Thursday, December 23, 2010

HawkCount's New Generation

Daena Ford, Co-Director at Braddock Bay Research and a member of HMANA’s Board, sent the following interesting testimony about HawkCount ( to her fellow board members. It was a lot more interesting than the posting I was about to make, so here’s Daena:

Yesterday my son (he’s 6 1/2) was doing his daily reading homework, and chose a book from my collection of wildlife kids’ books, Madeleine Dunphy’s The Peregrine’s Journey: A Story of Migration. It’s a great book that beautifully tells the story of how one peregrine makes its long migration from Alaska to Argentina.

While he was reading it out loud to me he was marveling at some of the distances the falcon flew and the variety of places it stopped along the way. At one point the bird travels through Panama with flocks of Swainson’s and Broad-winged hawks. The story mentioned at that point that sometimes tens of thousands of hawks travel through there. Well, this really got his attention, so after he was done with the book, I brought him over to the computer and we pulled up the HawkCount site.

This was not the first time I’ve showed him HawkCount. In the spring, he follows the Braddock Bay count with me (of course!) and he enjoys looking at the tallies on the spreadsheet for each species, etc. Yesterday I showed him the counts from the site in Panama, and he was blown away! And then of course I had to show him the counts from Veracruz...yep, even more jaw-dropping to him.

Besides just using the spread sheets to find out how many hawks were counted at a certain place, I have found it to be a useful tool to help him with simple math concepts such as place value of numbers and looking at which was the greatest number or lowest number, etc. It also helps him learn how to read a chart. Another thing we did was we looked at the Google maps of the locations of the sites, which brought a little geography to the lesson.

So, I felt like sharing this to show how HawkCount can be used as an educational tool for all ages, even if you are not a hawkwatcher. Not sure if anyone knows of any other experiences like this from teachers, parents, kids, etc. If so, I would love to hear about them.

Hope everyone has a Happy Holiday!

Friday, December 10, 2010

World Working Group on Birds of Prey Digitizes Its Raptor Publications

Robin Chancellor, the Hon. Secretary Secretary and Treasurer of the World Working Group on Birds of Prey and Owls (WWGBP) for decades passed away on October 27, 2010. He was a leading figure in the publication of several huge Proceedings of WWGBP conferences and workshops since 1975. In his honor, the WWGBP has begun to digitize those proceedings for free distribution in PDF form. The first two volumes are now available at

Only a few of the papers are specifically on North American raptors, but a number of papers may be of interest to hawk watchers with a broad interest in raptors. Each paper can be downloaded separately.

WWGBP: Berlin, London & Paris
ISBN 0254-6388, 302 pp.

A collection of twenty-eight new and original studies by 41 authors from 20 countries world-wide on birds of prey and owls covering a wide range of topics concerning the biology, ecology, status and conservation of these birds. Contributions include: Trends, Status and management of the White-tailed Sea Eagle, Distribution and Status of the Cinereous Vulture, Evaluation of some Breeding Parameters in a population of Eagle Owls, Status and Biology of the Bearded Vulture, Replacement of Mates in a Persecuted Population of Goshawks, Status and Distribution of Diurnal Raptors in Japan, the Migration of Birds of Prey and Storks in the Straits of Messina. This volume comprises 302 pages (size 14.5 x 21 cm, with cover in colour, many black&white photographs, stitched).

WWGBP: Berlin, London & Paris
ISBN 3-9801961-1-9, 549 pp.

This latest Meyburg and Chancellor production for World Working Group on Birds of Prey (WWGBP) is a substantial volume incorporating over 60 papers and running to 550 pages. It is the product of three separate workshops or colloquia covering a range of eagle species and held during 1991-1993. There is a heavy emphasis on the White-tailed Sea Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla and on various of the Aquila eagles. The great majority of the papers have a European focus, most are in English, but around a quarter are in German.

The papers are inevitably of variable quality, but taken together, they provide a valuable compilation of material that will be of interest to eagle enthusiasts generally. The subject emphasis tends to be on status, conservation issues in various countries and various management techniques and actions. There are individual papers on subjects as diverse as molecular phylogeny of European Aquila eagles, satellite tracking of long-range migrant eagles and effects of precipitation on breeding success of Golden Eagles Aquila chrysaetos in Israel.

Particularly welcome are the numerous contributions from eastern European countries where there is clearly an important emerging interest in the large eagles, notably the various sympatric Aquila species of that region. The several short papers on the poorly known Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga and Eastern Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca heliaca offer potentially new material for most readers.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Florida in February!

Would you like to get away this winter for a sub-tropical birding adventure and a little sun? Join us for HMANA’s South Florida Winter Raptor and Birding Tour! Tour dates are February 5-12, 2011 and the price is $1900 for HMANA members, $1950 for nonmembers. I will be the tour leader for this adventure along with help from my husband and bird guide, Phil Brown.

HMANA’s recent Costa Rica tour during fall migration was a grand success so we are happy to offer another exciting getaway. This time, we will focus on both raptors as well as all the Florida specialties such as roseate spoonbill, purple gallinule, Florida scrub-jay, and wood stork. Other target species for the trip include snail kite, crested caracara, short-tailed hawk, burrowing owl, white-tailed kite, red-cockaded woodpecker, limpkin, scissor-tailed flycatcher, painted bunting and anhinga, as well as reptiles like American Alligator and Crocodiles.

The tour will visit all the south Florida hotspots like Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Sanibel Island and the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and the STA-5 vicinity. We will be making a loop through southern Florida, giving us six full days to explore the various natural communities like mangrove forests, cypress swamp, freshwater wetlands, sawgrass prairies, dry prairies, scrub oak forests, mahogany hammocks, pine forests, and open water.

This trip is geared toward all levels of birders so whether you’re just starting out or have been birding in Florida before, I think you will enjoy it. It’s also an excellent opportunity for photographers.

We hope you can join us! For more information, please contact me at More tour details coming soon at:

photo courtesy of David McNicholas

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Look at the Hawk Watchers, Too! Not Just the Hawks.

October 29 I was hawk watching at Lighthouse Point, in New Haven, Connecticut, one of the best hawk watch sites in New England. The day was not what I had expected; the winds were far weaker than forecast and the count was only a little over 100 by early afternoon, but with a good mix, highlighted by a Peregrine perched for an hour and an immature Bald Eagle that spent some time soaring over us, trying to determine what it wanted to do.

Activity was slowing in the early afternoon, when I believe Lynn James said she had a large hawk out front. Lynn, who has incredible distance vision, said the bird was in a large gray cloud above a blue slit in heavy cloud cover. Everyone scanned for the bird and gradually we found it. People remained glued to their scopes as the bird was way out and still quite small, but acting like a very large bird. Someone had earlier remarked that the site had not had a Golden Eagle yet this season, so it was about time, though it was clearly not typical “Golden” weather.

I got on the bird fairly quickly and soon felt very good about it. It had a Red-tailed Hawk kind of dihedral, visible at great distance. The bird was quite large but gliding straight toward us without apparently moving a muscle or a wing, so we couldn’t pick up any contrast on it, much less a head/tail ratio. I think everyone was thinking “golden,” but just could not see enough to call it. As the bird angled slightly, I was able to see a bright white basal third of the long tail and the smaller head. I shouted Golden, and everyone began cheering and concurring. The excitement was palpable as the bird continued to glide towards us.

