Thursday, March 19, 2015

Hawk Watchers Contribute Valuable Data to Another Successful Year of Dragonfly Migration Monitoring

Participating hawk watch sites in 2013 and 2014.
In 2013, HMANA partnered with the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP), a group dedicated to the long-term study of dragonfly migration in North America, to for­mally incorporate daily dragonfly observations and counts into the fall monitoring protocols of participating hawk watch sites. 

HMANA partnered with MDP again in 2014 to continue monitoring efforts and help increase our un­derstanding of dragonfly migration. After just two years, some interesting trends are coming to light. Thank you to the Xerces Society for analyzing the data and summarizing the findings. You can read the full 2013 and 2014 reports online at

By the end of the 2014 migration season, over 1,300 individual species records had been collected from 40 hawk watch monitors at 19 participating observatories. 

Number of dragonflies counted flying past 19 hawk watch sites 
in eastern North America in 2013 and 2014.
Fall migration in eastern North America begins near the end of August and can con­tinue into October, although numbers are usu­ally highest in September while migration on the west coast begins about two weeks later. Within that span, some days see enormous spikes in the number of passing dragonflies while others have no activity at all. Migration intensity may vary from year to year; two pulses in 2014 occurred early in Sep­tember, but peak numbers were seen later in 2013.

In 2014, Lighthouse Point in CT experienced the highest one-day migration pulse of almost 6,000 dragonflies on 7 September, and Hawk Ridge, MN and Illinois Beach, IL both witnessed peak dragonfly numbers (>6000) on 2 September. The two Midwestern strongholds of Hawk Ridge and Illinois Beach were also champi­ons in overall reporting, with 151 and 95 observations submitted, re­spectively. Because dragonflies skirt coastlines, preferring not to fly out over open water, raptor monitors at these Great Lakes sites are ide­ally placed to witness large groups of migrants funneling past observa­tion sites.

Attention Spring Sites!
Based on the success of this partnership, HMANA is excited to continue participating in the MDP in 2015.We are looking to broaden efforts at hawk watch sites, not only throughout
western reaches of North America, but also gathering information about northward
spring migration for dragonflies. How much you or your spring site would like to be involved is completely up to you.

If you’re interested in participating, please contact Julie Brown ( for more details.  For more information, monitoring guidelines and protocol, please  visit

And thank you to all participating hawk watch sites and individuals for making the Migration Dragonfly Partnership such a success!

Friday, October 24, 2014

HMANA Tour: Exploring Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas

By Will Weber, HMANA board member and tour participant
Hawk watching at the Florida Keys Hawk Watch
The HMANA Florida Keys/Dry Tortugas tour, Oct 6-12, 2014, was a great success.  Six participants enjoyed the extraordinary leadership and bird finding ability of leaders Rafael Galvez and Phil Brown.  Our regular program of dawn to dusk birding was punctuated with great meals in carefully chosen restaurants and our accommodations afforded good access to on- or near-site birding.

Yellow-throated Vireo
Banding demo at the Cape Florida Banding Station
I was very impressed with the Florida Keys Hawk Watch site at Curry Hammock State Park on Little Crawl Key.  They have a regular crew of four hawk watchers who diligently track raptors and non-raptors following multiple migration paths.  Our guide, Rafael, is the coordinator at this site. The site was very welcoming of our group and others who were visiting. As remote as the site is from population centers, there seems to be a regular stream of visitors and educational groups. While the site does not include a raptor banding operation, they do regular non-raptor monitoring patrols and keep in close contact with the Florida Keys Bird Banding site at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne. I was impressed by the gratitude the watch site personnel expressed for and HMANA’s support.  This site is geographically distant from any other count sites and seems critically important for monitoring raptors departing the continental US.

