Saturday, July 12, 2014

Tour Report: HMANA Raptor ID Workshop 2014

Sharp-shinned Hawk - Catherine Hamilton
 Seven days on the Great Lakes plus a great week of weather divided by two expert hawkwatchers equals 10,928 diurnal raptors of fifteen different species! This is the story of HMANA’s 2014 Raptor ID Workshop.

Held between April 6 and April 12, the workshop assembled participants from the far flung corners of the United States in order to witness the diversity of raptor migration around the Great Lakes and to hone their proficiency as hawkwatchers. A major draw was the rare opportunity to spend a week learning from perhaps one of the most accomplished raptor experts in the country: Frank Nicoletti. Across the board, by the end of an unbelievable week of hawkwatching, everyone’s skills had been sharpened, friendships had been made an incredible number of raptors had been tallied.

Tired but happy hawkwatchers - Catherine Hamilton
In all, over the week, we totaled 135 species of birds. Highlights included: two stunning adult dark Swainson’s Hawks that graced Braddock Bay on back to back days, a Black Vulture - in a down season for them, good numbers and great views of Golden Eagles -especially at Derby Hill. We were also treated to a variety of flavors of Red-tailed Hawks: Dark/rufous morph adults, a Krider’s-like adult (are there many really pure ones left?) and plenty that fitted the seemingly refashionable albieticola subspecies. Rough-legged Hawks of all ages and sexes also put on a great show too, which is always a treat.

Among the non-raptors bugling Sandhill Cranes passed over the watch, we enjoyed the haunting calls of Common Loons from the lake, a collection of rare King Eiders on the bay, Red-headed Woodpeckers foraging at our feet, Purple Martins, Snowy Owls, Lapland Longspurs, Saw-whet Owls, Snow Buntings, Long and Short-eared Owls, Northern Shrike: the list goes on and on and on.

You can see details for the 2015 Workshop on the HMANA Website (here). We hope to see you there.

2014 participants - Catherine Hamilton

Friday, July 11, 2014

Historical Harlan's: Second US East Coast Record?

Harlan's Hawk - Braddock Bay Raptor Research
So about a year I stuck up a blog (here) with photographs of some dark buteos either seen (but mainly banded) at Braddock Bay in Western New York State, which is incidentally the base camp for the 2015 HMANA Raptor ID Workshop (details here). The attached photographs were taken at BBRR's main banding station on May 1st 2003 and through the magic of the internet the pictures from this blog ended up with Jerry Liguori. After carefully studying the pictures he confirmed that the bird pictured here is in fact an image of an incredibly regionally rare Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk. To give you an idea of how rare, there is one accepted US Harlan's record east of central Kentucky in eBird and this is the first with photographic documentation. There is at least one accepted record for Ontario but none for New York State

Harlan's Hawk breeds in Alaska and northwestern Canada, but spends winters as far east as the Mississippi Alluvial Valley. It's plumage was distinct enough for it to have initially been considered a separate species by Audubon, when he sent the type specimen to the British Museum in 1831. In 1891 it was relegated to a subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk, though it was elevated to species level again for thirty years in 1944. Though currently lumped with Red-tailed Hawk there are at least a couple of raptor experts who lobby for it to be reinstated as a species. 
Dark/Rufous Red-tailed Hawk and friend - Catherine Hamilton
The 1995 Virginia record is probably pretty reliable given that it was seen from Kiptopeke Hawkwatch by Brian Sullivan one of the authors of this excellent ABA article that discusses successfully identifying the subspecies (here). Dark Red-tailed Hawks of any kind do not breed in the east and sightings of dark birds are rare in and of themselves. Frank Nicoletti actually helped the group tally a stunning adult dark/rufous morph at the 2014 Raptor ID Workshop among the other 10,928 passing raptors, but as you can see from the picture above, assigning some of these to subspecies can be pretty tough given that sightings at hawkwatches can often be frustratingly distant and/or views tantalizingly brief.

