Gunsight Mountain -- Season-long Alaska hawkwatch targets Golden Eagles and Harlan's Hawks

By Team eBird April 8, 2016
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Adult Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk, Gunsight Mountain, AK, April. Photo by Brian Sullivan.

Each spring, thousands of migrating raptors move past Gunsight Mountain in south-central Alaska on their way back to summer breeding grounds.  This valley migration site is best known for its large concentrations of the Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawks, as well as for good numbers of Golden Eagles, Rough-legged Hawks, Northern Harriers, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Bald Eagles, and Northern Goshawks. This year, HawkWatch International is conducting the first, full-season raptor migration count at Gunsight Mountain from March 7 – May 15, 2016, and you can track the results on eBird!

Gunsight Mountain lies in the Tahneta Pass between the Chugach and Talkeetna Mountain ranges, 120 miles northeast of Anchorage along the Glenn Highway.  These two mountain ranges act as a natural funnel, channeling migrating raptors through the Tahneta Pass where they can be easily counted by biologists on the ground. Gunsight Mountain has been known as a good location to see migrating spring raptors since the 1970s, with sporadic and informal counts first conducted by Bob Dittrich and Ted Swem. Paul and Cecily Fritz voluntarily counted migrating raptors at Gunsight during the 2003 – 2009 spring seasons, however a full-season of standardized migration counts has never been conducted, and there are currently no formal sites monitoring raptor migration in Alaska or northwest Canada.

Immature Golden Eagle, Gunsight Mountain, AK, April. Photo by Brian Sullivan.

Immature Golden Eagle, Gunsight Mountain, AK, April. Photo by Brian Sullivan.

Experienced hawk counters will be observing from the milepost 121 pullout from March 7 – March 31 (better for Golden Eagles), before switching to the milepost 120 pullout from April 1 – May 15 (better for Harlan’s Hawks). The Anchorage Audubon Society and Mat-Su Birders will also be holding their annual Hawk Watch Weekend April 16 & 17 from the milepost 118.8 pullout. Visit the HawkWatch International website for more information about Gunsight, and consider a visit to North America’s northern-most raptor migration site!” (Contributed by Neil Paprocki, HawkWatch International)

Hawk watchers enjoy a sky filled with Alaska's best raptors at Gunsight Mountain, April. Photo by Brian Sullivan.

Hawk watchers enjoy a sky filled with Alaska’s best raptors at Gunsight Mountain, April. Photo by Brian Sullivan.

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