Thursday, December 17, 2009
Among those going off the board were Iain MacLeod, who’s been the board chair for the past 3 years. Iain isn’t going too far, though, as he will stay on several HMANA committees and continue to spearhead the layout and design of Hawk Migration Studies. Iain, who is executive director of Squam Lakes Nature Center, also hosted the board meeting.
Replacing Iain as chair will be Gil Randell, from Mayville, New York. Gil was HMANA’s vice chair last year and has served as chair of the Conservation and Education Committee for several years. He is a regular at Ripley Hawkwatch.
Three new board members joined the group, though only two are really new to the board. Susan Fogleman of Plymouth, New Hampshire, is returning to the board after a year’s absence. She serves on the Marketing and Communications and the Conservation and Education committees and has been site coordinator at Little Roundtop in New Hampshire for longer than she’d probably want me to say. She’s also one of the writers of this blog.
The other two new board members are Allen Hale, head of Buteo Books based in Shipman, Virginia, and Daena Ford, from Braddock Bay New York’s hawkwatch. Retiring from the board due to term limitations are Steve Hoffman of Montana Audubon, Iain MacLeod and Paul Roberts.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Yup, it’s that time of year again - the weather is getting chillier and I’m hearing Christmas tunes at the grocery store. Yes, the holidays are approaching, but there is also one more thing that’s bound to bring you lots of cheer….it’s Christmas Bird Count season!
This year marks the 110th annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC), an effort begun by the National Audubon Society. From December 14 through January 5th, thousands of volunteers across North America will join together to take part in an adventure that has become a tradition for several generations.
If you’re not familiar with CBCs, here’s how they work. Each count takes place during a 24-hour period within a specified 15-mile diameter count circle. Participants - individuals or teams – divide up the sections, and the group tallies up the results at day’s end. Every individual bird of every species is counted and recorded on a checklist, so every bird counts! The numerous house sparrows and European starlings are counted just as vigilantly as the coveted goshawks and shrikes.
The data from this longest-running wildlife census is then compiled and used by National Audubon together with other conservation organizations to assess the health of bird populations and to guide conservation decisions.
CBCs are all inclusive, and anyone can participate – all ages and all birding levels are welcome. Routes often follow roadways, so those who prefer not to hike much can still contribute. Feeder-watching is another useful and fun way of participating, and it allows participants to count birds outside from indoors.
In the New England counts where I participate, I like to choose routes where I can cover ground by snowshoe, although there are many times when the wind is blowing hard and the temperature drops below freezing when I’m wishing I had the warmth of a car!
Each year, I extend the invitation to friends; even non-birders have fun. It’s an opportunity to share in great winter birding and get involved in a larger effort.
Some years, while in between field jobs, I’d make it my goal to participate in as many counts as I could. I think my record was six counts spanning from Outer Cape Cod up to the far northern reaches of New Hampshire… an exciting journey full of jaegers, dovekies, gray jays and crossbills.
What I most enjoy about CBCs is the history and community traditions behind them. Each count is unique, but most end the day with a celebratory gathering to discuss the findings in a warm place, usually involving hot food and cocoa – at least up here in the Northeast. Some of my birding friends have been conducting these surveys continuously for over 50 years. It’s not only the birds that bring them back, year after year. And, imagine the changes they’ve seen in that span of time!
As raptor enthusiasts and hawkwatchers, we need to support conservation organizations and all efforts to monitor bird populations. After all, it is through CBCs, Breeding Bird Surveys and hawkwatching efforts that we are learning valuable information about raptor populations and how to best manage for species, both common and rare.
Please consider joining in the fun this winter by helping out with your local CBC. Maybe it’ll become part of your annual holiday season tradition, too! To find your nearest CBC, visit National Audubon’s website: http://www.audubon.org/Bird/cbc/ and click on “Get Involved”. The “Count Date Search” will help you find a count near you.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Since I began hawkwatching in 1999, I have treasured HawkCount as a means of staying up-to-date on what’s happening in Maine, Texas, Illinois, Mexico...you name it. I begin by easily locating watchsites by state or by province from the drop down menu or by using the interactive map. Next, I simply click on an active watchsite and find hourly, daily, or seasonal totals by month or by year – and you’re there! Scroll down to read the summary reports and highlights, a world of raptor observations at your fingertips.
For years, this is solely what I used HawkCount for. But the fun doesn’t stop there...
Click on SITE PROFILE for each site and there you will find general site descriptions, topography notes, history of the site and directions. I find this section helpful when I’m planning a trip to a new site or curious about the length of the count season or just learning about the site’s history, like when it was established. Also included in the Site Profile section are photos of sites, maps, contact information and website links.
Interested in reading about specific protocol or articles highlighting a certain watchsite? Check out the Procedures/Protocols section.
Many of you may be very familiar with HawkCount and all its functions. However, I’ve realized through talking to hawkwatchers how many of them are not.
Aside from these site details, this page also displays big days and season records - my favorite feature. Just check the “Migratory Raptors Observed” table and you’ll see maximum daily and season counts and timing calendars that let you know the migration window for each species at each site. For me, it’s really helpful to get season highlights from certain hawk watches without having to dig through months of data. It’s a very useful tool for Site Coordinators who may be conducting simple analyses, writing final reports or just having fun playing with data.
