Look Out and Up at the Amazing Caesars Head Hawk Watch
by Lacey Eibert Keigley | September 5, 2016
The Upstate of South Carolina is full of surprises. Not only are people flocking to visit all our scenic area has to offer, but apparently birds of prey are doing the same!
Thousands of raptors fly past Caesars Head State Park annually — a South Carolina State Park located in Cleveland, SC, at the gorgeous Blue Ridge Escarpment — during the fall months.
This state park is popular with the hawks because of several dynamics unique to the area: the updraft, the distance between the park and other stopping points along the birds’ annual migratory path, and also the thermals specific to the escarpment due to the sheer cliff faces at the park.
“I’ve seen hawks take some pretty spectacular power dives,” shares Marion Clark. “People get excited about it.”
Marion’s been an avid participant in the Caesars Head Hawk Watch for the past 28 years. A retired pastor, he has served in the past as president of the Carolina Bird Club — a group that, alongside other volunteers, participates in an annual count of the hawks that cruise past Caesars Head’s 3,200-foot overlook every fall.
“One time I brought my grandson with me to count the hawks,” Marion recalls. “He was five years old. A bird flew by and my grandson said, ‘Look everybody. That’s a peregrine falcon. He can fly 242 miles an hour and is faster than a race car!’ Everyone laughed. It’s truly phenomenal how fast they fly.”
Although the broad-winged hawk is the most common sighting, the park’s bird count records (faithfully kept by volunteers like Marion since 1988) show that they’ve also spotted bald eagle, osprey, sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper’s hawk, merlin, American kestrel, Mississippi kite, turkey vulture, and black vulture, as well as ravens, warblers, hummingbirds, red-headed woodpeckers, and blue jays, too.
While these many birds have a noticeable presence at Caesars Head from the start of September through the end of November, they most often make their trek during the last half of September. That’s when the sky’s most likely to be full of them.
Of course, you can head up to Caesars Head anytime during that timeframe to have a pretty good chance of catching the hawks on their flight path. But the park also offers its annual informational Hawk Watch event with a park ranger, this year on Sept. 17 from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
“The hawks stay hunkered down until the warm air starts rising, so your best times of viewing are probably from about 11 to 4,” Marion says.
He adds that the visitor’s center at Caesars Head is happy to let you know how the conditions are looking if you give them a call in the morning.
“The views and the number of hawks migrating is almost entirely dependent on the weather,” Marion advises.
If temperatures are not right or there’s a heavy fog, then the hawks’ times will be varied and your viewing will be limited
Another great South Carolina location to spot these beautiful birds in motion is South Carolina’s tallest mountain: Sassafras Mountain in nearby Pickens County. The birds can also occasionally be spotted by Lake Jocassee, Lake Hartwell, and Table Rock as well, but the viewing area at Caesars Head is ideal.
A group of hawks is called a kettle, and one kettle can boast as many as 500 hawks at a time, although generally several hundred is more standard. 2014 still holds the record high at Caesars Head, with over 14,000 hawks passing by the state park.
When you make the lovely drive up to Caesars Head yourself, be sure to stop at the visitor’s center, where you can find more information and take fantastic photos of the birds in migration.
Traveling up the mountain and taking in the panoramic view make for a great morning’s adventure for all ages in your family.
And, even if the hawks aren’t putting on their best show that day for you, you’ve still enjoyed Mother Nature and some pretty spectacular landscapes up ahead.
Writer: Lacey Keigley // Editor: Celeste Hawkins // Photography: 1) Public domain and 2) Celeste Hawkins