Some of these migrants continue past Key West and out over the open ocean via Garden Key and Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. Our day visit to Fort Jefferson and Dry Tortugas National Park was a spectacular raptor watching experience. While most birders plan a Dry Tortugas visit for the Spring migration, our October visit was superb for hawks, particularly all three species of falcons.  The warblers that had made the overnight flight from the Keys faced an incredible gauntlet of falcons and accipiters as they foraged in the meager vegetation of Garden Key. It was hard to know how many Peregrines, Merlins, Kestrels and Coopers Hawks we were observing chasing the passerines because they were possibly only pausing briefly en route to Cuba. Ospreys were abundant. We saw several Broad-wings that had made the crossing.

Scanning at Dry Tortugas National Park
The trip was planned and timed to feature the Peregrine migration in southern Florida. Every day of the trip we saw Peregrines in a variety of habitats.  For us northerners, a Mississippi Kite and numerous Short-tailed Hawks provided special encounters. While raptors were the prime focus, the participants enjoyed seeking and identifying not only all the birds, (140 species counted in total) but butterflies, dragonflies and plants.  Phil impressed me with his keen senses and knowledge of birds and Rafael seemed to have a comprehensive knowledge of Florida ecology, including botany. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

2014 Raptor Research Foundation Conference

The Raptor Research Foundation (RRF) held its 2014 conference in Corpus Christi, Texas, September 24-28, scheduled during peak Broad-winged Hawk migration in Texas in hope that attendees could see a significant flight. An avid hawk watcher who planned to spend three days after the conference on the hawk watch platform at Hazel Bazemore County Park, I was pleased that we had easterly winds and rain throughout the conference, with clearing on the last day.

The superb conference, chaired by Kate Davis, included 13 papers in a Raptors and Energy Development Symposium and 13 in a session on Coastal Raptors. Ten papers were given on Migration and Movements, 8 in an American Kestrel Symposium, 6 on Breeding Ecology, 4 on Techniques, and 3 each on Genetics and Evolution and on Anthropogenic Impacts. The conference also included a special all-day symposium on Avian Power Line Interaction and a Wind Energy and Raptors workshop. Energy development, especially in the western U.S and Canada, is having a dramatic impact on raptors.

The RRF also offered an early career Raptor Researcher workshop on techniques for handling, marking, measuring and sampling birds in the hand, along with Harnessing Raptors with Transmitters, Safely Accessing Raptor Nests, Raptor Necropsy, and Raptor Trapping and Handling Techniques for Scientific Research. Bill Clark also offered a half-day workshop on field and in-hand identification.

The opening keynote by Grainger Hunt on Texas raptors and a closing keynote by Steve Hoffman on western hawk migration were among the highlights of the conference. There were also over 30 poster presentations and two special photography presentations by Nick Dunlop and Rob Palmer.

As a hawk watcher for 40 years, but not a professional raptor or wildlife biologist, I was like a kid in a candy shop. For example, David Brandes gave an excellent overview of the Raptor Population Index, and David Oleyar gave a fascinating paper on Fall Migration and Climate Change. Other papers of special interest to hawk watchers included Jeff Kidd’s paper on Ranges and Migration of Rough-legged Hawks, and two papers on movements of Bald Eagles. Nicholas Smith reported that most of the breeding population and immature birds in Louisiana moved north out of the state for the summer, while an audience member from Arkansas said that was not true for the Arkansas population!  The Coastal Raptors Symposium included several studies of Peregrine Falcon movements.

The conference program, including abstracts of all the presentations, can be downloaded at

The great people of the Corpus Christi Hawk Watch at Hazel Bazemore welcomed all the RRF visitors to the platform daily and held their annual Celebration of Flight that weekend. Following the conference, over the next three days hawk watchers saw roughly 80,000 Broadwings, along with Swainson’s, White-tailed, Zone-tailed and other hawks, and record flights of Wood Stork, Bald Eagle (3) and Sharp-shinned Hawk.

The next RRF conference will be held in Sacramento, California, November 11-15, 2015, hosted by the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. Field trips will be offered to many excellent sites to view raptors, including the spectacular Sacramento Wildlife Refuge complex north of the city.  Anyone seriously interested in hawks should consider attending.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Over One Million Migrating Hawks Counted During International Hawk Migration Week!

