Birders gather at the Montclair Hawkwatch.  (COURTESY RIC COHN)
Birders gather at the Montclair Hawkwatch.

On Saturday, May 13, the Montclair Broadwings will participate in the 40th annual World Series of Birding, an international competition pitting bird lover against bird lover. The group, made up of members of the Montclair Bird Club, the Montclair High School Bird Club and the Montclair community, is hoping to raise funds to support its beloved Montclair Hawkwatch.  

The World Series of Birding, organized by the New Jersey Audubon Society, began in 1983 and features awards in different categories, including the Urner-Stone Cup for the team that finds the highest number of species throughout the state.

The Montclair Broadwings will be officially counting birds from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on May 13, Evan Cutler, Montclair Bird Club vice president, said. The team will sit across from the hawkwatch in Mills Reservation, where birds’ spring flight patterns are more visible.

The Broadwings’ involvement will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the competition, but also aim to raise $50,000 to create a fund for upkeep of the Montclair Hawkwatch, the second-oldest continuous hawkwatch in the country, built in 1957. 

The platform, constructed on a 500-foot ledge, features views of New York City, the peaks of the Ramapo Mountains and many, many birds. A one-day count at the hawkwatch in 1988 tallied more than 17,400 broad-winged hawks, Cutler said. 

The Montclair Bird Club gifted the hawkwatch to New Jersey Audubon in 1959, but still assists with some upkeep. The stairs up to the watch, built by Montclair Bird Club members years ago, are in need of repair, and surrounding landscaping needs work to control the spread of Japanese knotweed and other invasive plants, Cutler said. 

As of April 24, the Montclair Broadwings raised over $5,800 on the World Series website. The team is also honoring Else Greenstone, a former Bird Club president who coordinated the hawkwatch for over 30 years, with its competition theme of Counting for Else. 

“Most people in town don’t even know this place exists,” Cutler said of the hawkwatch. “People come from an hour or two hours away to spend the day here. And yet, you have people who have lived here their whole lives and don’t even know this place is here.”  

The Montclair Bird Club wants to bring more attention to the hawkwatch and the experiences it provides. For Cutler, the goal is to help the next generation of birders become more knowledgeable.

“I think the more people learn about birds, the more they’ll appreciate them and realize the importance of saving them,” he said. 

A main component of growing the town’s young birder population has come in the form of a junior at Montclair High School, Ezra Siegartel.

Siegartel first entered the world of birding while attending a summer camp in middle school. He started going on bird walks with a nature counselor and learning about birds. Bird walks, according to Siegartel, are when a group of people interested in birds, with field guides and binoculars in hand, walk around a forest area or another spot where birds may be and quietly try to spot and listen for birds. 

“You basically just try to see how many birds you can see, but also look at the natural beauty of the world around you,” he said.

At his camp, if a camper went on a certain number of bird walks and learned certain information about birds, he or she was gifted a pair of Nikon binoculars.

“I decided that I would achieve that goal, and I did,” Siegartel, whose favorite bird is the Atlantic puffin, said. “Ever since then, I just have been interested in birds.”

During his freshman year of high school he was introduced to the Montclair Bird Club through his involvement in the school’s Friends of Rand Park Club. 

Then, earlier this school year, Siegartel saw Cutler post on Facebook about hoping to find a student to start a bird club at the high school. He reached out to Cutler and began creating the club. After finding a sponsor in science teacher William Mellman, the club started holding meetings, and it now has more than 15 members, Siegartel said. 

The club meets during lunch every two to three weeks. Members give presentations on a bird of the day, Siegartel creates little quizzes about birds, and the group plans trips to bird-watch on weekends. 

Teaching classmates about birds and seeing them remember information from the club meetings has made him really happy, he said. 

The Montclair Hawkwatch is open to the public from Sept. 1 through Nov. 30 of each year, and a full-time hawk counter sits at the spot each day during the open months to collect an official count. During the hawkwatch open months, Cutler, club members and the larger Montclair community spend their days on the platform, sitting in folding chairs and eating snacks as they keep their eyes and binoculars trained to the sky. The club has welcomed all levels to join, from beginners to some of the world’s top birders, Cutler said.

“It’s just a neat way to spend a fall day,” he said. 

To learn more about joining the Montclair team at the World Series or donating to the hawkwatch fund, visit the Montclair Bird Club’s Facebook page.

Talia (she/her) is the education reporter for Montclair Local and is always looking for ways to view stories through a solutions journalism lens. She has spent time in newsrooms of all sizes and scopes....