The roundabout way this record came to be uncovered probably highlights two of the most important recent developments in birding and hawkwatching: the import of the digital camera and the value of the internet. As my friend Pete said, quoting the old Joni Mitchell lyric: "Sometimes you don't know what you've got till it's gone" Thanks to Jerry Liguori for bringing this record to light and to Daena Ford at BBRR for loaning me the photographs for the original article.

Harlan's Hawk - Braddock Bay Raptor Research
EDIT: Since writing this piece I have uncovered at least one more accepted Eastern record from North Carolina coincidentally also from 2003 (more here).

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Who's Watching Your Eyes? Sunglasses for hawkwatching

Happy Hawkwatchers
Have you ever stepped off of a hawkwatch platform or out of a trapping blind and felt like your eyes were bleeding? You are not alone. Ultraviolet (UV) rays can really take a toll on your eyes after staring into the sky for upwards of eight hours a day. Many hawkwatchers and bird banders experience the same exact issues, and after years of doing either activity, UV rays can severely damage your eyes. Since vision is one of a hawkwatcher’s most valuable assets, let’s talk about how to save it. We don’t want you missing a single bird out there.
I’ve been in the sunglasses industry for nearly five years. My company sells multiple brands, and I have no specific brand bias aside from my own preferences. What I do have is a working knowledge of many of the best brands available, and field experience wearing sunglasses both in the blind, and at the hawkwatch platform. This entire piece is written as my opinion, and without any endorsed bias. With all that out of the way, let’s get down to business.
The most basic question revolves around a price point. “How much do I need to shell out for good sunglasses?” Most respectable sunglasses range in price from $60-$320. I like to tell birders that they have to think about sunglasses the same way they think about binoculars. Both optical technologies cost money to make, and even more money to make well. Optical clarity is important to most birders. How much did your binoculars cost? Birders are the one group of people who can really appreciate the quality of good optics. Now you don’t actually have to spend $320, but just like with binoculars, you get what you pay for. You’ll probably spend around $200 for a nice polarized pair of sunglasses with a high clarity index and superior color portrayal, but you could get by with a $60 pair just as well.

Future's so bright....
The next standard question is: “What is polarization, and do I need it?” Polarization, specifically, has to do with sun glare. Almost every pair of sunglasses you buy at a reputable brick and mortar dealer will already be 100 percent UV-A and UV-B protectant. That means all those UV rays you have been soaking in for years will be blocked. But without polarization you will see a lot more sun glare, and be prone to squinting. At its most simplistic explanation, polarization is a sort of filter system within the lens that blocks out sun glare wavelengths. Polarization is going to increase the price of your glasses anywhere from $20 to $100, but I had already figured that into the price points when I quoted them above. I shy most casual sunglass customers away from polarization as they don’t really need it, but I always encourage anglers, golfers, serious drivers, birders, and those with more than casual visual needs to spend the extra money. It makes all the difference in the world if you’re staring into the sky for long hours at a time.
A large consideration to take into account when buying sunglasses for hawkwatching is the lens color. Brown lenses will give you a higher contrast on edges, and superficially “highlight” objects (especially hawks in the sky). The downside to brown lenses is that they will distort colors a bit. For instance, a distant juvenile Bald Eagle whose heavy mottling tends to come off as brown might appear a different shade with a brown lens. Black or neutral-gray lenses will stay much more true to color, but will not give you any advantage as far as contrast or “highlighting.” Finally, black/gray lenses tend to heavily shade the world, whereas brown lenses appear to brighten it up. I suggest trying both colors out in the store and deciding what you like best for your hawkwatching needs.