HMANA celebrated its first annual International Hawk Migration Week (IHMW) September 20-28 to raise awareness of hawks, hawk migration and the HMANA network of sites that count hawks. Well it was a great success! Over 1.2 million migrating hawks, eagles and vultures were tallied across 100 sites throughout Canada, the United States, and Mexico.
Corpus Christi, TX - Celebration of Flight, Sept 26-28
Photo courtesy of Hawk Watch International
One hundred watch sites from 33 states and provinces across the continent counted an astounding 1,203,067 raptors during the week.  Twenty-nine species were tallied, the vast majority being broad-winged hawks (1,125,597) - since IHMW took place during their peak migration. Other high counts included 24,899 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 8,909 Mississippi Kites, 8,724 Turkey Vultures and 7,192 American Kestrels.

Veracruz, Mexico counted more than any other site at 812,949 during IHMW. Corpus Christi, TX on the Gulf coast tallied 226,224 raptors. Other counts across the continent included 15,862 at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, MN; 4,151 Holiday Beach Conservation Area, ON; 4,811 at the Goshute Mountains, NM and 2,777 at the Florida Keys Hawk Watch, FL. 
Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory, WV celebrating with a raptor ID workshop on Sept 20.
Photo credit: Brian Hirt
 In addition to submitting daily migration counts to , dozens of sites celebrated with hawk watching festivals, identification workshops, HMANA membership drives and live bird of prey events. 

Thank you to all the sites and hawk watchers for making IHMW a success and helping us promote hawk watching across the map.  We hope you will join us next year!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

New Study Shares Movements of Broad-winged Hawks

Now’s the time to join researchers at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Kempton, Pa, and track online the amazing journey of  four broad-winged hawks, tracing their long-distance movements from Pennsylvania to Central and South America, using an easy-to-use movement map at

The tool is available thanks to the latest satellite telemetry technology and the tiny transmitters attached to each bird: two juveniles—“America” and “Hawk Eye”—from  a nest at  Hawk Mountain, “Abbo,” an adult that was trapped and tagged in New Ringgold, and another juvenile named “Kit” from a nest in Shartlesville.

“The adult left her nest area in July. The three juvenile birds started moving away from their nest sites in late August, and this week, they began moving south,” says Dr. Laurie Goodrich, the senior monitoring biologist at the Sanctuary and study coordinator.“Now they need to soar more than 4,000 miles to winter in Central or South America,” she adds.

The study marks the first time a telemetry unit has ever been placed on a juvenile broadwing, as well as the first time scientists have a chance to compare movements of siblings from the same nest. The research, which started in spring with nest monitoring, is funded by a Pennsylvania Game Commission State Wildlife Grant with support from ATAS International, the Kittatinny Coalition, and other private donors and supporters. 

“Because we’re using the newer units, if all goes well and the birds survive their journey, we can track the four for up to two years,” Goodrich explains.

“At Hawk Mountain, the broad-winged hawk is the most numerous migrant but the vast majority of birds counted pass within a narrow time frame. As of September 12, as many as 675 broadwings per day have passed and the number will quickly crescendo to more hundred-bird flocks by mid month, and several thousand can pass during the peak of the flight, historically sometime between September 13 to 20.

To learn more about the study or to sponsor a tagged bird, please visit or email

Monday, September 8, 2014

Tales from the platform

Red-tailed Hawk - Luke Tiller
Hawkcount does an amazing job helping us tally the migration of hawks across the Americas. I can safely say that without being accused of being biased as I have nothing to do with its design or upkeep here at HMANA. This month is also Hawkcount Now and Forever fundraising month (which you can read more about here). One of my most recent discoveries is how easy Hawkcount's simple interface makes it to update via your smartphone while you are in the field - I wish I'd noted that when I was actively counting this season!  As someone who uses it on a regular basis as a hawkwatcher and trawls through it to write up flyway accounts it does have some limitations when it comes to capturing some of the more esoteric moments of a season in a way that is readily accessible to those scanning through the reports.