As HMANA’s Monitoring Site Coordinator, part of my job is to keep HawkCount updated with new information. This means reaching out to Site Coordinators and working with them to fill in the gaps and encouraging people to follow HMANA’s guidelines and to enter data regularly so it can be viewed and enjoyed by everyone. We hope to have the majority of site profiles updated by the end of the year but we would love your help. If you’re a Site Coordinator and looking to update your info in any way, please contact me at email@example.com.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
North American and European researchers are working together to learn more about this poorly-understood species, which appears to be declining across its global range and is classified as a species of Special Concern in Canada.
Bird Studies Canada has used satellite and radio telemetry to track large- and small-scale movements of Short-eared Owls in Canada for two seasons. With funding from TD Friends of the Environment and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Species at Risk Stewardship Program, BSC will continue the program this winter.
Birders are asked to report any sightings of Short-eared Owls this winter; including the date, location, time, number of owls seen and the type of habitat in which they were observed.
If you would like to report a sighting, or if you're interested in volunteering to monitor known roost sites across southern Ontario (or know of a site that hosts wintering Short-eared Owls), please contact Hazel Wheeler, 1-888-448-2473 ext.165, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Data from the study will help determine the seasonal habitats of the owl as well as identify important breeding and wintering sites. Updates on the group's satellite-tracked owls are at the Owl Tracker.
Friday, November 20, 2009
As someone who has been hawk watching for over 35 years, I’ve been fascinated by the changing fortunes of the Cooper’s Hawk. Following HMANA’s Hawk Migration Studies, Hawk Count, and RPI (Raptor Population Index), it is clear we’ve had a dramatic increase in Cooper’s Hawk over much of the continent during the past several decades.
When I started hawk watching in Massachusetts in the 1970s, one rarely saw a Cooper’s Hawk. The best time was in late September and early October, when you might hope to see one a day, maybe two, at selected watch sites. Most New England sites covered by experienced observers reported something like 35 to 40 Sharp-shinned Hawks for every Cooper’s. There was much discussion about identification difficulties, in part because people saw so few Cooper’s; they are so similar to Sharp-shinned Hawks; and there were no good field guides on hawk ID. There was considerable skepticism about some Cooper’s reports.
Looking on a broader geographic basis now, sharpie vs Cooper’s ratios remain very intriguing. For example, Lighthouse Point in Connecticut reported 9,080 sharpies in 398 hours in 1980, and only 84 Cooper’s, a ratio of 108:1. In 2009, in 544 hours of coverage so far, Lighthouse has reported 5,308 sharpies vs 1,221 Cooper’s: 4.3:1, a dramatic change.
Looking somewhat farther south down the coast, in 1980 Cape May in New Jersey reported 52,282 sharpies and 1,615 Coopers, 32.4:1. So far in 2009, in 784 hours of coverage Cape May reported 13,710 sharpies and 5,497 Cooper’s; 2.5:1 significantly lower than Lighthouse. (Both of these coastal sites report primarily birds of the year.)
Looking inland, Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania reported 8,319 sharpshins, and 374 Cooper’s in 846 hours of coverage in 1980, or 22.2:1. In 2009, in 875 hours of coverage to date, Hawk Mountain has had 4,291 sharpies to 601 Cooper’s, or 7.1:1.
Going farther inland, and north, Holiday Beach in Ontario reported 12,460 sharpshins in 1980, vs 316 Cooper’s, a ratio of 39.4:1. In 2009 to date, in 582 hours of coverage Holiday Beach has had 9,699 sharpies and 938 Cooper’s; 10.3:1.
Intriguingly, out west where the data set does not go back as far, in 1991 in 707 hours of coverage the Goshute Mountain site in Nevada had 3,674 sharpshins and 2,726 Cooper’s: 1.3:1, far lower than any eastern sites. In 2008, the most recent data available, the Goshutes had 4,697 sharpies and 1,957 Cooper’s; 2:5 to 1, suggesting accipiter trends in the west might be quite different from those in the east.
Several things are abundantly clear. All four eastern sites are seeing far fewer sharpshins this year than they did 29 years ago. Second, they are seeing many more Cooper’s Hawks now. However, the magnitude of the changes in ratios varies, often somewhat dramatically, from site to site. What is going on? This comparing snapshots of accipiter migration in two different years (four, including the Goshutes) has clear limitations. Looking at moving averages can provide a better picture of what is going on. To look at RPI data for sharpies and Cooper’s from 17 sites across the continent, visit RPI.
Photos by Joseph Kennedy. Used with permission.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Many hawk watches are still looking for and seeing migrating Red-tailed Hawks. One of the things I especially like about late season migration in the northeast is that the late October/November light on migrating redtails shows them at their very best. Never are the colors richer, warmer, and more beautiful on a Red-tailed Hawk than when bathed in afternoon sunlight in early November.
However, in recent years I have been conscious of another growing movement of Red-tailed Hawks, at least in the greater metropolitan Boston area. More Red-tailed Hawks are breeding in heavily developed inner suburbs – and even the core city – than ever before, not just in the wealthier, greener suburbs. Breeding redtails now occupy virtually every major intersection on the major interstate highways in the region. In at least two intersections in my corner of inner suburbia, multiple breeding pairs occupy territories based on the four separate sets of conspicuous vapor lights, on which they frequently perch; that is, two or three different breeding pairs pair consistently perch on specific vapor lights at one cloverleaf.
