I first visited Kiptopeke in 1995 with an avid birder who suggested we take a day to check out the hawkwatch. We were greeted by Brian Sullivan, who was the compiler that year and is now a co-leader of eBird. I was astounded by the variety and abundance of the migrating raptors and by Brian’s ability to identify a speck at great distance. I never thought a bird of prey could be as small as a male Sharp-shinned Hawk. I also watched bird banders in action at the park’s songbird- and hawk-banding operations, and on a subsequent trip, I was thrilled to release a banded harrier. I was hooked.
The hawkwatch was founded in 1977 and has been tracking raptor movements ever since. It’s one of the best places on the planet to observe migrating falcons. One-day totals of more than 350 Merlins have been recorded, and two or more 100-Peregrine days occur each fall.
A few years after my first visit, I became a banding sub-permittee, and today I’m a bander on the Raptor Team. I eagerly look forward to fall migration every year and the variety of birds that make the park a stopover on their way south. — Robert Klages
Robert Klages is the owner of a television production company in Virginia Beach. He has been a member of the Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory board of directors since 1996.