I had been hunched over my scope straining to watch this bird. When I stood up to relax for a second, I noticed that half the scopes were pointing north and half east. I shouted there must be two goldens, that half the people were looking at a different bird than I had been. Everyone looked up, and then over, and sure enough, half of us had found one golden eagle and half another. The northerly bird slowly glided over, revealing a lot of white in the flight feathers, a long rectangular white patch in each wing. My golden, following a few minutes later, had a lot less white in the wings. Strangely, after not having had a golden for two months, two occurred at the same time, They were followed by a third golden just a few minutes later, a bird with very little white in the wings or tail. It was a terrific fifteen minutes, but we all had to laugh. If one of us had not looked briefly at the hawk watchers instead of the hawks, would we have ever noticed there were TWO Golden Eagles?

Golden Eagle photograph by Joseph Kennedy. Used with permission. (Not one of the "Lighthouse" birds.)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ramblings on Migration in Tropical America

What images come to mind when you think of migration? Geese flying south in V-formation? Exhausted warblers resting on Gulf Coast beaches? Broad-winged hawks kettling their way south along the Appalachians? I think about the familiar cycle of migrating birds that breed in temperate forests and winter further south.

I must say that spending time in the tropics – most recently on HMANA’s Costa Rica trip – has given me a different perspective on migration. I no longer refer to the local New Hampshire breeders in my area as “our birds”. It’s hard not to when a Baltimore oriole arrives in your backyard in spring, spends the summer there raising its young and keeping you company with its lovely song and bright plumage. We feel connected to this and a sense of this bird and its young “belonging” here. But think about how much time that oriole spends with us versus time spent on migration and in the tropics throughout the winter. A mere three months, maybe four? Baltimore orioles were all over many of Costa Rica’s tropical forested habitats this October, and many of them are settled in until spring! In truth, the oriole (and many other familiar breeding birds of the Northeast US) spends the majority of its time in the tropics and comes north to the temperate forests to take advantage of a very brief food supply and a place with fewer competitors.

The more I learn about migration, the more questions I have. One thing that is certain is that migration is a constantly changing and widely variable phenomenon. Throughout North America, we have short and long distance migrants, complete and partial, altitudinal migrants, and irruptives, to name a few types of migration strategies. But what about those species which carry out their migrations within tropical latitudes? HMANA’s recent trip to Costa Rica to witness migration touched on this spectacle.

On a drizzly afternoon, our group watched four resplendent quetzels feeding in an avocado tree at 2000m on the road to Volcan Irazu. They were taking full advantage of this fruiting tree, but in typical falls, these birds will migrate further south on the Caribbean slope and mainly be found between 500-800m.
From our hotel room in San Jose, my husband and I watched a distant fruiting Jamaican Plum tree through our scope for one hour. Within that time, 20 different species of birds fed at this tree, most of which were migratory species.

Historically, most migration research has focused on movements of birds between temperate and tropical habitats, but the ‘intrartropical’ migrants – those birds moving within the tropics – haven’t received as much attention. According to Gary Stiles, coauthor of Birds of Costa Rica, approximately half of the bird species found in Costa Rica show some evidence of seasonal movement. These movements likely reflect changing food availability and/or weather changes (wet vs dry seasons). There are even a few tropical species that travel long distances to follow burned areas – ‘fire followers’. Food is still the underlying reason for their movement.

It’s easy for us to notice migrating flocks of swallow-tailed and plumbeous kites (large birds moving through the open sky along ridges and coasts), but most other movements happen very quietly, which is part of why this movement was overlooked for so long.

Today, more tropical research has taken place within Costa Rica than any other area in the neotropics, and it is thought that the local migration patterns between mountains and lowlands are probably typical of the rest of Central America. Birds are making localized short distance movements up and down in elevation. If you’re a bird that doesn’t shift its diet when food becomes scarce, then you have no choice but to move. Interestingly, the species most likely to migrate are the fruit and nectar eaters since this food supply changes seasonally more than insects do. Hummingbirds, parrots, toucans, quetzals, and bellbirds are just some bird families that employ this strategy seasonally.

If you are as fascinated as I am about migration in the tropics, or just curious about general behavior and breeding of tropical birds, be sure to check out Birds of Tropical America by Steven Hilty. It’s a terrific book and has answered so many of my questions about migration and more.
(Photo: plumbeous kite at the Kekoldi Hawkwatch)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hawkwatching at its Best

What could be more fun than floating on your back in warm waters of the Caribbean and watching thousands of raptors swirl overhead above you? This was just one of the many highlights from HMANA’s recent birding and hawkwatching tour to Costa Rica last week.

Where to even begin?! We journeyed through the country exploring the Central foothills and highlands, Caribbean lowlands and the Pacific slope. Overall our group saw or heard an amazing 393 species of birds. Among those were 31 species of raptors, 26 hummingbirds, 21 antbirds, 35 flycatchers, 29 warblers and 30 tanager species. It was 10 glorious days of colorful birds, beautiful rainforest and coastal landscapes, good coffee and lots of fruit.

But the grand focus of this tour was spending 2 days at the Kèköldi Hawkwatch inside the Kèköldi Indigenous Reserve on the Caribbean slope. This has always been a very special place to me. From my first season spent counting there in 2001, and then again when I returned to do peregrine falcon research in 2005, I have been itching to get back. And as always, it was just as magical as ever and did not let us down.

The hike up to the watchsite involved a lot of mud, sweat and thorns. What would be the fun of seeing all those migrants if you didn’t have to work for it, right? We wove our way up the mountain through an abandoned cacao plantation, stopping of course to sample the sweet and tangy fruit along the way. Black and green poison dart frogs hopped across the trail and laughing falcons called from the canopy. I could spend all day on this 2km long trail, studying leaf cutter ants, the towering strangler fig trees and the huge diversity of understory species like antbirds, tinamous and hermits (hummingbirds). Looking up at any one time, we saw glimpses of swirling kettles through the canopy, reminding us of what was in store and to pick up the pace.

As soon as we reached the top of the hawkwatch tower and were catching our breath, the counters handed me a clicker and said, “You’re in charge of peregrines!” Just like old times. For the next few hours, I counted over 100 peregrines passing overhead. Some scattered over the ocean, others kettling up over the mountains in groups of 5-10.
Turkey vultures were the dominant migrant during our visit but mixed in were thousands of broad-wings and Swainsons hawks with the occasional Mississippi Kite, osprey or merlin. At times, the skies would be full of solely broad-wings or Swainson’s as if they were very courteously taking turns using the sky.

The phrase, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god” was a common one, as tour participants shifted from kettle to kettle, trying to take in the sheer magnitude of the movement. Aside from raptors, chimney swifts and various swallow species swept past in the millions. By the end of the day, 70,000 raptors had been tallied.

To anyone who visits, it’s easy to see that Kèköldi is a truly remarkable place. As with many hawkwatch sites, Kèköldi is struggling to stay afloat and is in need of more financial and volunteer support. The two to three volunteer counters this season are overworked and overwhelmed by the volume of birds coming through. This site requires a team of at least 4-6 counters to effectively cover the skies.

Several brainstorming sessions took place amongst tour participants and Daniel, the project coordinator (& our local guide) on how to help this project succeed long-term. It was great to see people eager to share their thoughts and ideas on how to build upon this important project with outreach and fundraising strategies. HMANA is currently working with Kèköldi to find ways to offer support. Hopefully one way we can continue to offer support is through more tours like this one!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Observing Non-Raptor Migration at Hawk Watches (Part 2)

One of the differences between general birding and birding at a hawk watch is that at a hawk watch the salient feature of the birds we see is their flight. More often than not in general birding we look at birds sitting on the water or wading in it, perching on twigs, or walking on the ground, or jumping from one thing to another. At hawk watches we look at flight.

The focus on flight at a hawk watch encourages us to pay attention to a dimension of birding, and birds, that, strangely enough, often gets short shrift. Years ago, I thought I was pretty good at identifying ducks in the harbor until I met an old retired duck hunter who could actually tell what birds he was seeing in flight! Birding at a hawk watch encourages us to increase our skills in that direction and also our appreciation of the birds we observe.