I’ve also found that a number of these urban redtails – at least a number of adults – do not leave their breeding areas in the winter. Those birds whose most prominent perches are on vapor lights on major cloverleaves appear to occupy the same perches all year round. Locally nesting redtails who do not use the vapor lights generally do not appear to use their most prominent breeding perches regularly during the winter. They are seen intermittently during the winter, however, periodically checking out their nest sites. This seems particularly true for the adult females.
What happens to the juvenile offspring of these urban redtails? The assumption has been that they disperse and eventually migrate. I have not seen the one apparently still surviving young of my local redtail nest for months.
However, I have seen young of other breeding pairs in the area on the same perches – primarily on the interstates – on which I’ve seen them since they fledged months ago. Will they eventually depart for warmer climes? Or will they become part of the growing urban, settled redtail population?
Other redtails move into the area for the winter, some of whom appear to be western-type redtails. (One bander in southern New England says he has seen dramatic shifts in the wintering Red-tailed Hawk population over the past decade or so, seeing the first and growing numbers of western-type redtails.)
As indicated in the State of North America’s Birds of Prey, published by the Raptor Population Index (RPI), many hawk watches in the northeast have seen a decline in annual redtail numbers over the past four decades. Is this due to there being fewer redtails, or as in the case of the Sharp-shinned Hawk, are more Red-tailed Hawks migrating shorter distances, wintering farther north, or even wintering on their breeding grounds now than in the past? The Christmas Bird Count data for the U.S. from 1960-61 to 2008-09 shows a significant, consistent increase in the number of Red-tailed Hawks seen on CBCs. Are you seeing decreasing migrant redtails over the years, or increases in the number of year-round birds?
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Clark and Wheeler in Hawks of North America describe peregrine falcon flight as typified by “shallow but stiff and powerful wingbeats, similar to those of cormorants.” This was a marvelously helpful description for us, because cormorants were visible from our lookout almost continually. When there were no raptors to look at, we could concentrate on the sometimes hundreds of cormorants in the air at one time and imagine their wingbeats on a distant raptor that needed identification.
Clark and Wheeler’s description of peregrines in a glide, “glides with wings level or with wrists below body and wingtips up,” was also very helpful, especially because most of the distant peregrines we saw were head-on pencil lines. After about a dozen peregrines, we began to feel pretty confidant of our distant identifications.
The other feature that really struck us about the peregrines was how quickly they changed from very distant to very close birds, even when they were powering into a headwind. This in itself proved not only distinguishing but exciting. Probably the thrill of seeing a peregrine in the wild is closely related to what is often the quickness and fleetingness of the experience.
Now that we’ve returned inland from our coastal birding, where several times we saw more than 12 peregrines zip past us in 30 minutes, we’re looking forward to seeing next spring’s 12 inland peregrines spread out over two months. We’re also looking forward to the confidence we’ll have in our identifications, even if the peregrines never get very close.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Ocracoke Island lies in a northeast to southwest orientation, is about 15 miles long and ranges in width from around one-quarter-of-a-mile to two or three miles. We had observed peregrines and merlins flying low and fast over the sound-side marsh, the surf line on the ocean, the beach and the dunes. Our observation site ideally would provide a good view of all these features of the island.
A parking area at one of the narrowest parts of the island provided access to some tall dunes that overlooked marsh, dunes and beach and was relatively clear of vegetation that might block our view. The site should offer good views for a number of years to come, but we’re not sure that we can make the commitment required to establish a formal raptor watch that would require hundreds of hours each spring. Well, we can dream!
Modest numbers of ospreys, harriers, cooper’s hawks and sharpies provided a nice contrast to the few kestrels, merlins and many peregrines migrating past the site. Migrating monarch butterflies, swallows and cormorants fleshed out the resident non-raptor activity, which included least, royal, caspian, common, sandwich and gull-billed terns; great black-backed, laughing, ring-billed and herring gulls; seaside sparrows and yellow-rumped warblers; sanderlings, red knots, ruddy turnstones, willets, black-bellied plovers, and one marbled godwit (that showed up every day for two weeks). If the avian activity slowed, small pods of dolphins showed up on a couple of days to keep us entertained.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
There are a number of excellent established fall hawk watches on the coast (check out HawkCount on the internet). We’re partial to Kiptopeke on the southernmost tip of Virginia’s eastern shore. But for the last couple of years, we’ve chosen to find our own observations points south of Kiptopeke.
Although we know migrating raptors in fall, especially falcons, travel down the line of barrier islands (the “outer banks”) south of Kiptopeke, currently there are no formal hawk watches operating and reporting regularly to HawkCount for hundreds of miles south of the Virginia border. So setting up south of Hatteras on Ocracoke Island in North Carolina allowed us to feel a little bit like pioneers. Also, barefoot and shorts and t-shirts in October was a nice contrast to the duofold long underwear, balaclavas and mittens we associate with our official hawk watching duties during Lake Erie’s spring.
Our coastal fall hawkwatching goals were educational and recreational. We wanted to improve our skills at identifying peregrines and merlins, and we hoped for the excitement of at least quick looks at some of North America’s most dramatic avian wildlife. The peregrines, at least, didn’t disappoint us this year.
