Hawkwatchers on the summit of Mount Watatic

They’re baaack … like that line from Gremlins, people are beginning to clog the roads to ooh and aah at the fall foliage. For several years, I lived out along the Mohawk Trail and had a bird’s-eye view of the annual ritual. In good seasons, the bumper-to-bumper traffic along Massachusett Route 2 would stretch far into the hills and long after dark their headlights would wind through the valleys. Getting anywhere isn’t half the battle, it is the battle. There’s a festive atmosphere to everything, with tourists stopping at roadside stands to buy pumpkins, apple cider and whatever else the locals had to sell. Armies of photographers would line up at favorite spots to capture the colorful landscape. In bad weather, however, the atmosphere would be distinctly different, looking more like a dysfunctional family festival. Parents tight-lipped and glaring at each other. Adolescents pouting, with arms crossed, pretending they weren’t related to anyone in sight. Younger children whining to let everyone know they wanted to be somewhere else.

Anyway, this year looks to be a spectacular year for colorful foliage, thanks to the wet summer we had here. Farmers are reporting a pumpkin shortage, because the pumkin crop got a late start and it seems the foliage may be changing a bit early. On the other hand, we have a bumper crop of acorns and apples.

One of my favorite seasonal activities is to devote a liesurely afternoon to hawk-watching. Here in Central Massachusets, we’re blessed with a number of good vantage points, most notably Mount Watatic and Mount Wachusett. I went up to Mount Watatic, which straddles the New Hampshire-Massachusetts border in Ashby and Ashburnham last Sunday, a spectacularly clear and beautiful day. There were plenty of hikers … the small lot at the base was full and cars were parked for a long way along both sides of Route 119. What was especially nice was to see the numbes of families out to enjoy the afternoon. This was paticularly heartening, because both the Red Sox and Patriots were playing that afternoon which tends to keep people inside.

The number of hawks seemed to be a bit sparse this year, a few broadwings and an osprey were all I could readily identify. There were a few others that I didn’t get a good enough view of to identify. I figured I may have missed the peak of the migration, until one of the other hawkwatchers up there remarked that there didn’t seem to be as many this year, and this was his fourth or fifth trip up. He had just come back from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where he had also gone for some hawkwatching. Now there’s a dedicated birder.