I’ve heard American Bitterns, seen them frozen in marsh grasses, and sometimes seen them taking brief and quick flights from one patch of marsh to another. But my most memorable sighting of an American Bittern was at the hawk watch when I had a chance to watch one fly for over a mile in migration with its distinctively patterned two-toned wings and ponderous flight. Somehow, seeing that very secretive bird so exposed and taking part in such a dangerous activity as migration was very moving.

In my last blog I talked about finding loons when scanning for soaring raptors. This is another exciting feature about hawk watches. Scanning for raptors we find things we never would have seen otherwise. After birding for decades I’d never seen a Sandhill Crane in New York State. Now, at our hawk watch in western New York, I see Sandhill Cranes on at least five or six different days during the spring migration.

Paying attention to the non-raptor migration at hawk watches expands the profound experience presented by observing the raptor migration. Seeing something otherwise secret and yet something that provides such a sense of connectedness with deep, universal forces will bring me back to the hawk watch year after year, as long as I’m able.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Observing Non-Raptor Migration at Hawk Watches (Part I)

After nearly 50 years of general birding in western New York State, I began seeing Common Loons regularly only after I began spending time at our local hawk watch. Not only did I begin seeing loons regularly, but I began seeing them in pretty much a new way.

Loons for me had been early- and late-winter harbor birds, infrequently seen, usually apart from the rafts of relatively diminutive ducks, looking big and solitary. Seeing a loon always made a special birding day for me.

Attendance at our hawk watch introduced me to a new dimension of loons and the likelihood of seeing them often. Previously I saw loons usually swimming and diving, only now and then flying; when I see them at the hawk watch they are always flying. And what flight! Powerful, high, fast, straight-line, totally lacking in hesitation, directly out and over Lake Erie toward Canada.

At the hawk watch we pick up loons while scanning with binoculars for soaring raptors. On April 19th this year we saw 12 loons, most of them singles, presenting their unique flight signature as they powered toward their northern nesting territory. We saw loons on at least three other days in the spring of 2010. If we hadn’t been scanning for raptors, the loons without doubt would have passed entirely unnoticed. They could have been flying, unobserved, for hundreds of miles before we picked them up.

Hawk watches provide unique opportunities for observing non-raptor migration, loon-sightings being only one example. 500 or more Blue Jays in one day, tens of thousands of blackbirds in mixed flocks in one day, ducks, hundreds of Tundra Swans and more, all almost routinely seen and with a new perspective.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Time to step up to the bat!

My public radio station is having its fund drive this week. Perhaps yours is, too. If you are a public radio listener, or a public television viewer, then you are aware that those services are available to us only because of the financial support of some of those who listen and watch. It’s sort of like HMANA!

Think of all the services HMANA is providing ---- FREE! You can go to our website and download all kinds of great information, for FREE! You can enter watch data into HawkCount, you can read reports from sites north to south, east and west every day, for FREE! You can download those wonderful silhouette guides and other ID materials for, you guessed it, f-r-e-e. HMANA is a volunteer organization, but we do have costs, and, would you believe it? Of the thousands of hits our on-line services get, only a small percentage of those folks are members of HMANA! That’s right, paying members of HMANA number fewer than 500. There are many more folks out there (you?) who use HawkCount, who are site leaders, who watch hawks and support the very same goals who haven’t joined HMANA.

Membership is only $25! For that amount of money (way less than you spend on your boutique coffee in a week) you not only will get our excellent publication, Hawk Migration Studies, discounts on various offers such as the trip currently underway to Costa Rica, but you will be supporting HMANA’s ongoing efforts to conserve raptors and their environment. And even better, you will get rid of any guilt feelings you may have been having about not supporting those efforts! Don’t procrastinate any longer! Please help pay for HawkCount, RPI, the statistical analyses of the data you collect and submit, for our website. Please join and help our membership numbers double. Those numbers mean a lot to grant-providers. Your support is very important. Click on where you can use a major credit card or send a check made out to "HMANA" for $25 (U.S. currency) to John Weeks, HMANA Membership, 51 Pheasant Run, North Granby, CT 06060-1016 (U.S.A.). Or do we need to get Ira Glass to call you?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Migration in the Americas: the ties that bind

A few years ago I made my first October “pilgrimage” to Veracruz. No hawkwatcher needs an explanation of what that means. Although my goal was to experience the Rio de Rapaces, I knew that raptors weren’t the only migrants sweeping through that sky funnel in eastern Mexico. I wasn’t surprised, therefore, to see masses of Anhingas and Wood Storks, squadrons of White Pelicans. Nor was I surprised to see scrims of dragonflies and the pink semaphores of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers’ axillars as dozens and dozens of those beauties passed the rooftop watch in Cardel. Enchanted, yes. Exhilarated, definitely! But not surprised.

What did surprise me, however, were the butterflies. No, not monarchs. We all know that monarch butterflies winter in Mexico, but their route takes them west of the coastal region toward the mountain forests of Michoacán. No, the butterflies that so amazed me were yellow. They were sulphurs of several species, large and small, and they were migrating! The air was filled with them, hundreds of thousands, nay, millions of southbound fragile beings stirring the air as their forebears have been doing for millennia. From just above the ground to at least 10 meters up, and nearly wingtip to wingtip as far as the eye could see in every direction, they went. Such a density is, of course, vulnerable to incursion, and so it was on the highways as the intrepid voyagers fell victim to trucks and buses and cars. Resembling flower petals liberally strewn on the highway, drifts of body-less wings swirled in yellow clouds among the passing vehicles.

Later, standing on the remains of a pyramid in the Toltec ruins of Cempoala, I pondered those streams of birds overhead. Stretching from horizon to horizon hawks and vultures, pelicans and storks became threads tying together the continents north and south. And in a nearly tactile way so did the gentle yellow ephemera filling the surroundings with soft flutterings. A visible physical connection, yes, and how very evident it was. But there was a temporal component as well, for as I stood there on those ancient stones I experienced a powerful connection to those people who had built this temple. I realized that these very same astonishing sights had moved them, too.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Please Support the Raptor Population Index Project

HMANA needs your help. Between now and June 2011, HMANA needs to raise over $55,000 from private sources in order to take full advantage of nearly $100,000 in grant funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) for the Raptor Population Index (RPI) project.

With your help RPI will continue to conduct research into raptor population trends that can be critical to continent-wide conservation efforts. Please visit RPI’s website ( for details on RPI’s accomplishments.

RPI’s work also provides important support to many services HMANA provides the hawk watching, birding and conservation communities. Thanks to your contributions and funding from NFWF in the past, the RPI project has helped HMANA enhance its support of local hawk watches, widen its monitoring network, and expand reporting features for HawkCount.

In fact, one of the most important beneficiaries of RPI’s work is HMANA’s HawkCount. HMANA’s Monitoring Site Coordinator, Julie Tilden, whose employment, incidentally, funding for RPI has helped make possible, wrote on this site in a previous blog about some of the expanded services HawkCount is able to provide because of RPI (“HawkCount …. So Much More than Just Daily Totals,” November 30, 2009); in a later blog, I wrote about the importance of HawkCount to hundreds of local hawk watches throughout North America (“HawkCount and Local Hawk Watches,” March 19, 2010). All the recent improvements to HawkCount have been made possible largely through the RPI project.