During one two-hour period in early October we saw nearly 40 migrating peregrines. Flying into twenty-five mile-per-hour head winds, the peregrines came fast and low, skimming over the vegetation in the dry marsh, mostly below eye-level from our observation point in the dunes.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
Partnering with local research and non-profit organizations:
It’s worth asking around at your local conservation or education-based non-profits if there is any interest in partnering at your site. Many organizations are looking for engaging citizen science projects or community-based initiatives – as educators or researchers. Besides, they often have the experience and expertise necessary to help your site.
Tapping into existing networks like local communities, outdoor/birding clubs or scout troops: There is a huge resource of clubs and outdoor groups that are interested in helping out with a good cause. At the Pack Monadnock hawkwatch, we’ve connected with local Boy Scout troops who remove trees each year - maintaining our view and helping with trail maintenance. Scouts may also be interested in earning merit badges, such as Bird Study, or participating in other required ecological studies. All they need may be a little guidance.
Sites can also work towards bringing more raptor education into classrooms. Some middle schools have an entire “raptor segment” or run annual hawkwatches from school grounds in which kids learn how to collect data and make field observations. Contact your local middle school to inquire about these programs.
Contacting local universities and colleges:
Often just making a connection with local colleges and talking to professors about the importance of raptor monitoring goes a long way. I have found that many institutions are searching for projects in which to involve their students and are often unaware of migration monitoring efforts.
Each year at our watchsite, New Hampshire Audubon offers fall practicums, or apprenticeships, to area graduate students. Students assist the main counter with counting and interpretation responsibilities in exchange for school credits. Two previous practicum students are still involved in the hawkwatch as main counters – proof that this program works!
Offering presentations and field trips to local sites:
At the start of each fall season, I organize a few raptor ID presentations at local venues and publicize them widely. This is always a great opportunity to enroll new volunteers in the count.
Another idea is to offer free trips to hawkwatch sites early in the season, which works to engage people and keeps them coming back. Partnering with local outdoor groups such as NH Audubon chapters, I lead some peak-season trips – usually winners for wooing the crowd. Encourage young birders, especially, to get involved and ask for their help counting – most of the time, that’ll be enough to bring them back.
Create a welcoming atmosphere at hawkwatch sites: a place where people feel comfortable visiting and asking questions. Creating incentives to get people involved makes a big difference. Offer t-shirts, volunteer hats or free silhouette guides to those willing to volunteer.
These are just a few ideas that may be helpful to increase involvement or membership at your hawkwatch. If you are struggling to find volunteers and would like some help reaching out, please contact me, Julie Tilden - Monitoring Site Coordinator at email@example.com. Your data is valuable! We at HMANA are striving to help sites as best we can and to ensure long-term raptor migration monitoring.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Overall, the majority of sites are run by volunteers – dedicated people who just love to be outside each fall - watching migrants overhead, and perhaps passing on an appreciation of raptors to others.
These volunteers are what make HMANA and the HawkCount Network strong. However, HMAMA is concerned as more and more sites with long term data sets slip off the map due to the lack of staffing and volunteer presence at sites. Watchsite coordinators throughout the country have been reporting that they “just don’t have enough volunteers”. People are busy and many just don’t have the time to donate to hawkwatching. In some cases we are seeing the older generation, who may have initiated sites in the 1970’s and 1980’s, unable to continue counting and having difficulty finding people to pass the torch on to.
Where are all the new and upcoming hawkwatchers? It’s difficult for young budding biologists to accept counting positions with little or no compensation – and even if they do, what’s the incentive to keep them coming back year after year? Even though many sites are making huge strides in outreach and education, I feel we can do even more to engage the next generation of counters and make known the importance of raptor monitoring. It is clear that we need a resurgence of new blood in the hawkwatching community. This means reaching out to young people and getting them involved. Below are a few ways I feel we can do this:
· Partnering with local research and non-profit organizations
· Tapping into existing networks like local communities, outdoor/birding clubs or scout troops
· Contacting local universities and colleges
· Offering field trips to local sites
· Creating a welcoming atmosphere at hawkwatches
In my next post, I’ll go into detail regarding these efforts and how we can go about making connections to improve hawkwatch participation.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
HMANA’s http://www.hawkcount.org/ website is a phenomenal resource for pulling together all the pieces of this puzzle. It is one of the best tools we have for understanding the big picture: what species are moving, how many, where they are going, and when they are moving. How great to be able to learn of raptor movements all over the continent with a few clicks of the mouse.
Here, tucked into the rainforests of the Caribbean lowlands inside an indigenous reserve, stands a canopy tower perfectly situated for monitoring migrants. All southbound birds are funneled through a narrow 5 km stretch between the Talamancan Mountains and the Atlantic coastline. In addition to millions of raptors, swallows and dragonflies cover the skies, warblers pour through in waves, intermingling with resident forest birds and common nighthawk counts have reached 20,000 in one day.
Since 2000, Kekoldi has been a volunteer-run site active during most fall and spring seasons. However, it struggles at times to find enough counters. This is unfortunate, given its biological significance and history of counting 2- 3 million raptors of 15+ species. I was lucky enough to spend two seasons at Kekoldi, assisting in the count and collecting data on Peregrine Falcon migration. The potential for research at this site is outstanding and it is critical to pursue for our understanding of raptor populations and movements in the tropics. Currently, HMANA is striving to assist the Kekoldi hawkwatch in adding data to the HawkCount database and by establishing continuous counts and so it can become a contributer of long term data.
