Monday, September 28, 2009

Revision of USFWS Guidelines for Wind Power Projects

In 2003 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published interim voluntary guidelines on the siting and development of wind power projects. The wind industry and conservationists agree that proper siting of industrial wind power projects is critical to reduce risks to birds, so vigorous guidelines are very important.

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

Projects Addressing Raptor Mortality

Will Weber, a member of the Hawk Migration Association of North America’s Conservation and Education Committee and past chair of HMANA’s board of directors, has initiated a new feature in Hawk Migration Studies, HMANA’s journal.

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

Risks to Raptors in Migration

My name is Gil Randell. I’m active as official counter and coordinator at the Ripley Hawk Watch, a spring watch on the south shore of Lake Erie. I’m also a member of the Hawk Migration Association of North America, serve on its board, and have chaired its Conservation and Education Committee for the last few years. I’m joining the HMANA team posting to “Hawk Migration Notes,” where, among other things, I’ll be commenting on the activities of the Conservation and Education Committee.

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

Taking to the Air at New Hampshire Audubon’s Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory

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

Energy is in the Air

I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be on a crisp mid-September day than on a north-facing mountaintop in New England, enjoying the splendor of broadwing migration and looking down as the deep reds of swamp maple unfold across the landscape. Sure, I enjoy those late October days-scanning the frozen skyline for red-shoulders and goshawks but I love the energy in the air surrounding broadwing season. I love the way it brings people together, I love the anticipation, the thrill of spotting that huge kettle, and the tingle you get from watching each one soar overhead, wondering what it will experience over the next few weeks and where it will spend the winter.

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:

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

Hawks are on the move!

Now that the big nor’easter that blocked up most of the U.S. east coast has cleared, the migration portal is open again for Broad-winged Hawks and everything else too. As a result, Sunday was an excellent migration day almost everywhere.

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 was the first hawkwatch to open for the fall season?

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

Welcome to Hawk Migration Notes!

Welcome to HMANA’s new blog!

Six board members and staff of the Hawk Migration Association of North America will be posting regularly here at Hawk Migration Notes. Our team blog will cover topics about raptors and raptor migration that we hope will be of interest to hawkwatchers, hawk enthusiasts and HMANA members.

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.