MEXICO CITY, NY – “Golden Eagle, sixty degrees, over three,” falcon spotter Brandon Brogle called out directions, and a flash of sunlight shone through the binocular lenses of a dozen avid birdwatchers as They scanned the skies for a large raptor passing over the Derby Hill Bird Sanctuary.
The nationally acclaimed hotspot for migratory bird sightings in Mexico City is in full swing as migration season attracts large groups of bird watchers to watch the annual show. The flocks of avians passing over the bluff overlooking Lake Ontario are impressive even to the naked eye, their numbers nearly impossible to count without the aid of some sort of mechanical device.
Brogle wandered off as he followed the flocks of raptors, keeping an accurate count of many species on an old but reliable tabulating machine.
The 24-year-old from Bethlehem in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley arrived in Derby Hill just as the ice was breaking up on Lake Ontario and the annual spring migration was beginning. Brogle resides in a small cottage owned by the Onondaga Audubon Society, a short walk from the main viewing grounds atop Windblown Hill.
He scanned the sky from sunrise to sunset, pausing only when precipitation made spotting impossible.
Brogle developed a fascination with ornithology while studying biology at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and learned the art of hawk counting as an intern at Hawk Mountain in Kempton, Pennsylvania.
Brogle had some knowledge of Derby Hill before applying for the seasonal job, but was ‘blown away’ by the numbers released by the famed Oswego County shrine. in line.
“It’s been amazing so far,” Brogle said. “Birds don’t take a day off.”
Brogle constantly interacts with the birdwatchers who congregate atop the hill, pointing to flocks of birds and single birds, indulging in regular banter, speaking a language that indicates a thorough knowledge of avian science and a appreciation of the wonders of nature.
Brogle said working at Derby Hill has been very rewarding, especially when it comes to the group of Falcon Counting veterans he bonded with over the spring, people who have invested 30 to 50 years in counting falcons and building an impressive knowledge base. . Experts such as Gerry Smith, Dave Wheeler, and Paul Fritz are described by Brogle as “normal people who are intensely aware and capable.”
According to Brogle, Derby Hill attracts a range of wildlife enthusiasts, from first-time visitors to seasoned birdwatchers who travel great distances to witness the migration. The watch is a group effort, with 60,717 raptors counted as of April 26 and 68,725 numbered since the watch began. On April 24, 19,335 Broadwing Hawks (Buteo platypterus) passed over Derby Hill.
Brogle’s enthusiasm for his work is undeniable, his enthusiasm as a line of birds in flight approaches the cliff and gets close enough to be identified and counted beaming in the cool air and inspiring both experts and novices as they scan the sky.
“Right now it’s very intense, making sure no bird goes unnoticed, but at the end of the day, it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done,” Brogle said.