Please review Julie’s and my previous blogs about HawkCount, visit and RPI’s website, then decide how much you can donate to help HMANA raise the money that will make it possible to continue RPI’s important work. You can donate on line at or request a donation form from Julie Tilden ( HMANA is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, so your donation is fully tax-deductible.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

An Exciting Day for Florida Hawkwatchers

HMANA is happy to announce that the Curry Hammock Hawk Watch kicks off on September 15, 2010! This invaluable raptor monitoring site, located in the Florida Keys, has been a terrific presence and a very important site for the Southeast Region for the past 10 years.
The watchsite was established inside Curry Hammock State Park in Marathon because the middle Florida Keys is a major bottleneck during fall migration. Beginning in 1999, the site began monitoring 8 different species of raptors and has counted the highest number of peregrine falcons in the country.
When financial support for the project ran dry in 2008, efforts were abandoned and no count was conducted in 2009. HMANA stepped in this year, recognizing its geographic significance and importance to the Raptor Population Index Project. We decided to coordinate the count and hire an all volunteer team this year while we exploring possible plans for the future. Ideally, HMANA would like to see a local organization coordinate the count and sustain it for the long term.

Currently, there are 6 counters from all over the United States keeping the Curry Hammock count afloat this fall. The count will run from September 15-October 31 and is open to the public.
The FL Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival takes place this year Sept 22-26. If you’re in the area, stop by and visit the hawk watch! All are welcome! And if you have any interest in helping out with the count, please contact Julie Tilden at We can always use more help!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

2010 Fall Raptor Migration - First Week of September

The first week of September is already over. September 1 brought a large group of hawkwatches opening their vistas for fall hawkwatching. So now that the first week is over, how is migration faring?

Not bad is my answer for today. Only a handful of hawkwatches have reported triple digit results so far and none north of Mexico have yet posted four-digit results. Duluth’s Hawk Ridge has come the closest to that mark with an even 800 yesterday (September 8). Sharp-shinned hawk totals there were nearly double the number of Broad-winged hawk, with 456 sharpies to 242 broadwings.

Radar showed what looks like a good overnight flight of songbirds on September 8-9, so that brings me some hope for an uptick in raptor numbers over the next day or so. HawkCount results from the past week look as though nearly all the hawkwatches are getting a piece of whatever is flying. Bald eagle numbers are good, and the coastal sites are seeing some nice numbers of osprey. To my eye, broad-winged hawk numbers seem low, though perhaps the birds are simply waiting for that perfect weather to take to the air. Sharp-shinned hawk numbers are stronger than I might have expected, and kestrels seem better than they have been lately, though of course that isn’t saying much. Northern Harrier counts are also rather low so far.

Next week should tell the tale. Stay tuned for that!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Do Old Site Leaders Just Fade Away?

I recall an old saying: “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” Sort of like kettles, right? You know, the kind you get on a blue-sky day when the thermals are climbing higher than Jack’s beanstalk, and that big kettle you just saw has vanished.

Today was one of those days, still a bit early in the fall migration season to worry what you might be missing, and yet, that familiar tug on my psyche was there, urging me to grab my binoculars and heavily-laden backpack and climb that hill that has been such a big part of my life for more than 30 years. The daily routine that has come ‘round every September since I-can-hardly-remember-when is so burned into my biorhythms that I have to remind myself: You don’t have to go. You can go to other hills, other lookouts. You can pick the spot that might be the best under whatever wind/weather conditions might exist and go there. You can go for however long or brief a spell you wish. You don’t have to collect data, don’t have to do PR, don’t have to repeat the same explanations or answer the same questions over and over and over again every day, and you don’t have to wish for companions when you are all alone for hours and hours when other people aren’t free to join you. And you don’t have to add to your lifetime overdose of UV exposure.

You’d think that would be enough to thwart the tug, right? It isn’t. A couple of days ago the temperatures were in the 90s, the humidity was worse than oppressive, and the haze so thick you wouldn’t have seen a Condor twenty feet away. I have to admit that I was relieved that I didn’t have to drive the 30 minutes to the hill, and then puff my way up to the site. I was relieved that I didn’t have to stand there for several hours collecting that ever-important negative data and then returning home with mega eyestrain and picking the flying ants out of my hair. It grieves me that the watchsite no longer has a leader/educator/host/entertainer. Who will try to inspire those folks that climb the trail to see a beautiful view, and might have fallen under the spell of hawk migration were there someone there to show them? Not me. No longer. My tenure has faded away, but strong remains my connection: feeling that tug in the autumn sky, my heart rising to meet it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Fall Raptor Migration - August Roundup

August 2010 proved to be a good start to the fall raptor migration season at a majority of the sites that count this early, buoyed by strong early flights of Broad-winged Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks and, to a lesser extent, Sharp-shinned Hawks.

Even the American Kestrel, whose numbers have dropped precipitously in recent years, had some good August results and didn’t seem to be much worse than average elsewhere. Kestrels put in an extra-good show on the last day of August at Greenlaw Mtn. in New Brunswick with 21. Lighthouse Pt. in Connecticut tallied 32 kestrels during the month, the most in at least 10 years (I didn’t look back further than that). To give you an idea of how good that number is, their 10-year August average for kestrels is 5.6 and last year they had just 3.

Cadillac Mtn. in Maine had a strong August, their second best in the past 8 years. Franklin Mtn. in New York was an exception to August’s overall strong results, turning in below average results for their efforts. Hawk Ridge in Duluth had nothing like the large August numbers they had last year, but with over 700 birds for the month, their results were still pretty good.

In Pennsylvania, Allegheny Front had something of an average August, but still posted strong Broad-winged Hawk results. Bake Oven Knob  had a strong August, posting more than double the number of broadwings they usually see during this month. Hawk Mountain had a banner month for Bald Eagle with 85, their best August total in at least 15 years (I didn’t check back further than that). Virtually everything that flies past their mountain did so in numbers higher and sometimes a lot higher than usual for August. Their big exception was the Northern Harrier, which had a weak August almost everywhere. Waggoner’s Gap also had a good month and was just about the only site to post harrier numbers higher than their August average.

The southerly sites, especially in Virginia, had a rough start to their seasons due to weather issues. Rockfish Gap tried to get in a count for several days before it stopped raining and the fog cleared.

In Massachusetts, which boasts a lot of sites, only Blueberry Hill attempted a count in August. In New Jersey, Wildcat and Raccoon Ridges count sporadically during August.

The number of sites that count in August is still pretty low compared with those that start in September. In August, the most sites reporting to HMANA’s HawkCount on any one day was 20, and that number will certainly double or triple starting, well, starting today. Let September begin!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fall migration report - late August

More hawkwatches are opening almost every day now, and the hawkwatching is improving just as fast. Corpus Christi in south Texas already has had at least one banner day when 1,054 Mississippi Kites headed south. Counters reported several kettles of more than 200 kites at a time on August 16, though with a temperature of 104 in the shade, that might not count as fall hawkwatching.

In the eastern U.S. rain has hampered more than few days of counting so far. One thing that can be said for rain is that hawkwatching the day after it is usually pretty good! The best days so far this season were August 20-21, when Hawk Mountain was the first site north of Corpus Christi to post more than 100 raptors. They counted 104 on the 20th and just missed that mark the next day with 94. On the 20th their count included 14 Bald Eagles and 17 Osprey.

In non-hawk sightings, a few red-breasted nuthatches have already been reported, and a few south-bound ravens as well. Warblers are moving in fairly good numbers as well, at least when you consider it's still August.  Overall, migration seems a tad ahead of schedule for this point in the month, even with the days lost to rain and fog.

In another week, September 1 will be here and most hawkwatches will be up and running and in full swing. Here in the mid-Atlantic, the weather will clear for tomorrow (Thursday) and bring a nice northwest wind. It just might be a good day to play hooky.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Fall hawkwatching is heating up!

