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Jefferson, Md., man has hawk-eye view of raptors at Washington Monument State Park

December 26, 2011|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • James "Paul" Newton of Jefferson, Md., has headed the volunteer effort to count migrating raptors at Washington Monument State Park for at least a decade.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

BOONSBORO — It’s a heart-pumping climb up the stone stairs to the top of the monument at Washington Monument State Park near the Washington County-Frederick County border.

During the spring and fall months, James “Paul” Newton makes the climb almost daily, putting in long hours. The park is about 12 miles from his Jefferson, Md., home.

From that location, Newton can see Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

For at least 10 years, Newton, 68, has headed up the volunteer effort to count migrating raptors, which include hawks and eagles, he said. Prior to that, he assisted with the count for about 10 years.

“Other people come up, but I’m usually here,” he said.

Newton arrives well-equipped — clipboard, count sheets, notepads, binoculars, bird-identification guides, drinking water, snacks, tools to track weather speed, direction, temperature, humidity and barometric pressure, and as many as four layers of clothing when it’s cold.

“For me, it’s just interesting to watch and count them,” Newton said.

Newton’s interest was sparked at a young age.

“I’d been wanting to do this since the ’60s, when I read a book about Hawk Mountain,” he said.

Newton, who grew up in Newark, Del., said he later discovered that he grew up about “six miles from great hawk watching.”

His days watching and counting — which require patience and focus — used to begin at 10 a.m. and last until dusk, which varies with the season. In late November and early December, the days are shorter and the counting season comes to an end.

“This time of year, you might as well give it up after 4 (p.m.),” he said.

He said the spring season is shorter.

Newton said his wife, Cheryl, makes him go for an hourlong walk four days a week, and he’s taking classes at Frederick (Md.) Community College to broaden his horizons. But both activities cut into his counting time.

He retired from his job as a management analyst and auditor for the General Accounting Office in Washington, D.C., in August 2007.

The Newtons married in 1980 and moved to Jefferson. They have two sons and one daughter.

Paul Newton went to a meeting of a birding club in Frederick in 1991. The speaker talked about hawk watching and mentioned Washington Monument State Park.

The next day, Newton found his way to the park and started his longtime counting effort.

Newton, who said he is self-taught birder, keeps a count sheet, sending his raptor figures to the Hawk Migration Association of North America. Over the years, he has noticed a decline in the number of migrating raptors in the area.

But Newton said this year he has counted about three times as many broad-winged hawks as usual, which he speculated was due to the two large storms the area experienced.

“Oh, there’s one,” Newton said, grabbing his binoculars. “He’s a red-tail.”

To view the migration records of Newton and those who assist him, go to www.hawkcount.org and click on “Find a Hawk Watch,” then search for Washington Monument State Park.

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