Monday, April 20, 2015

HMANA Raptor ID Workshop 2015 report

HMANA Workshop at Braddock Bay
HMANA’s raptor ID workshop is held in early April for a few very good reasons: Spring migration is much more compact than Fall which means seeing a good variety of different species over a week is much more likely than in say September. Early April specifically also gives you a great chance of seeing both adult and juvenile birds of many species and the end date of the tour also means that we have a great chance of running into the first Broad-winged Hawks of the season.

With all that taken into consideration the weather in Western New York in early April is, shall we say, temperamental at best. It helps that workshop leaders Frank Nicoletti and I both have a number of seasons experience counting at Braddock and have a pretty good feel for where might be good on what days depending on the forecast. Monday the 6th of April wasn’t promising much at Braddock or Derby Hill but the weather forecast to our west looked enticing enough that even with a late start to the day (to allow for arrivals from Vermont and sleep ins from California) we decided to roll the dice and head the hour and a half west for a ‘lifer’ hawkwatch for all concerned: Hamburg.  

Just south of Buffalo we arrived to find the Hamburg watch tallying a nice little flight of Red-shouldered Hawks, including a good number of adults. We also got treated to a few Ospreys, some Red-tailed Hawks (including a good number of heavily marked birds) and got to compare a few accipiters. The volunteer crew there made us feel very welcome and it was great to run into old friends (Alec Humann and Rick Bacher)  and make some new ones (counter Mike Zebehazy). They ended their day with almost 1500 birds, a nice count by anyone’s standards. We also ran into a couple of nice species for the trip including both Vesper and Field Sparrows and a beautiful wintering Red-headed Woodpecker. The days flight details (here). 

Osprey - Luke Tiller
The next two days (Tuesday 7th and Wednesday 8th) weren’t looking too promising for much in the way of raptor flight, but we kept our spirits up by exploring some of the other birding opportunities the region has to offer. We had soon swept up a nice array of waterfowl including a rare Tufted Duck in Ithaca and explored the myriad of open country habitats that make Montezuma NWR such a jewel of the New York birding scene. Montezuma is also the site where much of the reintroduction of Bald Eagles to the state was done and is still a popular nesting area for these birds. As well as some nice views and photo ops of the Bald Eagles we managed to dig up a few interesting gulls: Glaucous, Lesser Black-backed and Kumlien’s/Iceland and some cool waterfowl like Trumpeter Swans and Snow Geese.

The promise of a decent southeast winds and perhaps a flight Thursday saw us up at 5:30am and winging our way two hours east from our base in Rochester to Mexico, New York and the Derby Hill Hawkwatch. As we started to pull up to the site Frank and I already had a good feeling, the winds were right and clouds of blackbirds and American Robins were winging their way over the site. This is what it’s all about as far as I am concerned - the majesty and magic of migration. In the mix were Snow Buntings, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Common Redpolls and Rusty Blackbirds aplenty and after a couple of hours the raptors began to pick up. 

The great thing about good flights at Derby is that when the winds are right the birds are almost directly over your head. This makes for a great learning experience. Derby is also kind enough to provide you with a set of numbered posts to help you describe where on the horizon a bird may be found (something for more watches to consider surely?).

Raptor highlights of the day included killer views of multiple Rough-legged Hawks and one very accommodating Golden Eagle that came right past us. We owed a big thanks to the whole Derby Hill crew for such a warm welcome, they really went all out to accommodate the needs of the group! Details of the days flight (here).

Rough-legged Hawk - Luke Tiller
Friday saw us with something of a conundrum, initially forecasts had shown potential for another good day at Derby and a day at Braddock that could be great or dismal depending on how long the rain held off. A late change to the forecast that showed potential for rain at Derby had us second guessing the two hour drive out there and back and instead focussing our energies back on Braddock Bay. 

We pulled up in the morning at Braddock Bay’s renowned West Spit to be greeted by both a light adult male Rough-legged Hawk and a Alfred Hitchcockesque flight of more blackbirds and robins. We knew we’d made a good call. Again there was a mix of goodies in the passerine flight including an impressive number of Northern Flickers, a Wilson’s Snipe and a few Purple Finches. The excitement was rapidly building but so were the clouds and after an hour or so of mainly passerine flight the skies opened and torrents of rain poured down - the perfect time to go replenish our caffeine at Tim Hortons. As skies lightened again we headed back to West Spit and the flight started up again with a bang as a juvenile Northern Goshawk bustled across the tree line in front of us giving great views.

The winds on the day really started to pick up in the late morning and we found ourselves moving in order to stay in touch with a flight that was pushing inland - not through wind direction but from the birds desire to stay away from the potential danger of the water. From our new sheltered spot we managed to pick up the two incredible highlights of the day: two adult dark Swanson’s Hawks! This was a repeat of last year’s amazing sightings but instead of being spread over two days, this took place on one.

The push of raptors was both exciting and educational - allowing great comparisons between species - even such unexpected ones as Rough-legged and Swainson’s Hawk. The raptors eventually petered out late in the day, but that just gave us the chance to stop in at Owl Woods to find a cute little Northern Saw-whet Owl. An incredible day - even more so given the early week forecast! Flight details (here). 

Northern Saw-whet Owl - Luke Tiller
The next two days saw the group back at Braddock Bay. Saturday carried the responsibility of heading up the Braddock Bay/HMANA Raptorthon event (details here).  Over the day the group and leaders tallied a highly respectable 14 species of raptors (including the tour’s only Peregrine Falcon and the season’s first Broad-winged Hawks) and 75 species of birds in total including both Long-eared Owl and a flyby Glaucous Gull! The final evening together as a group was spent sharing stories of the week and a few good local beers at the Old Toad Pub.

Sunday morning saw us again pick up a small but nicely mixed flight of passerines and raptors before long journeys home dragged participants reluctantly to the airport or to their awaiting cars. After a less than auspicious weather forecast at the beginning of the week it had turned into a great week with incredible and memorable passerine and raptor flights enjoyed, great learning experiences shared, and new friendships made. Over the week the group had tallied flights with almost 10,000 raptors of 16 different species and 124 species of birds overall including the Tufted Duck which was a life or North American bird for almost all concerned. I can’t wait to do it all again next year. Watch the HMANA website for upcoming details (events page here).

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