CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A record number of bald eagles have been spotted this year by volunteers tracking the fall migration of birds of prey at Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory, atop Peters Mountain in Monroe County.
Since early August, 195 bald eagles have been sighted by observers using a former U.S. Forest Service fire tower mounted on a boulder at the crest of the 3,812-foot peak in the Jefferson National Forest. The previous record for bald eagles sighted at Hanging Rock was set in 2010, when 137 were sighted.
Hanging Rock has been the site of annual raptor migration counts by West Virginia birders since 1952.
This year's tally, expected to continue for two more weeks, also could produce a record number of golden eagle sightings. So far this year, 46 golden eagles have been spotted at Hanging Rock, approaching the record 54 spotted there in 2010.
Record single-day tallies for bald and golden eagles were set this year at the Monroe County site. On Sept. 30, 33 bald eagles were spotted there, more than doubling the previous one-day record of 16, set in 1996 and tied in 2010. On Nov. 10, 11 golden eagles were sighted, besting the previous record of 9, established in 2009.
"It's been a really good season, despite a lack of good wind conditions in October," said Rodney Davis of Sweet Springs, a long-time Hanging Rock volunteer who posts daily counts on the observatory's website, www.hangingrocktower.org.
"I think the eagle population is increasing a little every year," Davis said. "We've seen over 100 bald eagles a year for the past four years."
From 1974 through 1994, bald eagle sightings at Hanging Rock never reached double-digit totals, with some fall migration seasons passing without a single eagle being spotted.