To put this all into perspective, when we are swimming in broad-winged hawks up here in the northeast, the Kekoldi watchsite has already counted 200,000 Mississippi kites. As we welcome late season redtails and goshawks in mid-October, the skies above Kekoldi are covered in one million broad-winged hawks. By October 25th, a half a million Swainson’s hawks will be passing overhead. By the time November rolls around in New England, we are packing it in, or maybe withstanding the last few cold days, hoping for a golden eagle or two. But in Kekoldi, turkey vultures are just getting started and will total over one million by mid-December.
I think it’s important to keep these migration schedules in mind. It gives me a new perspective on migration and reminds me of the bigger picture. It also makes me value the count data I collect daily, and the feeling that I’m contributing to something larger.
Interested in visiting this secluded raptor hotspot? A HMANA tour to the Kekoldi Hawkwatch may be in the making for fall 2010. Stay tuned!
Monday, October 19, 2009
I dearly love hawkwatching but as editor of Hawk Migration Studies and also with a day job, I have far less time for it than I’d like. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is about 90 minutes away, and even nearby Waggoner’s Gap, north of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, is a 45-minute drive.
I can very much relate to the complaint about not having enough time for hawkwatching. Sometimes, a couple of hours is all I can scrape together, and I don’t want to spend most of that driving. So what’s a girl to do?
Well, I often hawkwatch in what is roughly my backyard. I’ve created my own personal hawkwatch. I go to a parking lot of a nearby ski resort that sits at about 1000 ft. elevation and provides a nice open view. There’s no leading mountain edge to funnel the raptors so the number of raptors isn’t always great. But, occasionally the numbers are fine, and even when they’re not, I always see at least a few things.
So far, I’ve never seen a Golden Eagle, Northern Goshawk or a Peregrine Falcon from my parking lot hawkwatch, but I always have hope. For all the other species found in the eastern U.S., I’ve had at least one sighting. Red-tailed Hawks, Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, along with a variety of American Kestrels and the occasional nice flight of Broad-winged Hawks are the mainstays. Harriers, Osprey and Bald Eagles make regular appearances. I’ve seen a Merlin here exactly once, ditto the Rough-legged Hawk, and Red-shouldered Hawks are seen less often than I would have expected.
But, when I only have a few free hours for hawkwatching, coming to this spot is a lot better than spending most of that time in the car on my way to or from one of the big hawkwatches. I’ve had a Cooper’s Hawk land on a nearby light pole and proceed to eat something. I’ve seen a big kettle of Broad-wings suddenly fall out of a cloud and almost drop on my head. I’ve seen Ravens and Common Loons and flocks of songbirds heading north or south. I take my dog, a comfy lawn chair and my binoculars and it’s a wonderful way to spend a few hours. And it’s much, much better than using most of my free time in the car.
So do any of you have your own strategy for how to get out hawkwatching more often?
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
This September we enjoyed an above average flight of American Kestrels at Wachusett Mountain for the past decade, one of the leading hawk watch sites in Massachusetts. Not only were the numbers up, but we noticed that many of the kestrels were “insecting” out in front of the mountain, often kiting and hovering in pursuit of insect prey. We frequently saw the kestrels continue overhead with dragonflies visible in their talons, dissecting their ode prey in flight. Also had one adult Merlin come in right on the summit and dive down after an insect, to the point that we first thought it was a nighthawk until we got a full look at it! (At the same time, we saw far fewer Monarch butterflies and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds migrating past Wachusett than usual.)
Doing Lighthouse Point in New Haven, Connecticut, last week, we had some great kestrel days (over 200), and saw many with dragonflies in their talons. I don’t know my odes, but one female had a gigantic dragonfly in her talons and was carrying it like the jumbo Air Force jet carrying the Space Shuttle beneath it. Also saw several Merlins going after insects high overhead. I was surprised, however, to see a Sharp-shinned Hawk with a dragonfly hanging from her landing gear, munching in flight. I’ve seen kestrels, Merlins and Peregrines, not to mention Short-eared Owls, eating in flight, but I’ve never seen an accipiter doing so.
I know that kestrels migrating over Hawk Ridge in Duluth do so at the same time as odes migrating around the western point of Lake Superior, feeding on their fellow travelers as they fly? Has anyone else seen a notable increase in odes at their hawk watches this year?
Thursday, October 8, 2009
It was a mezzo mezzo Broad-winged Hawk migration at Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, Massachusetts, this fall. The numbers were less than half our long-term average and about three quarters of the average for the past ten years.
Compounding the disappointment, many of the broadwings were pepperspecks, so high in the sky that some people thought we were counting floaters in our eyes. How high were these pepperspecks? In Flight Strategies of Migrating Hawks (1989) Paul Kerlinger says that at Cape May, NJ, broadwings were difficult to see with the naked eye when 625 meters, or roughly 2000 feet, directly overhead against a cloudless sky. Broadwings were generally seen with the naked eye below 550 m (1800 ft) but somewhat difficult to see beyond that. When using 7X binoculars, single broadwings directly overhead were difficult to detect at 1,100 m (3600 ft). Kerlinger notes that in Texas flocks of hundreds of broadwings observed on radar could be missed by observers with binoculars when the hawks were flying less than 1600 ft above ground level about a mile from the observers.
