Antennas on Hanging Rock

By Cynthia Ellis

Where Do They Go?

“Have a nice trip!”  That’s a silly something that we birders would sometimes call out to migrating raptors in September as we watched them zip, soar, or glide past us at the Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory in Monroe County.  And if visitors asked where the birds DID go, we answered to the best of our ability, based on knowledge gleaned from current research.

Now, directly at this hawk watch site, the precise migratory routes of hawks, eagles, falcons and much more can be tracked through radio telemetry along with the addition of an array of antennas on the roof of the “tower” building that sits at 3812’ atop the rocky outcroppings of Peters Mountain.   

Earlier this summer, a crew of volunteers and WV Department of Natural Resources personnel schlepped the materials, including ladders, up and up the steep one-mile trail to the top.  Pieces were assembled and mounted to an area near the rooftop.  Along with a second antenna site at the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge, the Monroe site is ready to gather important information about the movement of a host of migratory creatures.

Mack Frantz, a zoologist with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resource’s Wildlife Diversity Programs, helped with the installation and has offered more details.  Some of us with very long memories will recall that we have met Mack Frantz.  He and Laura Farwell spoke to us about the effects of fracking on songbirds at a combined meeting of West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the West Virginia Environmental Council a number of years ago. 

He noted that the sites in our state are part of the “Motus” program.  A website for the effort states that “The Motus Wildlife Tracking System (Motus) is an international collaborative research network that uses coordinated automated radio telemetry to facilitate research and education on the ecology and conservation of migratory animals.”  Frantz also explains that the research hopes to find migratory PATTERNS for species of greatest conservation need in regard to our state wildlife action plan.  Each radio tag sends out an individually identifiable pulse which could determine regional movements and could also guide habitat conservation.

This tracking is not limited to birds of prey.  Any critter that has happened to be tagged can be followed. Monarch butterflies can be part of this program, as well as bats.  WV DNR has used radio telemetry in recent years to track bears, deer, elk, wild turkey, musky, and a variety of smaller wildlife. 

The installation of these antennas is a fascinating project with great potential.  The photos on the Hanging Rock Facebook page can transport a reader to a glorious mountain spot with a 360° view, and a WV DNR video will show you more. Links are below. 

Have a nice trip!

 (42) WVDNR installs migratory animal tracking system at Hanging Rock – YouTube