Blue Skies of Death!
Finally, you might think about lens material. The two main choices are polycarbonate (plastic) and glass. Glass lenses are going to give you a much higher clarity than plastic lenses right away. Another advantage to purchasing glass lenses is that they are much harder to scratch than plastic ones. The main disadvantages to wearing actual glass is that it is noticeably heavier, and there is always the chance that they can shatter if you drop them on a hard surface. The main advantage to purchasing plastic lenses is going to be weight. They also are much harder to shatter, but easier to scratch, and the clarity is never going to be as good as glass.
I am always asked to recommend glasses brands, and what my preferences are, so I will include my personal opinions as closure to this article. I almost always wear Maui Jim sunglasses. I believe they have an unparalleled color spectrum and clarity index. I lean towards their non-glass models for hawkwatching because of the long hours involved. I wear brown lenses for the advantages they provide described above. My second choice is Smith Optics. You get great optics for your dollar with this brand ($120-$200), and they are the only brand that comes with a lifetime warranty that I am familiar with. Another great bang for your buck is Ray-Ban. I would recommend getting a polarized pair with glass lenses from them. They will be about your cheapest option to obtain real polarized glass. If you are on a budget, I would recommend Polaroid (just like the instant cameras) sunglasses. They actually introduced polarized lenses into the civilian market, and the lens quality appears to be much better than similar priced competitors that have come back to my store with layer flaking, pressure cracks, and so on.

You can go cheaper if you want, but think about the decisions you made when purchasing your binoculars, and how a higher-end model price probably seemed insane to you when you first looked. Think about the quality difference between low-end bins in the $100 range, and high-end bins in the $1,000 or more range. Every dollar in optics counts in the end, and luckily sunglasses won’t cost you more than $2,000 like a good pair of bins will.

Author Rick Bacher
Rick Bacher: As well as being an English teacher and full-time student Rick also volunteers as a Junior Audubon leader at Buffalo Audubon, is a leader for the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage, takes public relations photographs at Tifft Nature Preserve and is a hobby wildlife photographer and birder. He spends autumns at Cape May with his mentor where he is learning to identify, process, and band raptors. Rick can also be found watching and counting hawks throughout Western New York during the Spring migration. He's a serious hawk bum. Follow Rick's photography on his birding blog at  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Rochester, more than just birds and I don't mean Garbage Plates and House of Guitars

Bridge to Somewhere -
Thanks to Bridget Watts, Braddock Bay Hawkwatch regular, for the following top tips on places to visit in and around Rochester.

The National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House
Anthony's home in Rochester, now a museum and national historic landmark, was home to the legendary 
American civil rights leader during the 40 most politically active years of her life, and the site of her 
famous arrest for voting in 1872. This home was the headquarters of the National American Woman Suffrage Association when she was its president (website here).

Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls
Visitor center and sites important to the abolition and suffrage movements, in a charming small town that locals consider to be the model for the town in "It's a Wonderful Life." (Check web site for hours of operation). To get there from the Visitor's Center at Montezuma National Wildlife Center, turn right on routes 20/5 and go SW for 5.3 miles.

Ganondagan State Historic Site
Just southeast of Rochester, New York, in the town of Victor, lies Ganondagan (ga·NON·da·gan), the site of a Native American community that was a flourishing, vibrant center for the Seneca people. Visit this site where thousands of Seneca lived 300 years ago. Includes visitor center, a full-size replica of a 17th-century Seneca Bark Longhouse, and self-guided trails. (Website).

International Museum of Photography and Film and the George Eastman House
In George Eastman's restored mansion in Rochester, a world-class museum of photography. Currrent exhibits include Another America: A Testimonial to the Amish by Robert Weingarten, A World Apart: Photographs of Hasidic Communities in Israel by Pavel Wolberg, XL Portfolio: A Benefit Portfolio Celebrating Large-Format Photography, Of Time and Buildings, presenting the work of several artists who explore the relationship between photographic images of the built environment and our experience of place. (Visit the website here). 

Other things to do when it's dark or raining:
See a movie.  In addition to the usual suburban multi-plexes, Rocheser boasts several venues where you can see mainstream, independent and foreign, and archival films:

The Little Theatre
Rochester's premier "art house" movie theater. Four screens in downtown Rochester, and a cafe, with live music on some evenings. 240 East Ave #100, Rochester, NY 14604 (585) 258-0400 (Website here).