Today I was hawk watching at Lighthouse Point in New Haven, Connecticut, one of my favorite sites for looking at accipiters and falcons. It is a great site to see and compare Sharp-shinned Hawks with Cooper’s Hawks, and today I was trying to photograph them, with limited success. I was in a parking lot between two small woodlots, somewhat sheltered from a 10-13 mph northwest wind gusting to 22 mph. Early on, the birds were low, often just above treetop levels, but they gradually worked their way up in late morning to the limits of unaided vision.
Occasionally, they would stack up, soaring and hanging into the wind. One time, I had 8 Sharp-shinned Hawks stacked up in a single column from the treetops to the limits of unaided vision. It looked like the skies over Kennedy airport early on a Monday morning, but these air travelers weren’t looking to land. They were trying to decide if they wanted to fly 5-7 miles over the bay in that wind, or circumnavigate the bay. Kerlinger says that sharpies become difficult to see against cloudless skies between 400-500 meters (1300-1600 ft.) overhead and disappeared above 700 m. (2300 ft).
Later in the day when I had given up all hope of photography because of the birds’ altitude, one of the excellent observers at Lighthouse would find a sharpshin or kestrel flying at the limits of naked vision. When one bird was found, we would often find another half dozen birds in the immediate area, once our eyes could focus on something. On one occasion I found a Peregrine rowing across the sky almost directly overhead, beyond unaided vision and approaching the limits of binocular vision. While directing other observers to the Peregrine, I discovered two more following in an almost direct line at the same altitude, which suggests these broadwing-sized birds were probably around 3600 ft. high.
A number of factors that I have not addressed affect the visibility of hawks. Several books and articles published in the '80s addressed the issue to an extent, but I’ve not seen much done “recently.” Is anyone aware of “visibility studies” done at a hawk watch near them?
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
Friday, October 2, 2009
Monday, September 28, 2009
The apparent intention of the USFWS was to make the guidelines permanent in 2005 after a two-year review. Instead, however, the USFWS entered into an extended review process of the guidelines that involved the creation of a Federal Advisory Committee (FAC). A number of organizations have pointed out problems with the makeup of that FAC. Problems include concerns that the wind industry is too heavily represented on the FAC and that there are significant gaps in the committee’s representation from conservation and scientific organizations: notably, no raptor experts and under-representation of experts especially qualified to deal with avian issues in the eastern U.S.
The FAC wraps up its work next month with a more than 50 page document rewriting the guidelines. There are a number of problems with the current draft of that document: chief among those problems is that in their excessive detail the guidelines as proposed may have become inaccessible to local governments who in many instances are the final decision makers about whether a project is provided the necessary permits to proceed.
The original guidelines were pretty clear and specific, something local decision makers could grasp without a lot of coaching from consultants: those original guidelines quite simply required that developers of industrial wind energy projects avoid known bird migration pathways and daily movement flyways, avoid features of the landscape know to attract raptors (such as ridgelines and coastlines), avoid areas formally designated as Important Bird Areas and avoid documented locations of any species protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. This clarity and relative lack of ambiguity is lost in the details and verbiage of the rewrite.
Despite the level of detail in the current draft of the guidelines revision, the revision’s recommendations regarding studies to determine raptor use of proposed project areas, and subsequently the likely risk to raptors, promulgate investigations entirely lacking in appropriate rigor.
HMANA has expressed formally its concerns about the revisions of the guidelines to the USFWS and the FAC on several occasions. Now that the process is winding to a close, HMANA will continue to monitor the proposed guidelines and will comment extensively to the USFWS and the Department of the Interior in hopes that the original and fairly robust 2003 guidelines are not entirely sapped of their effectiveness.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
In his first article “Non-natural Raptor Mortality and a Call for Help” (HMS: xxxiv, no. 2, Spring 2009), Will summarizes the mortality factors the series plans to review and invites contributions from the journal’s readership regarding human-induced threats to raptor populations. Comments posted on “Hawk Migration Notes” directed toward preventable human-induced threats to raptors and how these threats could be addressed are one way you can answer Will’s call for help. Look for another article from Will on non-natural mortality in the recently released Fall 2009 issue of HMS.
In my last posting to “Hawk Migration Notes,” I mentioned that HMANA’s Conservation and Education committee has been particularly concerned about wind power as a source of raptor mortality. The National Wind Coordinating Committee, a consortium of wind industry representatives, environmental and consumer groups, governmental agencies and others, has acknowledged that raptors are especially vulnerable to the risks posed by wind turbines: “Compared with other avian species studied to date throughout the United States, some species such as raptors (including hawks, golden eagles, falcons and owls) appear to be at higher risk relative to their occurrence of collisions with wind turbines” (Wind Turbine Interactions with Birds and Bats: A Summary of Research Results and Remaining Questions: NWCC 2004).