The floodgates of hawkwatches for the fall season are starting to open! A total of 8 hawkwatches reported sightings yesterday (Sunday). Waggoner’s Gap, near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, opened for full-time counting on August 1, though Second Mtn., Hawk Mtn., Allegheny Front (all Pennsylvania) and Pitcher Mtn. in New Hampshire have all recorded at least one count day since then, too.

So how do these early season results look so far? Waggoner’s has now tallied at least one of everything you could expect to see this early in the season, with the possible exception of Merlin. August 14 was their best day so far and brought 10 Bald eagles, including 5 in one kettle. Derby Hill, near Mexico, NY, counted for the first time August 14 and their count of 146 currently tops the list for the most raptors seen on one day in this fledgling fall season. They saw 72 Broad-winged hawks and 34 Red-tailed hawks in what counter Bill Purcell called a “modest dispersal flight of juvenile raptors.”

Second Mountain at Ft. Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, took honors of a different kind on August 14 with the first marriage proposal (and acceptance) of the new hawkwatching season. Congratulations go to Jason Book and Ashley Harris.

Currently now open for hawkwatching are also Rockfish Gap (Waynesboro, VA), Bake Oven Knob (Germansville, PA), Wildcat Ridge (Hibernia, NJ), Chestnut Ridge (Bedford, NY) and Hawk Ridge (Duluth, MN). Stay tuned! Those hawkwatching floodgates will open wide on September 1!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"You Might Be Getting Excited About Migration, But Not Me!"

You might be getting excited about migration, but not me” might well express the sentiments of a pair of Red-tailed Hawks that I have been observing closely this year. For the past few years I have been following several pairs of Red-tailed Hawks breeding in the close suburbs of Boston. One pair has been followed year round, as this pair does not migrate. This March I started following another pair nesting on an exposed ledge in a suburban strip mall, and have been observing them and their fledged young very closely.

In late July I was surprised when early one morning we saw the adult male, known as Buzz, break off several tree branches and carry them to a large nest that the pair might have used in 2009, or rebuilt but did not use in 2010. (Data suggests the nest that they might have used in 2009 blew down in October of that year, but a completed nest was discovered in the same tree this March.) Buzz, the adult male, broke off at least three branches and carried them to the nest where they were worked into the foundation by his mate, Ruby. This was unexpected, and I haven’t found any references in the general literature to Red-tails refurbishing or maintaining empty, unused nests in July.

This behavior was reconfirmed a week later when we spotted Buzz breaking off branches and carrying them to the nest where they had raised three young this year. No one in a rather large corps of observers had seen either of the adults back in the nest since the last chick fledged in early June, but Buzz carried several green, leafy branches into the nest and did some point work on the entire nest. He did this under the watchful eye of an unidentified hawk that was occupying a “pillar perch” high on an apartment building overlooking all the territory that Buzz and Ruby had worked this year. Then Buzz and Ruby sat up on the end of the building, facing the unknown Red-tail for about an hour.

Later that same morning we saw both adults break off twigs and carry them into the top of a thick white pine tree, where their behavior suggests they had another, previously known, nest. That would mean they had been working on at least three, possibly four different nests in the month of July, little more than six weeks after their last chick had fledged.

Have readers observed or read about similar behavior in other Red-tailed Hawks? My expectation is that with a very dense population of breeding Red-tails in suburban Boston, this pair will probably not migrate, preferring to stay near their nests all year long. It looks like I will be much more interested in hawk migration this year than they will be.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Fall 2010 Hawkwatching Officially Begins

Fall Hawkwatching season is now officially open!

Three hawkwatches opened for the new migration season on August 1, all three in Pennsylvania. Waggoner’s Gap near Carlisle, Second Mountain near Ft. Indiantown Gap and Chester County hawkwatch (Chambers Lake at Hibernia Park) all were open for business this past Sunday.

To perhaps no one’s surprise, early season hawkwatching is not known for its high level of activity. Waggoner’s Gap saw a single American Kestrel, Chester County saw a Bald Eagle and an Osprey, and Second Mountain posted no migrating raptors seen in 4 hours on the lookout but did find a handful on non-migrating vultures. Given the southerly winds, rain, fog and haze, the results are not unexpected.

Still, it’s the start of the new season. Another handful of watches will put binoculars in the sky around August 15, and by September 1 most sites will be at full speed again. What will this new migration season bring? Great numbers? Disappointing results? More American Kestrels, perhaps?

Stay tuned to Hawk Migration Notes for regular updates on how the season is progressing. Who had a big day?  Where was that rare raptor seen?  We'll provide regular highlights of the season as it is occurring.  Until September, highlights will be posted weekly, unless something really exciting happens.  Starting in September, the highlights will become more frequent, as will, we hope, the hawks. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Kittatinny Roundtable

On Saturday I attended the 2010 Kittatinny Roundtable at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, a really fun day that I always look forward to. Could anything be better on a sweltering midsummer day than sitting in cool surroundings with a group of hawkwatchers talking about the 2009 hawk migration season?

Hosted by Hawk Mountain and newly-minted PhD. Laurie Goodrich, their senior monitoring biologist, this year hawk counters came from as far away as Allegheny Front hawkwatch in the west to the northern New Jersey sites in the east. I think Picatinny Peak had to drive the farthest but I didn’t do the math on that. In any event, counters from Rose Tree Park, Scotts Mountain, Montclair, Bake Oven Knob, Hawk Mountain, Waggoners Gap, Jacks Mountain and Militia Hill were also there.

The format of the roundtable discussion is that for selected species we look at the peak migration day of the season and the total season count for that species. Was the peak day earlier or later than usual? Who got the big Broad-winged Hawk flight? Did one site have a terrible result but the neighboring site do well? How did weather impact this past season? How do the results look when compared with previous years? The discussions help to provide a more regional perspective on the past season than is possible when only looking at results from a single site.

A few sites claimed “bragging rights” this time around. Militia Hill near Philadelphia tallied more Broad-winged Hawks for the season than any other eastern site with their 13,436 and 7600 on their big day. Allegheny Front posted more Golden Eagles than any other eastern site with 204. The 2009 season turned out to be a bit lackluster for most of the sites. Nothing looked disastrous, with even the American Kestrel posting numbers a bit higher than we’ve seen over the past few years. The Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon are major successes virtually everywhere. Overall, the seasonal numbers looked about average, perhaps a tad below average, but only a tad.

But even a lackluster migration season can’t dampen the enthusiasm when you put all those hawkwatchers and counters in the same room for a day. It’s not often that we get a chance to get together and talk about hawks all day with other hawkwatchers, and that alone is well worth the drive.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Palm Trees and Peregrines - HMANA’s Hawkwatching Exchange Program

Are you a fan of “destination hawkwatching”? For some people, (me included) there’s nothing more exciting than incorporating a little hawkwatching into your vacations...or better yet, planning your vacations around hawkwatching. Lots of us make annual pilgrimages to the Texas coast, or to Veracruz to see the large-scale migration. Some migrate all over the continent to favorite spots each spring or fall like Cape May, Hawk Mountain or Hawk Ridge, hoping to catch a stellar broadwing day or an invasion of goshawks. And of course to catch up with all your other migrant hawkwatching friends!

It’s all about networking. Years ago, while planning a trip to Sweden, I was able to connect with some great Swedish birders through We met up and spent some wonderful days birding together. Well, why not do something similar with hawkwatching? Although plenty of sites are thriving, there are many struggling to stay afloat and face challenges finding funding or enough volunteer support. Could tapping into this reserve of sun-seeking or raptor-seeking travelers be a good way to help with this problem? HMANA feels that a Hawkwatcher’s Exchange Program may be a great way to connect these willing destination hawkwatchers with struggling sites.

