East Bay Hawk Watching at Vollmer Peak


Jim Chiropolos
 

Every year, I like to hawk watch, but Hawk Hill in Marin is a long way away. I never thought the east bay had a great area, as I have a great view east from my house below Vollmer, and have never seen any significant hawk movement.

Inspired by Mike Park’s Broad-winged hawk sighting in Tilden, Ethan Monk decided to Hawk watch Vollmer Peak. Ethan is a creative birder - and that is the highest praise I can give to a birder. Ethans hawk watch yield a Swainsons hawk - game on. Inspired by Ethan, with the sunny skies and winds from the north - I decided to hawk watch at lunch. Between us Ethan and I have now seen 11 raptor species from Vollmer Peak summit in three days. I am seeing around 20 to 25 raptors moving an hour at lunch. The big migration corridor is by Grizzley peak looking west towards Mt. Tam - no wonder why my east looking house panorama did not reveal a raptor movement. My watches best birds were a golden eagle close overhead and a broad- winged hawk reasonably close!

Compared to Hawk Hill, I have the following comments about the Vollmer hawk watch:
1. Bring a scope - most raptors are not that close.
2. Its maybe 20 percent of what hawk hill gets.
3. There are more resident red tailed hawks and Turkey vultures that can inflate migrant totals. Try to estimate resident birds and note possible resident birds on your ebird list. You can see a large Area of the east bay from the summit of Vollmer - I estimated today 4 resident red tails and 8 or so turkey vultures, and maybe two red shouldered hawks. Anything else is likely a non-resident.
4. With trees close by Vollmer had a better chance for passerine migrants during your hawk watch . I had cedar waxwings and a white throated sparrow today.

For Marin hawk hill counters -I’m pretty sure the raptors passing by Vollmer do not go by Hawk Hill - this is a different migration route.

The walk up to the summit can be very good for migrants or fox sparrows. I counted 15 fox sparrows -all sooty - in what I call fox sparrow alley - the shaded fern lined road /trail just before the trail cuts back to the steep grade to the summit.

Its cool to find more out about bird behavior in the east bay and probably my favorite patch 1 mile from home!

Good birding!

Jim Chiropolos
Orinda


Jim Chiropolos
 

One more comment to Hawk Watching Vollmer. It is completely weather dependent. If fog is present, no raptors will be moving. You want days with the wind from the north in the fall to push the birds south. The hawk watch is from the summit.

The hike is probably one mile and 250 feet up to the summit. The last section is steep - around a 20 percent or more grade.

Its a great view up there!

Jim