HMANA’s Conservation and Education Committee is following two initiatives that are working to improve our understanding of the risk posed by wind turbines to birds, and especially raptors. The Nature Conservancy, after creating maps in Kansas, Colorado, Montana and Oklahoma that superimpose sensitive wildlife areas and areas rich in wind resources, will be expanding this mapping project to include the entire country. The project should provide developers and permitting agencies with a clear indication of which areas are appropriate for wind development and which areas should be avoided.
Another promising effort is being undertaken by a coalition of the American Bird Conservancy, the American Wind Wildlife Institute, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread. This coalition will be developing tools and methodologies that will help in making appropriate siting decisions and improve our ability to protect important avian resources.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Carolyn and Julie in their posts in the last two weeks have touched on the pleasure experienced by those of us lucky enough to spend time at fall raptor migration sites. That pleasure, however, can be tinged with uneasiness and worry.
Raptors are never far removed from mortality. For raptors, death can come from starvation and from injuries sustained while hunting. Death also can be caused by man’s activities: from pesticides, lead poisoning, illegal trapping and hunting, and collisions with windows and other man-made structures.
The migration that we enjoy so much at our hawk watches renders raptors especially vulnerable to many of these risks. Migration is an arduous activity that requires birds to travel thousands of miles, often over territories that, for one reason or another, are hostile to them. First-year birds are especially in harm’s way. High mortality rates among first-year birds are one of the reasons spring hawk watches on average encounter many fewer raptors than fall hawk watches.
One of man’s activities that poses threats to raptors and has especially concerned the Conservation and Education Committee is the rapidly growing wind power industry. Conservationists and representatives of the wind power industry all agree that proper siting of projects is essential to limiting the risk from wind power development to birds and bats and especially to raptors. Proper siting, however, appears often to be overlooked or ignored in the wind industry’s rapid expansion.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in its current interim guidelines on wind power development, specifically states that wind power projects should avoid officially designated Important Bird Areas, areas where endangered species are known to nest or concentrate, and areas of known migration concentrations. Yet many of us, as we enjoy the migration, can see turbine projects encroaching on our favorite hawk watches. They seem to get closer every year.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Blue skies, a northwest wind and sun on a mid-September day made for perfect conditions to releasing a broad-winged hawk into the wild. Our annual Hawk Release Day took place yesterday at Pack Monadnock Mountain in Miller State Park, drawing about 300 people up to the mountain. Cool winds carried a steady trickle of migrants overhead all day, though we didn’t get the big push of broadwings that was anticipated. We released two rehabilitated broad-winged hawks, one adult and one juvenile, from local rehabilitation center called “Wings of Dawn”.
Apparently, it was also a good day to get married. I had to clear hawkwatchers off of our viewing platform for an hour to allow for a small ceremony to take place. Dressed in jeans and t-shirts, but complete with bow tie and vail, the happy couple said their vows, shared champagne with friends and hiked down the mountain. I don’t think they anticipated an extra 300 hawkwatchers in the audience but most eyes were on the migrants anyway!
It’s the fifth year of data collection for Pack Monadnock here in southern New Hampshire at what has become one of the most successful outreach programs for New Hampshire Audubon. Each year, the site has been staffed with a full-time biologist with help from the local community. Like so many hawkwatch sites, the local volunteers make this site special and this year, as Site Coordinator, I chose to harness even more volunteer involvement. It’s a great crew that helps with counting, interpreting and fundraising efforts. Over 6,000 people and 20-30 school groups visit the site each counting season between Sept 1st and Oct 31st. New Hampshire Audubon does a great job at creating a welcoming environment where people can ask questions, learn about migration, and just have fun. After all, their mission is to connect people to nature..and there’s no easier way to do that than with raptors.
Since its founding in 2005 by HMANA chair, Iain MacLeod, the count has averaged 8,825 birds per season and has become one of the most productive migration sites in Northern New England. So far this year, we have counted 4,281 raptors with the biggest day taking place on Sept 16 when 2,042 broadwings were tallied. All eyes are on the sky this week as we all patiently await the next cold front and hope for a few more big days. Come visit us!
Friday, September 18, 2009
And aside from what draws us out onto these cliffs and ridges - witnessing this ancient annual ritual - there is the simple pleasure of just watching that slow transition from shades of greens to rich yellows, oranges and reds. In my opinion, there is no better way to spend the autumn and feel connected to the natural world.
My name is Julie Tilden and I am the Monitoring Site Coordinator for HMANA. My position was created to allow HMANA the ability to communicate and reach out to many migration monitoring sites across North America. I started this position just one year ago and it has been a great fit for me-given my background in raptor research and conservation, love of hawkwatching and passion for birds. I also serve as Site Coordinator for the Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory here in Peterborough, NH.
I will be posting occasionally here on Hawk Migration Notes, bringing you some interesting observations related to fall raptor migration.
In this post, I want to take this opportunity to share some recent info about an event currently taking place across the continent: Raptorthon! And we want you to take part!
This is a new HMANA fundraiser and a fun way to support the hawkwatch network and help to raise the profile of hawkwatching, locally, nationally and internationally.
Anyone can participate. I invite you to take part-either on your own or as part of a team. This is an opportunity for you to help pioneer an exciting event and help raise funds to support HMANA’s raptor conservation and monitoring programs and to support your local hawkwatch.
*I’m forming a hawkwatch team here at Pack Monadnock, where we will try to count as many golden eagles as we can before November 1st (a rare and special visitor to southern New Hampshire). It’s a fun challenge and boosts our motivation when we know the funds raised will go towards raptor conservation at HMANA and our own local hawkwatch here.
