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 a recent morning, 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.