Our goal is to create a posting board through the HMANA website for sites to connect with hawkwatchers around the country, or even the world. Sites can post announcements for paid or volunteer counting positions, or a note requesting a fill-in counter over a long weekend. Use this page to place an ad for a volunteer counter for a week-long stint of counting in coastal Virginia, or for someone to brave the cold and count golden eagles for the first week in November in New Hampshire.
Likewise, people hoping to get away to watchsites can use this page too. “Raptor enthusiasts looking for hawkwatching getaway in coastal New England for first week in October”.
The site will have a HMANA moderator who will work to connect people with sites. This is a new idea that we are still developing. We feel this job board may become a valuable resource to watchsites, a way to connect hawwatchers with positions and an opportunity for travelers to discover new and exciting places.

The Hawkwatchers Exchange site is currently a work in progress so stay tuned for more announcements. We hope to have it up and running for the upcoming fall migration season.

But while you’re does a week of counting peregrines sound in the Florida Keys? The Curry Hammock State Park Hawkwatch on Little Grassy Key is the perfect example of incorporating volunteer support to a site that needs assistance.
From September 15-October 31, 2010, HMANA will be staffing the site with all willing volunteer counters! Some volunteers live locally in the Keys and will help count or enter daily data reports. Others will come to volunteer their support from Miami, and as far away as New England. What could be better than planning a week of counting thousands of peregrines during peak migration? How about a planning your trip around the Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival which takes place onsite from September 22-26. If you would like to get involved at Curry Hammock, please contact me for more information at

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gearing up for fall!

Although I am wilting in the summer heat, I am hard at work on the fall issue of Hawk Migration Studies. I can already tell you that the new issue will be a good one, with some great articles, and I’d like to give you a short preview of what you can expect.

Frank Nicoletti has written a piece summarizing and analyzing his years of hawkwatching at West Skyline hawkwatch near Duluth. If you were lucky enough to attend HMANA’s conference there in April and attended Frank’s workshop, you’ll have an idea of what the article is about.

How would you like to count hawks at Curry Hammock on Little Crawl Key in Florida and help HMANA continue the important data collection there? We’re looking for a few good hawk counters (and those hoping to get better). The Curry Hammock site is being restarted as an all-volunteer site. In case you need any more enticement, the site boasts the highest fall count of Peregrine Falcons in the country and the second highest in the world. HMANA’s Julie Tilden gives you more details in the fall issue of HMS.

Have you ever thought how breeding bird atlas information can help determine the current state of raptor populations and distribution? Now that many states are working on their second atlasing project, the differences found between the first and second projects can be quite interesting. Paul Roberts discusses some of those differences in his own state of Massachusetts and gives some ideas for the rest of us.

We’ll be printing a lot of photos and a wrap-up of our successful conference in Duluth in April, a short piece on what the Turkey Vultures did to an opossum, the usual reports from all the North American flyways and lots more!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

More Aesthetics: Hawk Glimpsing

I sometimes wonder if hawk “watching” isn’t a somewhat misleading label for our observation of the raptor migration. It’s often more a matter of hawk “glimpsing.”

Granted, often we have an opportunity to “watch” an eagle approach our observation sites in a leisurely soar, over at least several minutes. More frequently, however, hawk “glimpsers” have only a second or two to find, observe, identify and enjoy a migrating raptor, the quintessentially “glimpsed” raptor being a Merlin or Peregrine Falcon slashing aggressively through space and time. Even observing a majestically soaring eagle, although not so electrifyingly quick an experience as catching a glimpse of a Merlin or Peregrine Falcon, is definitely a passing experience, something that can only be possessed briefly.

This very ephemeral nature of observing migrating raptors contributes significantly, I think, to the aesthetics of the activity, giving it a kind of “Wow!” factor that’s dramatically contrary to the overly programmed, controlled and predictable nature of most people’s everyday experiences. I like the photographs of raptors taken by my colleagues, but the photographs, as amazing as they often are, differ radically in effect from the fleeting apprehension of a migrating falcon, hawk or eagle. A photograph makes permanent, in a way, the moment of connectedness with something wild, but in so doing contradicts the quickness of that moment. That’s one of the reasons we don’t just stay home and look at pictures but go out to our observation sites hoping for the jolt of pleasure a brief connection with the raptors and with the migration, that great global movement of wildlife, can provide.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Live Action!

In late April subscribers to NH.Birds got a birth announcement from Audubon biologist Chris Martin: " the Brady-Sullivan Tower in Manchester, ... the adult pair is trying to raise FIVE chicks! Will this be the first time on record anywhere in the Granite State that Peregrines successfully fledge five young?" Chris went on to say, "Get an inside look by visiting Peregrine Cam at Who needs reality TV when you can watch this?"

Indeed! As these young eyasses grew people from all over the world "tuned" to the two-camera live coverage of this particular falcon family. Owl cams and falcon cams and just about any other bird cams have been around for a while, but until my recent access to high-speed internet I never really got into checking them out. Now able to view the comings and goings of the Manchester Peregrine parents as they cared for the five fluffy nestlings I became hooked. The link was constantly on my screen as I worked on various projects, and every once in a while I'd check in to see how the family was doing.
Wow! What a great view!

In mid-May the "kids" were surprised by a big green gloved hand reaching down into the nest box. One by one they were plucked from their huddle and disappeared from view somewhere above. Some time later they were returned wearing the "jewelry" which will identify them wherever they may be seen. USFWS aluminum bands as well as colored and numbered bands were placed on their legs by Martin and his assistant (HMANA award-recipient) Robert Vallieres. Viewers were treated to the sight of a very angry mother bird who tried to defend her young through the trap-door in the top of the nest box. Vallieres reports that she "would have come right into the room with us" if they hadn't been careful.

Within a couple of weeks the white fluffy down pajamas were being replaced by darker adult plumage, and the youngsters began exercising their newly feathered wings. Finally they began to be brave enough to venture out onto the perch, and would "fly" back and forth between it and the ledge.

This is how you do it!

By June 3 four of the young birds had taken flight. It took the youngest of the brood another couple of days before she was bold or hungry enough to make the jump.

Yes, this is my kind of "reality TV!"

And then there was one....

Thanks to the folks at Spectra Access for permission to use the photos accompanying this article.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Satisfy a Primitive Need: Become a Hawk Watcher!

In a previous entry (“Letting the Day Come to You,” Monday, March 22, 2010), I took a preliminary stab at answering the implicit question, “What’s the pleasure in observing the migration and watching hawks?" The answer had to do in part with how hawk watching during the migration gives us a visceral and fulfilling connectedness with natural forces and movements like weather, the advancing of seasons, and, in the context of those, the migration itself.

Related to this connectedness (but different from it) is the kind of atavistic hunter-prey relationship we experience with the hawks and eagles we see and identify, similar to the relationship Ernest Hemmingway celebrated in his hunting and fishing exploits. We connect not only with the wild creatures on which we focus but also with a primitive part of ourselves from which centuries of civilization have estranged us, the hawk watcher’s successful identification of a hawk swooping past the watch (“I got it!”) functioning as the hunter’s cathartic coup de grace.

It doesn’t surprise me that many of the most dedicated hawk watchers I know either have been or are skilled and experienced hunters or fishermen. The primitive needs we satisfy at the hawk watch, in a rather sophisticated way, are much the same that hunters and fishermen address, but with an added benefit: when we get home, we don’t have to clean our catch!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Taking it to the Edge

What a woman, that Rosalie Edge! Mrs. Charles Noel Edge, as she was known among her contemporaries, was not intimidated by anyone when it came to acting on her conscience. She honed her skills in battle when she joined the women’s suffrage movement. She learned to write powerfully and persuasively – in pamphlets, in letters to politicians, to newspapers. Later she took on powerful entities who claimed to be conservationists but mostly acted in their own self interest. We all know that were it not for her untiring efforts the hawks we study today might not have safe passage past our lookouts. But without her many other endeavors on behalf of our environment, the world would be a very different place.

