, since the park is closed dusk
Turkey Point is also a
good place to observe small birds in migration. Especially notable
are movements of swallows, Blue Jays, American Robins, and warblers of
many kinds. Migrating loons, grebes, and ducks also pass over or
near Turkey Point.
Everyone is welcome to drop by the Hawk Watch. No advance notice is
necessary, but if you would like to make sure that an official counter
will be present to help you identify birds, please contact Pat Valdata, who will let
you know the volunteer schedule.
volunteer to be an official counter, please contact Coordinator of
Volunteers Pat Valdata.
Volunteers are welcome to count for one day or many. Those who are
able to commit time on a regular basis each week (for example, every
Wednesday) are encouraged to do so. Volunteers are asked to be at
the Hawk Watch by about 9 a.m. and to stay as long as possible. The
number of birds seen each season is directly related to volunteer hours,
so all who can are encouraged to count. Inexperienced birders can
be paired with those who are more experienced counters until they are
comfortable with the process.
What to Bring
Consider bringing the following, depending on the weather and how long
you plan to stay:
- Binoculars (definitely)
and spotting scope (optional).
- Count data sheet or
notebook & pencil.
- Something to sit on
(blanket or lightweight folding chair - we have a picnic bench, but
you might want somthing more comfortable).
- Comfortable walking shoes
and clothing. The one-mile walk to the Hawk Watch is on a
gravel lane and dress shoes are inappropriate.
- Lunch or snacks &
- Bug repellent (warm
- Layers of warm clothing
(Turkey Point often feels 10 degrees cooler than elsewhere).
- Bird identification
- Knapsack to carry it all
- Please, no radios or
cd/tape players. We like to listen to the birds.
portable restroom is available near the lighthouse at Turkey Point.
The closest public restrooms are north on Rt. 272, in the main part of
Elk Neck State Park at the Rogue's Harbor Boat Launch and at the
Northeast River Day Use Area (day user fee) (closed when the weather
Collecting and Submitting Data
Official counters are responsible for tallying the hourly and total
number of birds of each species that fly southbound past Turkey
Point. For example, a partial tally sheet might look like this:
11 am-12 noon
may download blank
count sheets here. (See
here for a sample of a completed data field sheet). Or, use
a simple notebook or make your own sheets.
are also asked to make simple notes on the weather;
for example, "cloudy, brisk wind from the NW, temp about 45
daily count sheets should be submitted promptly via e-mail to David Kimball, Hawk Watch
Data Compiler. Dave keeps a running tally of the data so that
counters know approximately how many birds are being seen. At the
end of the season, the data are submitted to the Hawk Migration Association of North America