Students aren’t the only creatures that tend to migrate at summer’s end. Many species of birds migrate south this time of year – including birds that dine on birds, snakes, large insects and small mammals.
Those are called raptors, and they include include eagles, falcons, owls, vultures – and hawks.
You can see red-shouldered, red-tailed and cooper’s hawks in metro Charlotte, especially in suburban and rural areas. Reason? Food here is plentiful. Hawks have great eyesight and fly very fast – they’re great hunters. Hawks are also intelligent and, like falcons, have been also used by humans as hunters for thousands of years.
At the Charlotte Raptor Center (www.carolinaraptorcenter.org), you can see 11 species of hawks living in enclosures; they are birds that can’t survive in the wild.
Wild hawks head south for the winter, typically migrating in a straight direction; the long-haul species leave earlier. Reaching their destination early is an asset – they have first pick for nesting areas, food and finding mates.
And right about now is when northern hawks are heading this way.
Chimney Rock State Park, near Lake Lure, is staging Flock to the Rock on Sept. 19 to coincide with hawk migration. Next Saturday is the sixth time the event will be staged at the 315-foot-tall granite slab that’s a year-round landmark for birds as well as humans. Chimney Rock is an official site on the N.C. Birding Trail. Birders with binoculars and cameras head there to view hundreds of species, from warblers to peregrine falcons (aerial acrobats that can dive at 60 mph).
Flock to the Rock activities, included in park admission, are for all ages and begin at 7:30 a.m. with an early bird walk led by a park naturalist.
Special events – included in park admission – run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and include a daylong display of a live great horned owl and a red-tailed hawk on the plaza and a hawk count with a park naturalist. There’s a live-birds “Wings to Soar: Birds in Flight” show offered at 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m., and bird walks for beginners beginning at at noon and 2 p.m.
The hawk count takes place at the top of Chimney Rock. How many will you see? In past years, the count has ranged from dozens to hundreds of them.
Park admission is $13; $6 for ages 5-15; 4 and younger, free. If attending the early-morning bird walk (advance registration required), park admission is $22, $12 for ages 5-15.
Wear comfortable clothing – especially walking/hiking shoes. Enjoy the seasonal wildflowers and stunning year-round vistas. You’ll want to try the historic park’s various trails – they range from easy to strenuous. Don’t miss the 0.75 trail that leads to the base of Hickory Nut Falls; that 404-foot cascade was featured in the climax of the 1992 version of “The Last of the Mohicans.”
Chimney Rock State Park is two hours west of Charlotte. Take I-85 South to the Kings Mountain exit; take U.S. 74 Bypass West to N.C. 9 (at Beulah); follow N.C. 9 North to Lake Lure and turn left onto U.S. 64/U.S. 74 Alternate. The park is about 21/2 miles ahead, on your left.
Park details: chimneyrockpark.com.
P.S. The park entrance is in the town of Chimney Rock, whose Main Street has eateries and shops geared to tourists. Be aware that Gale’s Chimney Rock Shop is accurately billed as “The only gift shop in Western N.C. with a singing outhouse.” The motion-activated deer head mounted on the wall does “Sweet Home Alabama.”