The Cinema Theater
Just south of downtown. An old restored neighborhood theater, comfortable and friendly. Second run movies. Double features for $5.00! ($3.00 for seniors.) Great popcorn. 957 South Clinton Avenue Rochester New York 14620 585 271-1785 (Website here).

The Dryden Theater
At George Eastman House near downtown Rochester. The Dryden Theatre is the Museum’s sole exhibition space for showcasing its unparalleled collection of motion pictures, as well as selections from the world’s other great archives, and premieres of new foreign and independent cinema. 585.271.3361 900 East Avenue Rochester NY, 14607 (Website). 

Listen to live music. 
Besides women's history, photography, film, (and birding!) Rochester is known for being a great place to hear music. For current listings of music, theater, and other events in Rochester, check out City Newspaper's website (here). For concerts at the Eastman School of Music: visit there website (here).

For more things to do in Rochester, link to visitors guide on official Rochester tourism site (website here).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Help Support HMANA's Raptorthon with a fun way to donate

As HMANA’s featured hawkwatcher during our Raptorthon this year, I thought I’d try something a little different.  HMANA’s 40th anniversary conference will be April 25-27 in Rochester, New York, and that is just too exciting an opportunity to let pass. But how can I do a Raptorthon when I’ll be busy at the conference?

So here’s what I’m going to do.  I’m going to count hawks on my drive north to Rochester from my home in southern Pennsylvania on Thursday, April 24.  And, once I get to Braddock Bay, I’m going to spend three hours from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 26, counting with Luke Tiller, Braddock’s regular hawk counter.  Luke and I will take donations right there, and we will split the amount we gather between HMANA and Braddock Bay Raptor Research.  You can support my Raptorthon, someone else’s or start one of your own at  To support my Raptorthon from the Raptorthon page, click on the Donate to a Raptorthon tab and choose Carolyn Hoffman.  Currently, you can also support Braddock Bay and Militia Hill’s Raptorthons at the same link.  

On the drive to Rochester, I’ll be seeing what I can identify from the car, as a way of letting people know you don’t have to sit on a hawkwatch to see hawks.  I just hope the weather cooperates.  Then on Saturday I’ll take a brief break from the conference activities to spend a little time on Braddock Bay’s platform, trying to see as many species as possible in a short amount of time.  I am also hoping that if the weather is uncooperative on one part of my Raptorthon that it will cooperate for the other part.

Would you please consider sponsoring me with a pledge to support HMANA in this our 40th anniversary year?  You can sponsor me for a fixed amount, for a specified amount by the number of hawks I see or by the number of species of hawks that I see.  The money I raise will be used to support HMANA’s regular programs and operations.

I am also planning to Tweet my way north and from atop Braddock’s platform, so you can follow along as I try to see as many hawks as I can.  I’ll be Tweeting at #hmana40 or you can follow me on Twitter at @carolynh07.  You can also come and visit while I’m at the Braddock platform if you’re coming to the conference, which I hope you will attend.  It will be fun!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Spring Migration at Tubac, AZ.

Ron Morriss County Park is an innocuous little clearing along the Santa Cruz River in Tubac, Arizona between Nogales and Tucson. It's basically a playground, dog run and baseball field. But it is one of the best places to see numbers of Common Black-Hawks migrating in spring. Baseball practice and barking dogs accompany the hawkwatcher who ventures here during March to witness this fairly unique migration event.

Turkey Vultures, Swainson's Hawks, accipiters, falcons, osprey and harriers are also seen regularly during the season. While the total number of birds seen each day usually stays on the low side of triple digits, the quality more than makes up for it. Along with the Black-Hawks, Zone-tailed and Gray Hawks are the draw here. The best time of day is usually mid-morning (9-1100) when the birds are getting up from roosting in the lush riparian forest along this stretch of the river.