Bobcat @ Quaker Ridge - Shaun Martin
A cursory scan of the front page of Hawkcount does allow readers to pick up good rare raptors like the pair of Mississippi  Kites I had one day at Quaker Ridge, CT (blog post here) or the Gyrfalcon at Braddock Bay, NY, but what it captures less effectively is the dark Broad-winged Hawk or completely white Turkey Vulture (picture here) I had at Braddock. A cursory scan of the Hawkcount front page gives you the numbers from a days count, but no real feel for a day that over a thousand Broad-winged Hawks passed at treetop height during the last hour of the watch at Quaker Ridge while all assembled looked on astounded as the birds passed by or settled in around us.

Cave Swallow - Luke Tiller
Hawkcount is a great tool for capturing raw raptor data, but it doesn't always highlight all of the excitement of what we do and why we do it unless you start to thoroughly explore each report. Buried in the notes of these reports are the time Cave Swallows soared over Quaker Ridge long enough for me to run inside and get members of staff out to witness only the second inland appearance of this species in the state (pictures here), the Sandhill Cranes tracked from Cape Cod, MA all the way to Scott's Mountain, NJ via our watch (and their return visit the next year), the five Snowy Owls visible at the same time from the platform at Braddock this April or a flock of grackles I witnessed that would have rivaled many of Audubon's florid descriptions of Passenger Pigeon flocks.

Star-nosed Mole - Luke Tiller
Sightings of rare butterflies, the star nosed mole that sent hawkwatchers running around the Audubon Greenwich Center to get a net to scoop him out of a storm drain he had tumbled into (blog post here) or the Bobcat that sauntered across the hawkwatch lawn at Quaker Ridge (facebook page here), which Shaun Martin managed to snap photos of last week. It's these kind of stories that make spending hours watching for raptors so special. It's these kind of stories we want to share with other hawkwatchers. So please share them with us and allow us to give them a wider audience among your fellow hawkwatchers,  HMANA members and supporters. Send us your blog posts and links to photographs and allow us to share those stories with the rest of the community. You can send them in a message to us on facebook via our page (here) or email them to

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hawkwatching guides: where to begin

Guides - Luke Tiller
I thought it would be interesting to do a few posts looking at equipment you might use at a hawkwatch, and that lead me to approach Rick Bacher to write a blog post about what to look for in a pair of hawkwatching sunglasses (post here). Recently I've been thinking about Raptor ID guides: there has been a slew of excellent ones published over the last few years, but which ones do raptor professionals recommend? I thought it would be fun to ask a few selected raptorphiles and hawkwatching amigos what they liked.

With that in mind I set them these two questions and let them have at it: 
Question 1: Which raptor guides do you think are essential for hawkwatching fans to own?
Question 2: If you had to give a beginner JUST ONE guide to hawks to start off with which one would you give them?

Just so it doesn't seem like I am getting my friends to completely write my blog posts for me I thought I'd chip in with my thoughts too...

Julie Brown at HMANA's 2012 Fall Conference
Julie Brown - Site Coordinator for HMANA
Question 1: I think I have them all but I would say the most essential are Hawks In Flight (Sibley, Sutton and Dunne) and Hawks From Every Angle, J Liguori. My old standby for years was The Photographic Guide to North American Raptors by Clark and Wheeler and I really like the extensive background and detail given in Raptors of Eastern/Western N America, Wheeler..but that's not great for the field.

Question 2: Choosing just one is hard because I like different things about each one but a good beginner guide would be Hawks From Every Angle. And although not a field guide, I ALWAYS recommend Hawks in Flight to anyone getting into hawk watching. I think the authors captured perfectly the essence of hawks and how they look, behave and move.