Many of the battles Mrs. Edge undertook and won, need to be fought again today. In a 1935 Emergency Conservation Committee (ECC) publication, Fighting the Good Fight: Program for Conservation Advance in Five Years, she wrote that “beaches were defiled with oil and dead and dying birds.” Yes, that was 75 years ago! We can only imagine her reaction to the current situation in the Gulf of Mexico. Would that this fearless woman were here to take on BP and those more interested in lining their pockets than in maintaining healthy ecosystems. We need a 21st Century Rosalie!

I have learned so much about this intriguing woman who inspired Rachel Carson, among others, by reading Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy (2009 University of Georgia Press), by Dyana Furmansky. I encourage anyone who cares about our incredible planet to read this eye-opening and well-written book.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Honoring HMANA's past Board Chairman

Iain MacLeod, Executive Director of Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness, NH has been honored recently for his extensive contributions to HMANA. Iain had been HMANA's Board Chairman for the last three years and was replaced by Gil Randall in December, 2009.

Since Iain was not present to accept his awards at HMANA's conference in Duluth, MN last month, he recently was presented with a HMANA appreciation award and a gift from the Board of Directors for his service. The gift was a beautiful painting of Pandion haliaetus by David Hughes, a wildlife artist from Pennsylvania.

Iain has given greatly to HMANA and to the raptor conservation field. Some of the outstanding contributions he has made include the groundbreaking work in the Raptor Population Index Project, as well as his guidance and contributions to the Hawk Migration Studies journal. The HMANA board and staff are grateful for his keen leadership and dedication to the organization.

Thank you Iain!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Celebrating Raptor Migration

In case you didn’t get your raptor conference fix from HMANA’s recent Soaring Above Superior conference in Duluth MN, Audubon Greenwich offered another opportunity this past weekend. On Saturday, May 8, 2010, Audubon hosted a conference called “Monitoring and Managing Raptor Populations” which took place at the Audubon Greenwich Nature Center in CT, home of the Quaker Ridge fall hawkwatch site.

The event was a celebration of International Migratory Bird Day and truly honored this year’s theme, “Conserving Birds by Connecting People”. With representatives from across the hemisphere, it was a collaborative conference to identify raptor management priorities and opportunities to engage citizen scientists in these strategies.

HMANA was happy to support this conference as a sponsor and to contribute to the day’s events with a panel discussion on hawkwatch practices and protocols.
Among the participants were representatives from Pronatura Veracruz, Mexico, Bird Life International- Paraguay, Panama Audubon Society, National Audubon Society - International Alliances Program, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Audubon Vermont, and the Audubon Center in Sharon.

More highlights to come.....

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Duluth HMANA Conference: Part 2

Usually I debate the real benefits going to almost any conference, professional or personal. The recent HMANA conference in Duluth was no exception. I wanted to do all the field trips and attend all the papers, but the schedule made that impossible. Fortunately, I decided to go, and ultimately I was very happy with my decisions, though I regretted missing several excellent presentations. (Funny what seeing a Great Gray and two Northern Hawk Owls can do.)

I heard some fascinating presentations at Duluth, several of which were on what we are learning through satellite tracking. Tracking studies have provided dramatic new insights into the incredible migration of shorebirds, such as Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit, and this holds true for raptors as well. Two papers focused on satellite tracking of Bald and Golden Eagles that winter in the Upper Mississippi Valley. One paper revealed impressive variability in Bald Eagle migration and in their summer and winter ranges. I was also surprised to learn about the impressive number of Golden Eagles that winter in southern Minnesota and Wisconsin in habitat that I wouldn’t expect them to occur, and what these “winter Minnesotans” do on their spring migration. There is a lot of exciting field research in progress, and we at the conference were fortunate to hear these presentations well before journal articles by the researchers will be published.

Actively discussing this subject with several people at the conference, another benefit, I was reminded of a classic work, Sparrowhawk, by Ian Newton, which clearly shows that in one species, at least, breeding behavior and success for the average adult Sparrowhawk is not what you might expect. This monograph is a must read for serious students of hawks. Newton’s Population Ecology of Raptors is another “must read.” Finally, I would recommend Newton’s Migration Ecology of Birds, published in 2008. At 976 pages, you might need until the next HMANA conference to complete it, but it is the best, most thorough, single book on bird migration I’ve ever read. If you want to better understand bird migration, or just what we know about hawk migration, you should read Migration Ecology, a book jam packed with information and rich insights into bird migration. If I had one book on birds to take to a desert island where I would be stranded for the rest of my life, this would be it. (Note that Newton was the keynote speaker at the previous HMANA Conference at Hawk Mountain in 2007!)

When the next HMANA Conference is held, wherever that might be (probably in 2013), I’ll debate forking out the money and the time, and will decide to go. As has happened every time I have gone, I will be very glad that I did. I should note that HMANA volunteers and the staff and volunteers of Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth put on an absolutely first-rate conference. Thank you to everyone who helped to make it such a great event.

(Bald Eagle Photo by Robert Augart)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Duluth HMANA Conference Field Trip

I’ve been to most HMANA conferences over the past 30 years. Sometimes I debate myself over the time and financial costs, and afterwards, I am always very glad I went. I first birded in Texas in 1992 as part of the Corpus Christi conference. I had such a great time – I’ll never forget my first Caracara, my first Great Kiskadee, and my first White-tailed Hawk – that I have made at least 18 subsequent birding trips to Texas. I first visited Utah on a fantastic conference at Snowbird. I got a lot of life birds, but was so impressed by Utah’s beauty I have been back a dozen times. And of course, the presentations were fantastic at the conferences at well. With the great presentations at the Duluth conference, I learned a lot because most of the material was as yet unpublished.

One of the highlights of the Duluth conference was the Friday morning field trip to Sax-Zim bog, about a half hour’s drive from Duluth, famous for its boreal species highlighted by occasional spectacular winter invasions of Great Gray Owls and Hawk Owls.

Starting out at dawn in a very comfortable small bus, we all had high hopes but realistic expectations. The trip the day before had seen relatively little in very strong, gusty winds. We were shocked when about 30 seconds off the highway, we suddenly stopped, backed up, and found ourselves looking at a Great Gray Owl perched at eye level on the edge of the dirt road, as though it were sitting next to us on the bus. We were able to back up further and get out without disturbing the owl. The trip was already a fantastic success, because no one, including our superb guides, expected Great Gray this late.

We continued on. Our second special bird was a Northern Hawk Owl, perched on a sign along the road. It dropped down to hunt several times and carried prey back to what we assumed to be its nest while Sandhill Cranes called loudly and flew around the clearing in the woods. It was barely 7 a.m and we already had a fantastic trip, with lifer birds for many of the 12 people on the bus. Shortly thereafter we had a second hawk Owl, even closer, and which flew right over us, low.

There were other birds as well, about a half dozen Black-billed Magpies, Sharp-tailed Grouse displaying on a lek, about a half dozen male Northern Harriers, winnowing Wilson’s Snipe displaying overhead, lots of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and at least a half dozen Bald Eagles close, and a number of ducks. We stopped at two sets of feeders isolated in the bog, but known to produce Boreal Chickadee on occasion. We had to be satisfied with Red-breasted Nuthatches, a Pine Siskin, and a gorgeous male Purple Finch. We had 50 species in an unforgettable field trip and conference.

(Photographs by David Brandes)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

We wish you had been there!

