Birds of Balch Hill
Balch Hill is a stop on the Connecticut River Birding Trail. Year-round residents include barred owls, ruffed grouse, turkeys, blue jays, and chickadees. Spring brings waves of warblers and other migrating birds.
No time is more exciting than the fall migration of hawks over the open summit. Red-tailed and sharp-shinned hawks, kestrels, and even bald eagles ride the thermals on their way south. The best hawk-watching occurs in late September to late October on bright days with a northwest wind after a spell of bad weather. On one morning in 2012, volunteer hawk watch leader David Merker saw six Bald Eagles high over Balch Hill. The following week, he recorded (in only two hours!) 246 Redtailed Hawks, a Bald Eagle, 17 Cooper’s Hawks, one Sharp-shinned Hawk, a Kestrel, 16 Turkey Vultures, 8 Ravens, and too many crows to count.
The wildlife diversity of the Balch Hill Natural Area reflects its varied habitat, from open meadow at the summit to shrubby edges and deep forest. Older openings invite fruiting brambles that attract many diners, including bears. Balch Hill is also home to white-tailed deer, porcupine, raccoon, fisher, short-tailed weasel, skunk, red fox, snowshoe hare, red and gray squirrels. Small mammals include voles, mice, and shrews. These creatures appreciate the hiding places offered by brush piles when owls and other predators are near.
About the deer…
We’ve been watching both the deer and their snacking habits at Balch Hill for some time, and when the Town of Hanover approached us in the fall of 2013 about opening Balch Hill for a trial archery season to help thin an increasingly unhealthy herd, we gave the idea serious consideration. A survey of our Balch Hill neighbors in 2011 had indicated strong support for hunting to control the deer population. Many Balch Hill deer are noticeably smaller these days, likely due to competition.
After only one year, Dartmouth forest ecology studies show deer browse is having an impact on the Natural Area.
Other studies have found that over-browsing by deer favors invasive plants, reduces cover for other wildlife, and reduces nesting bird habitat and abundance.
The Natural Area will be open to archers carrying a special Town permit from November 1 through the rest of deer season (ends December 15, 2013). The Town limits the number of permits issued, and no firearms will be allowed. The trails and summit remain open for you to enjoy. Signs at each trailhead alert trail users. We recommend wearing safety orange (avoid white clothing). Your pet should be on a leash or wear a safety vest (available at area hardware and pet supply stores). A headlamp is a good idea at dawn or dusk.