Angela Woodside and friend
Angela Woodside - Lead Counter Chelan Ridge Hawkwatch, Washington
Question 1: When I showed up for my first hawkwatching internship three years ago, I was pretty sure I knew how to identify a red-tailed hawk. I knew bald eagles had white heads, and who didn’t know what a peregrine falcon looked like? Needless to say, I was completely unprepared for what fall migration back East had in store for me, and how all those facts that I “knew” would change with distance, lighting and weather conditions. The counter—my raptor guru—handed me the first edition of Hawks in Flight, and essentially said, “Read this. It’s the hawk-watching Bible.” Over the next couple months, having the descriptions in that book constantly reinforced by the birds I was seeing daily was incredibly helpful. Using this book in conjunction with Jerry Liguori’s books Hawks from Every Angle and Hawks at a Distance as a way of fact-checking what I was seeing in the field with the photos on the page served me well at the two sites where I counted—in particular because distance and lighting more or less precluded using any plumage characteristics for identification. Shape and flight style pretty much ruled the day.

Question 2: That being said, I think Hawks in Flight might scare off a total beginner. It’s a lot of information to take in, particularly if you haven’t spent a great deal of time watching birds in flight. Don’t all birds just flap? How can one bird flap differently than another similarly sized bird? For that person I might hand them a copy of Hawks from Every Angle to start with, just to familiarize them with the idea that the bird you’ve seen perched on a telephone pole can take on so many different shapes up in the air.

Derek Lovitch at Bradbury Mountain
Derek Lovitch - Author, co owner of Freeport Wild Bird Supply and founder of Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch, ME (Hawkwatch website here).
Question 1 and 2: In my opinion, there is only one "essential" reference to hawkwatching, for both beginners and veterans, and it is the venerable "Hawks in Flight" by Dunne, Sutton, and Sibley. While I definitely recommend theCrossley Raptors, and secondarily, Hawks from Every Angle, as a great book to take up to the count site for a quick reference and for studying, nothing will ever adequately represent all of the angles, shapes, silhouettes, and especially the sometimes-distinct motions that we use to identify distant raptors. Movements (wingbeats, flight style, behavior) simply cannot be represented by photos or paintings. Only Hawks in Flight actually instructs people on how to look, and so adeptly describes how to look beyond field marks (often of limited value at a hawkwatch) to truly SEE a raptor. It should be read before and after visits to your local count site, especially when getting started!

Ryan MacLean at Quaker Ridge

Ryan MacLean - Official Hawkwatcher Quaker Ridge, CT (Quaker Facebook Page - here).
Question 1: As a hawkwatcher who has to put a good percent of his effort into identifying very distant raptors, both 'Hawks at Every Angle' and 'Hawks at a Distance' by Jerry Liguori have been definitive in helping to decipher differences in little black dots in the sky. What his guides cover that I've rarely seen in other guides (especially in 'Hawks at a Distance') is how to factor in changes in a birds appearance with different lighting or landscapes. All too often we've called that horribly backlit Kestrel a Merlin or mistaken juvies of a species for adults (or vice versa), but Liguori prepares us for these instances by reminding us of the more telltale but sometime more subtle markings or behaviors that can clinch a tough ID when color and lighting fail. I'll still refer to 'Hawks in Flight' (Dunne/Silbey/Sutton) alot of times as well because it contains not only great ID pointers but also information on different species' migration habits and routes which in many cases could also be helpful in IDing a bird.

Question 2: I owned a lot of hawk related books as a kid, but I have more memories of flipping through 'A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors' by Brian K. Wheeler and William S. Clark than others. I would suggest this or Wheeler's 'Raptors of Eastern North America' to any novice because its not only very picture-heavy but it has pictures of both perched and flying birds. Many novices obviously want to equate themselves with the perched birds first, so jumping straight to the strictly flight ID Liguori guides might be a bit overwhelming for people just getting into the game. Having page after page of pictures of perched birds right next to flying birds though is a great stepping stone to focusing only on the birds in flight. Once people start to equate the shape of a bird in flight with the image they see of a perched bird, then they are ready to move on to the texts that make up Hawk Watching's higher education.