How does it work? During the fall migration season, from September 1 to November 30: (1) Choose your count options: your watch site, your day or days to participate; whether you will count as an individual or organize a watch site team; and which species you will count - all species or particular “signature” species or families; (2) Register with HMANA and assign a percentage of your proceeds to a watch site or other conservation organization; (3) Find sponsors to pledge a flat rate or an amount proportional to your count; (4) Do your Raptorthon – and, as always, enjoy identifying and counting as many hawks as possible; (5) Report to your sponsors and collect your pledges; (6) Send the money to HMANA; (7) HMANA will issue receipts to sponsors and distribute the money you assigned to a watchsite or conservation organization.
If you are interested in learning more, all information and downloadable forms are available at: www.hmana.org/raptorthon
HMANA’s goal for the 2009 is to involve as many hawkwatches and hawkwatchers as possible and start to build Raptorthon into a significant national and international event. So join in the fun…there’s still time!
Monday, September 14, 2009
Hawk Cliff, Corpus Christi, Booth Hill and Detroit River Hawkwatch (Lake Erie Metropark) all posted results over 1,000 migrants, with 3,772 at Hawk Cliff, 2,194 at the Texas site, 1,030 at Booth Hill, and 1,155 at Detroit River. Veracruz, of course, tops all the northern sites, with 7,251.
Many other sites posted results in the mid- to upper-hundreds, especially at the Vermont, New Hampshire and Ontario sites, so birds are on the way south. In a few of the many individual highlights, Caesars Head in South Carolina counted 782 Broadwings; Stone Mountain in Pennsylvania tallied 682; Militia Hill near Philadelphia 624; Shatterack Mountain in Massachusetts posted 609; Quaker Ridge, 586; Putney Mountain in Vermont found 528.
More than half of Corpus Christi’s total for the day was Mississippi Kites, with 1,185, which brings their season total so far to 19,637. On Saturday at Veracruz, Mexico, 6,166 Mississippi Kites were counted, bringing their season total so far to an astounding 159,933 out of a total of 163,041 migrants.
Cape Henlopen in Delaware counted 143 ospreys on Sunday, more than half of its total count for the day. And the 51 merlin counted there was a nice number, too.
Waggoner’s Gap in Pennsylvania counted 28 Bald Eagles, threatening their one-day record of 30. Eagles outnumbered the ospreys counted there for the day.
Hawk Cliff counted 289 American Kestrel among its excellent numbers for the day. Kestrel have thus far been in short supply again this year.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Which hawkwatch was the first to officially open to count hawks this fall season?
That would be Waggoner’s Gap, near Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Waggoner’s opened this year on August 1 and had through Thursday so far counted 1052 migrating raptors this season.
Their current tally includes a great total of 121 Bald Eagles. I visited the hawkwatch this past Sunday and managed to spot an eagle that turned out to be eagle #100 for the season. Broad-winged Hawk numbers are also starting to increase here and elsewhere ahead of their annual mid-September push.
Waggoner's compiler, and one of their regular counters, is Dave Grove. Waggoner’s is one of our older hawkwatches. People have watched here since the 1930’s, but counts weren’t recorded until 1948.
The rocky watch site on the border between Cumberland and Perry counties was in private hands until 1953, when it was purchased by the Reineman Wildlife Sanctuary Trust. In 2001 20 acres, including the hawkwatch, was deeded to Pennsylvania Audubon. Since then improvements such as a bigger parking lot and new trails were built.
Waggoner’s regularly counts between 5-8,000 "Broadwings" (Broad-winged Hawks) each year. In each of the past four years they’ve topped 300 Bald Eagles and for the past 10 years or so 200+ Golden Eagles. The total count for a season is often over 20,000 hawks. If you want to visit, add a good cushion to your daypack—those rocks never get any softer!
Thursday on the hawkwatches: Several hawkwatches, the majority in Pennsylvania, posted some nice Broad-winged Hawk numbers on Thursday. Allegheny Front led everyone with a total count of 651 (626 Broadwings), closely followed by Hawk Mountain with a total of 658 (535 Broadwings) and the nearby Bake Oven Knob with 474 (429 were Broadwings). Outside of Pennsylvaniva, Little Round Top in New Hampshire wasn't so little with 477 (431 Broadwings), ahead even of Lake Erie Metropark in the total number of Broadwings seen. Lake Erie had more total hawks, 495, than Little Roundtop but slightly fewer Broadwings with 367.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
We expect to include HMANA news, news about hawkwatches, upcoming hawkatching events, up to the moment migration news and more. Our plan is to blog 2-3 times each week during the fall and spring migrations, with likely lesser frequency during the off-peak times.
We will post photos, both those we have taken and those from others, if you send them to us. We encourage you to comment to our posts or about hawkwatching in general.
Your blogger this week is me, Carolyn Hoffman. I’m editor of HMANA’s Hawk Migration Studies and a longtime Pennsylvania hawkwatcher. If you have photos you’d like to see here, you may send them to me digitally, scaled down to no larger than 800x600 pixels. E-mail them to carolynh07 at earthlink dot net.
I hope you'll enjoy our posts, and we look forward to hearing from you.