Hawk Watch 2009 is off to a flying start at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), south of Alamo.

The Refuge is again participating in the nation-wide census to count and identify migrating raptors. The Santa Ana NWR Hawk Watch station will be staffed daily from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. for one month, through April 15. Using keen eyesight, binoculars and spotting scopes, volunteer birders will keep track of the number of raptors winging their way north, including hawks, falcons, vultures, kites and many more. Beginners to expert birders are invited to participate.

Daily, the Hawk Watch team assembles on the Santa Ana NWR levee one-quarter mile west of the Visitor Center, which is accessible to birders in wheelchairs. Dr. Gene Wilhelm, accomplished lifelong field ornithologist, retired university professor and former vice president of education for the National Audubon Society, again will be station master and will oversee all operations.

Additional volunteers are essential to help spot incoming raptors, ranging from bullet-like flyovers of falcons to slowly revolving ‘kettles’ of Broad-winged Hawks. Beginning birders, Winter Texans, visiting family, teachers with their students and others are welcome to participate as team members though a one-half hour or more commitment is required.

Bird books and a spotting scope will be provided by the Refuge. Participants should bring their own binoculars, insect repellant, cold water, snacks, sunscreen, wide-brimmed hat, folding chair and a sense of pride in participating in this valuable census.

Walk-ins are welcome! To learn more about the program and to register, please call the Santa Ana NWR at (956) 784-7500.

The mission of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is, working with others, to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.