Genevieve Rozhon -watching out west
Genevieve Rozhon - Graduate student studying Rough-legged Hawks at Humboldt and previous counter and trapper at sites across the US (website here).
Question 1: I think every hawkwatcher should own Hawks from Every Angle and Hawks in Flight at a minimum. Between the thorough descriptions of raptor shapes and the highly accurate black and white drawings, Hawks in Flight, in my opinion, has the most utility as a hawkwatching guide. That being said, Ligouri's Hawks from Every Angle really captures what hawks look like from a hawkwatch site (birds migrating past you from every possible direction). I particularly appreciate the photos comparing species that can look similar in tricky lighting. I like to re-read both these books once a year before every hawkwatching season as a refresher and I always take Hawks from Every Angle up to the hawkwatch. Wheeler's Raptors of Western North America can also be nice to have around as a plumage reference.

Question 2: I've now given Hawks in Flight to several aspiring hawkwatchers in the past and now, at least one of them, has gone on to run several hawkwatches herself.

Rick Bacher and lunch
Rick Bacher - Hawkwatcher and bander from Western NY to Cape May. (Read his blog here).
Question 1: I am a bit of a field guide nerd, and happen to have an extensive collection myself. I'll narrow it down to three selections based on leaning style. I'll start with Jerry Liguori's "Hawks at a Distance" book. This is a great visual reference, and Mr. Liguori is one of North America's most trusted raptor experts. I want to mention that he is always beyond helpful to anyone that contacts him. The book focuses on what the title says, and it does it a great job of it, while providing ample photographs of hawks just like you might see them at a Hawkwatch. I refer to this book constantly when looking at pictures of high up hawks that people post online or send to me. The next book I like is "Hawks in Flight" by Pete Dunne, David Sibley, and Clay Sutton. This book has fantastically written literature on each raptor, and serves well for those that retain information best by reading. I should't have to mention that the illustrations and photographs in this book are top-notch as well. The last book is a bit of an outlaw in some circles, and seems to raise eyebrows whenever it is mentioned. "The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors" is last, but certainly not least on my list. This guide broke all the rules by superimposing multiple photographs of raptors over the landscapes you might see them in, and doesn't follow any sort of traditional field guide rules as far as that goes. The book is a visual masterpiece, and perfect for the hands-on learners among us.

Question 2 If you're a heavily hands-on learner like myself, I recommend you start off with the "Crossley ID Guide: Raptors." The book doesn't just serve as a guide to check when you want to confirm a raptor, or casually study up on them. This book forces you to learn! It makes you look at raptors in ways that other books do not. The book includes multiple pages of mixed raptors in flight with answer keys in the back. That means it is constantly begging you to take critical looks at raptors in flight, and make calls based on shape and plumage like you would in the field. I often find myself picking it up just for fun so that I can test my id skills when no raptors are flying. No other book provides a similar experience. Short of being at the Hawkwatch in person, this is the closest you can get to actually testing your skills. It's almost like you're right in the field.

Luke Tiller at the HMANA Raptor ID Workshop 2014
Luke Tiller - Board Member and Tour Committee chair HMANA and counter Braddock Bay Hawkwatch. (Blog)
Question 1: I think there is value in owning any guide to identifying raptors and we have been lucky enough to have been treated to a number of excellent guides recently. I like to get into the mind of any fellow hawkwatcher and try to see the birds through their eyes. There is always something new to learn and therefore I voraciously read anything that covers raptor ID. Perhaps it's a generational thing, but though I like the writing style of Hawks in Flight I find Liguori's two guides somewhat more utilitarian. That said you'd be mad to not have both on your shelf. Perhaps a less recommended guide, maybe because it's out of print, that I like is Wheeler's Raptor's Eastern North America. Through photos it highlights the myriad variety of plumages within species and has an amazing wealth of notes on age, molt, subspecies, color morphs, status and distribution among other things.

Question 2: A difficult choice, but I think I'd start them off with Liguori's Hawks at every Angle. Perhaps because it's the book I really started with.

So there you go, what do you all think?