After watching HawkCount totals reported by counter Peter Collins increase during the second week of March, I packed up the truck and made the 4+ hour trip from Prescott on the 14th. Dusk is often a productive time to visit the park to see birds cruising over the cottonwoods in search of a last bite or a good roost tree. I had only been at the park for maybe an hour when a light buteo flapped quickly out of the trees and started to soar over the ballfield - adult Short-tailed Hawk. This bird has been on the increase in SE Arizona over the last several years, but it doesn't show up at this site very often. A great way to start my visit. While this bird didn't make the count today, it was likely the same bird seen several days later by Peter at the site. A couple of Swainson's drifted over high, an adult Zone-tailed Hawk strafed the treetops and a decent number of Turkey Vultures seemed to have a hard time figuring out where to roost. A lone male Northern Harrier beat a hasty path northward to end the day.

Adult light morph Short-tailed Hawk over Tubac watch site

I arrived at the park the next morning eager for what might happen. This is typically the peak of the Black-Hawk movement, so I hoped for a good flight. Even though the 11 Blacks that went by that morning was a bit less than I had hoped for, it was still an impressive sight to see. They are so distinctive in flight next to nearly anything else in the area (except for Black Vultures). All broad wings and stubby tail. Most of the birds were pretty high as they passed the count site, but with such impressive birds to watch, I don't think many of the birders that congregated at the park were disappointed.
Adult Common Black-Hawk overhead, heading North

The following day birds seemed to come over a bit lower, which made for some great views. A pair of local Gray Hawks kept us on our toes as they would pop into view over the trees and mingle with the other passing birds. A small handful of Zone-tailed Hawks passed by, hinting at greater numbers to come later in the month. I left the site with a grin, both from the birds and from the shared experience with the other folks who showed up to see this unique flight. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

HMANA 40th Anniversary Conference 2014 - Booking now!

Conference Logo - Tiffany DeRidder
We are pleased to announce that booking has now gone live for the HMANA 40th Anniversary Conference, which takes place between April 25-27th in Rochester, NY. You can read more details about the event on our newly launched conference website (link here), book your conference places online (here) or print off a booking form if you wish to send in a booking form with check (PDF here). 

The conference page has lots of excellent information about scheduling, speakers, field trips, lodging and more. Part of the appeal of the event has to be the incredible birding and raptor watching in the area and there is both a page with a map of places to visit (here) and details on the best local hawkwatching sites regionally (details here). These should really help you if you want to make even more of your visit to Western New York than just being there for the conference weekend.  

Attendees and speakers at the 2012 Conference - Julie Brown
As noted in a previous blog post, April 27th is a special day in Braddock Bay hawkwatching history as it is the day that our two record flights occurred in 1987 (hawkcount stats here) and 2011 (hawkcount stats here). Coincidentally the two official counters on that day are the two leaders combining to lead the HMANA Raptor Identification Workshop that will be taking place at Braddock Bay earlier in the month (details here). You can read my recollection of the 2011 flight on my blog (here); I think it nicely captures the excitement of the day.

The event will include tours of BBBO's (songbird) and BBRR’s (raptor) banding stations for those what to get to grips up close and personal with some raptors. Talks by experts in their fields, field trips, panel discussions on tricky raptor ID's, talks on advances in raptor migration tracking, practical advice on how your organization can create excellent educational programming as well as keynote talks from Richard Crossley (of Raptor ID Guide fame) and  Keith Bildstein (Sarkis Acopian Director of Conservation Science at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary).

Braddock Bay Hawkwatch - Luke Tiller
We are adding to the line up regularly on a regular basis and will be posting more exciting details for the event as they become available. To get an idea of what is in the pipeline keep watching this blog and keep an eye on the conference page. To take make sure that you take advantage of our Early Bird Booking you will need to make sure your booking is with us by April 1st.

It's a great opportunity to get together with hawkwatching aficionados and professionals from across the country and beyond. We look forward to seeing you in Rochester in April!