"We average about 1,500 visitors a year when we're up here," Davis said. "I enjoy meeting new people at least as much as I like seeing hawks."
The rocky, mile-long walk to the tower along the Allegheny Trail from a parking lot off Limestone Hill Road didn't keep 12 visitors from appearing at Hanging Rock on Tuesday. Among those spending time at the tower were Franz Behmer and Annelie Bauman of Bayreuth, Germany, and their local hosts, Kevin and Holly Harvey of Greenville, and Oak Hill area residents B.J. Bernath and Steve Piotrowski, who motorcycled to the Hanging Rock trailhead.
"I love it up here," said Bernath, who was making his third trip to Hanging Rock, shortly before a bald eagle glided into view, corkscrewed its way upward in a thermal, and soared southward after gaining several hundred feet of elevation.
"I've seen bald eagles when I was living in Colorado," Piotrowski said. "But this is my first West Virginia eagle."
Having foreign visitors at Hanging Rock is not all that rare, according to Davis. "We had an Austrian boy up here earlier this season," he said.
After posting a season-high daily count of 187 raptors on Monday, Tuesday's tally dropped to eight, because of prevailing winds shifting from the northwest to the southeast.
"The birds don't want to expend any more energy than they have to, so they'll wait until they won't have to be flying into the wind before they move on in bigger numbers," Davis said.
Many of the hawks, including most of the broadwings, travel to South America via Texas to overwinter.
"Broadwings are the only raptor that migrates in large numbers," Davis said. "It's usually around Sept. 20 that the largest numbers of them are flying over here."
When mid-September flying conditions are optimal, hundreds of broadwings can be seen gliding overhead in swarms, called kettles, as they ride thermal updrafts over the crest of Peters Mountain.
"It's like a swarm of bees, only it's hawks," Davis said. "There can be two or three hundred or more hawks in a kettle. That's what people come up here to see."
Last year, observers at Hanging Rock tallied a total of 3,966 raptors. The most counted and identified in a single year was 10,572 raptors tallied in 1974, during the tower's record-setting broadwing migration.
But people can make the trip to Hanging Rock and not see any migrating birds, if atmospheric conditions are unfavorable.
"I tell people to come for the view," Davis said. "If they see a lot of birds, too, that's a bonus."
One way to reach the Hanging Rock Tower from Charleston is to drive to Lewisburg via Interstate 64, and follow U.S. 219 south to Union. At Union, turn left (south) on W.Va. 3 to the outskirts of Gap Mills and watch for a brown "Watchable Wildlife" sign on the right, at the turnoff for Zenith Road. Follow Zenith Road about 3.5 miles to its junction with Limestone Hill Road. Turn left on Limestone Hill Road and follow it about 1.8 miles to the top of Peters Mountain and a Forest Service parking area for the Allegheny Trail. Hike the Allegheny Trail south about one mile to Hanging Rock Tower.
For more complete driving directions, maps, photos and annual migration totals, visit www.hangingrocktower.org.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.