Bird Programs

Peregrine Watch

Click Here for 2019 Peregrine watch Updates!

Protecting Peregrines in the Gunks

The history of monitoring and protecting Peregrine Falcons on the Shawangunk Ridge dates back to the 1920s when brothers Dan and Keith Smiley began recording Peregrine sightings on Mohonk Mountain House and what are now Mohonk Preserve lands. On June 17, 1929, Dan and Keith scrambled down to the “Duck Hawk Ledge” on Sky Top to band two young Peregrines. The male that they banded flew east to west, traveling 1,300 miles in 3 months and marking the first documentation of an east to west, rather than north to south, migration.

From this early monitoring began a rich legacy of Peregrine Falcon research and an environmental success story in wildlife conservation. Dan Smiley continued to observe Peregrines throughout his lifetime and in May of 1955 he assisted Dr. Heinz Meng in banding a Peregrine on Undercliff. Dan noted that, “when Heinz purchased the rope for this job at a local hardware store, he was told that if the rope failed it would be replaced without charge.”

Dan noticed a slow decline in Peregrines over the decades, particularly in the 1940s and 1950s when DDT and other pesticides wreaked havoc on bird populations. The pesticides interfered with egg production and strength. By 1968, there were no known Peregrine nests east of the Mississippi River, where previously 400 pairs had been supported. In 1974, Dr. Meng began raising Peregrines in captivity and reintroducing them into the Gunks.

Finally, after an absence of over 40 years, on 1998 Peregrines returned to nest in the Gunks and have been breeding almost every year since. Preserve staff and volunteers have recorded the Peregrines’ favorite perches and their eyrie locations. In 2005, a Peregrine was banded at the Preserve for the first time in 50 years.

Since then, Peregrines have continued to return to eyries at the Preserve. As a New York State Endangered Species, Peregrine Falcons are protected and Mohonk Preserve cooperates with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to ensure the continued recovery of the species. In 2018, we had our first successful Peregrine fledglings in the Trapps since 2005!

Each year, the Peregrines are monitored by Preserve Conservation Science staff and volunteers as part of the Peregrine Watch program. This program runs from late February through August. Participants monitor and observe Peregrine behavior and breeding activity to identify areas that should be temporarily closed off for the breeding falcons. Once breeding nest sites are identified, participants observe in three locations of the ridge to view the breeding season and record their observations of the nest activity – egg laying, incubation, prey exchanges, presence of chicks, chick feeding, chick fledging, and young in flight. Participants also contribute to public outreach and interpretation of the importance of Peregrine conservation.

The Preserve temporarily closes areas of the cliffs to help support undisturbed breeding areas for the peregrines (usually in Late March through the beginning of summer). This volunteer opportunity ranges from Late February through June. Volunteers monitor and observe Peregrine Falcon behavior and breeding activity (courtship and copulation) to help identify areas that should be temporarily closed off for the breeding falcons. Once breeding nest sites are identified, volunteers observe in three locations of the Shawangunk Ridge to view the breeding season and record their observations of the nest activity (egg laying, incubation, prey exchanges, presence of chicks, chick feeding, chick fledging, and young in flight). Volunteers also contribute to public outreach and interpretation of the importance of Peregrine conservation.

Volunteer as a Peregrine Watch Volunteer

  • Join a knowledgeable group of birding volunteers
  • All ages and experience levels are welcome
  • No prior science, research, or bird background required (However, Bird Knowledge is Highly Recommended)
  • Receive training and group learning opportunities
  • Spend time outdoors
  • Scheduling is flexible
  • Hone skills in data collection and bird identification
  • Volunteers must be able to submit observation reports online (must have access to internet and a computer).
  • Volunteers may submit Peregrine Observation Reports online here. Or download a print version here.

Hawk Watch

Beginning in the 1950s, Dan Smiley archived daily counts of migrating raptors over the Ridge during the fall migration. Today, Hawk Watch volunteers continue to observe raptor migration from September through November at a migration count station on the Near Trapps off of the Millbrook Mountain Trail. Migrant raptors are identified and counted daily by volunteers. This data is then submitted to the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA). Between 2,000 and 5,000 raptors can be expected to migrate over the Shawangunks Ridge each autumn. This project is solely run by a group of volunteers that help to cover daily observations. For more information on Mohonk Preserve’s HMANA contribution, you can visit the Hawk Count Profile and Daily and Monthly Data Summaries

Volunteer as a Hawk Watch Volunteer

  • All ages and experience levels are welcome
  • No prior science, research, or bird background required o However, Bird Knowledge is Highly Recommended
  • Receive training and group learning opportunities
  • Scheduling is flexible
  • Hone skills in data collection and bird identification
  • Contribute to a national dataset with the Hawk Migration Association of North America

Bluebird Trail

Bluebird Trail is the newest citizen science program at the Mohonk Preserve, with the kick-off season starting in 2018. In 2017, with help from students from the San Miguel Academy of Newburgh and other volunteer groups, bluebird boxes were installed in grassland areas within the Preserve in efforts to promote the recovery of bluebirds and other native cavity-nesting bird species. The Bluebird Trail project seeks to monitor and record occupancy and productivity over time in relation to habitat quality. Volunteer citizen scientists will be trained in specific data collection and naturalist observation protocols and will conduct regular monitoring at assigned bluebird boxes located throughout the Preserve. 

Volunteer with the Bluebird Trail: 

  • Ability to identify common bird species strongly preferred. 
  • Monitoring takes places from the beginning of April through the end of August
  • Required equipment includes a personal pair of binoculars and camera (can be a phone camera)
  • Hone skills in data collection and bird observation
  • Be willing to hike off-trail through unmaintained fields
  • Receive training in assessment of nest progression
  • Observe bluebird boxes every 5-8 days
  • Must submit observations via online form on the same day as observation
     

 
For more information about the Bird Programs in the Citizen Science Program, please contact: 
Natalie Feldsine
Research Collection Citizen Science Coordinator
(845) 255-0919 ext. 1271
nfeldsine@mohonkpreserve.org

Banner Photo by John Mizel; Peregrine Watch by Carl Mueller; Breeding Bird Census by Deb Tracy-Kral; Hawk Watch by Karen Maloy-Brady; Christmas Bird Count by Carl Mueller; Bluebird Trail by John Mizel