What a great time! A huge amount of appreciation goes to the Hawk Ridge Observatory gang for all the work that went into hosting the event. The presentations were excellent, the field excursions awesome, and the opportunity to see old friends and make new ones all contributed to another successful HMANA conference.
The only thing we could have wished for was that you were there to share in the experience!
Look for an upcoming blog on field trips. And check out HMANA makes news .

Our keynote speaker following Saturday’s banquet was Dr. David Mech, Senior Research Scientist, USGS. You may have read some of his accounts over the years in National Geographic and other publications. He shared with us highlights of his 50+ year career as one of the world’s top wolf researchers. Why a program on wolves? You may wonder. Along with hawks and eagles, wolves are at the top of the food chain. Many of their prey are the same, and cycles which affect one tend to affect the other. Mech showed us some stunning photos and video clips. One such clip showing a connection between Golden Eagles and wolves was extracted from this excellent film . We're certain you'll say "Wow!" as we all did that night in Duluth.

Above: David Mech (Vic Berardi photo); Top: timber wolf track (S.Fogleman photo)

HMANA’s Duluth conference an international event; Iceland volcano presents problem for Congolese scientists

What could a volcano in Iceland and visitors from Africa possibly have in common with the HMANA conference in Duluth? This was a situation that conference organizer Julie O’Connor could never have anticipated. Shortly before the conference began, she received registrations from two scientists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Not long after their arrival in Duluth, the eruption in Iceland had begun spewing a huge ash cloud which shut down air travel throughout Europe. At the end of the conference Bandele Fidele Egalenzibo and Luhilu Mukwalemba Bienvenue were scheduled to make flight connections in Brussels on their way home from Duluth.

Despite language problems (Julie doesn’t speak French, the language of the DRC, and our distinguished visitors speak very little English) O’Connor devoted a huge amount of time over the next few days working phone and internet in an attempt to find a solution to the travel dilemma presented. On Saturday evening we learned that she had helped them connect with a friend at UMichigan who would arrange a flight to Kinshasa-Gombe. She and one of the Hawk Ridge volunteers saw them off on a bus to Ann Arbor. Bon voyage, amis!
in photo, L to R: Fidele Egalenzibo, senior scientist, Ministry of the Environment, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Aldo Contreras Reyes, Chavarillo Veracruz, Mexico; Jean-Pierre Savard, Environment Canada; Luhilu Mukwalemba Bienvenue, Ministry of the Environment, DRC; David Hussell, Environment Canada; Ernesto Ruelas Inzunza, Xalapa, MX and currently teaching at Dartmouth College in NH

Saturday, April 17, 2010

HMANA Conference continues..

Friday at the HMANA conference was a grand success! Participants enjoyed a full day of different field trips and a host of scientific and non-scientific presentations. Some of the talks included: Raptor Migration by Computer-Using Modeling and Satellite Tracking Data to Fill in the Gaps by David Brandes, Migratory Route of a Golden Ealge bwtween Southwestern Wisconsin and Norhtern Canada by Mark Martell, and Precious Little Jewels- Teaching Children about Raptors by Janice Sweet.

After a wonderful dinner, we had the honor of listening to Dr Scott Lanyon, professor and head Dept. of Ecology, Evolution, and behavior at the University of Minnesota. He gave an excellent presenation entitled: Insights from the Avian Tree if Life: Raptor Stories. He explained how scientists discover the evolutionary relationships of modern species and how are changing understanding of these relationships leads to changes in in raptor classification. It was one of the top highlights of the conference.


Janelle Long - Executive Director -Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory and Conference Coordinator Julie O' Connor

Laurie Goodrich - Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and David Hussell - HMANA advisor

Ernesto Ruelas -RPI Project Manager and Aldo Reyes - Veracruz River of Raptors Hawkwatch

Friday, April 16, 2010

HMANA's Spring Conference in Progress

Raptor enthusiasts from around North America and abroad are enjoying the start of HMANA's spring conference this weekend. The conference is hosted by Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory and being held at the Raddisson Hotel in Duluth, MN. Most arrived and registered thursday night in time ot relax and enjoy the evening social. The conference kicked off this morning with some great scientific speakers. Stay tuned for more updates!
In the photos above we see Brett Mandernack presenting his data on satellite tracking bald eagles in the upper midwest, and Ernesto Ruelas standing aside HMANA's information table.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Spring Raptorthon is Heating Up

It’s t-shirt weather at a lot of watchsites across North America! Featured in this photo and wearing his new free Raptorthon shirt is Brain Taber of the College Creek Hawkwatch in VA. Brian and his team-mates spent one full day on April 7th counting hawks for their spring Raptorthon event.
Visit: to see his results.

The spring Raptorthon is currently underway! Individuals and watchsite teams from across the country are participating in this fun event as a way to raise awareness for raptor conservation as well as funds for their local watchsites and raptor monitoring efforts at HMANA.

It’s not too late to get out and get involved. The spring Raptorthon event continues through May 15th. Broad-winged hawk migration is heating up through most of the east…a perfect time to organize a one day Raptorthon count with your family or friends. Check out our website for details:

If you don’t have the time this spring to organize your own event, there’s a new way to get involved. You can show your support for any team online! Visit HMANA’s Raptorthon page and click on “Donate Now”. There you will see a drop-down menu of all participating sites where you can make a pledge for any amount.

Thanks for your support!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

New North American Hawk Silhouette Guide Available Free

The Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA) has published a new silhouette Guide to Hawks Seen in North America. This new, 2-pp, black-and-white guide features soaring silhouettes and key field marks of 21 migratory hawks regularly seen in most of North America. The artwork is by Paul Carrier, who developed the silhouette Guide to Hawks Seen in the North East two years ago.

This new guide is a significant revision and expansion of that guide, adding Mississippi Kite, Ferruginous Hawk, Prairie Falcon, and adult male Northern Harrier, as well as other new images and additional field marks. The guide can be downloaded and printed free of charge for personal, noncommercial use by visiting . The guide has also been professionally printed on heavy, glossy card stock and laminated for all-weather use in the field. Individual laminated copies cost $5 plus $1 postage and handling.

Hawk watches, bird clubs, schools, nature shops, or any other organization can raise funds and help educate their constituents about hawk identification by purchasing the guide in bulk quantity at wholesale prices. For complete information, including bulk pricing, and to order or download the new guide, visit

The HMANA web site also offers a lot of information on hawk identification and migration, including a new guide to books and online resources on hawk identification and migration, as well as the popular Guide to Hawks Seen in the North East and the free PowerPoint presentation, Identification of Raptors of the Northeast. These valuable hawk identification aids can all be downloaded free of charge.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Happy Easter!

Broadwings are on the move! 

The first good-sized push of northward-bound Broad-winged Hawks crossed over Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park near Mission, Texas, on Easter morning. Just under 4000 were counted for the day, nearly all in the morning hours.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Seeking the Karearea in a Land of Few Hawks - Part 2

Where seeing Kahu is easy, finding Karearea is far more challenging. And, as we were told by several Kiwi birders, it is usually a matter of luck. There are certain places one can go where one’s fortunes are enhanced, but there’s never a guarantee. For the first 20 days, the closest we came to encountering the New Zealand Falcon was on a forest road near a native forest (a vanishing endemic ecosystem). It was late afternoon, when we heard the signature “kek-kek-kek-kek-kek-kek” call to the east of our location. My husband managed to catch a glimpse of the Peregrine-sized bird just as it rounded a corner of the woods and disappeared into the trees. That was it. No more calling, no more glimpses. I was afraid my luck had run out, as we weren’t going to be in many more of the “enhanced chances” spots before we headed back to the US.

One day on South Island we stopped on a farm road in the hills between Haast Pass and Wanaka to bird, do some botanizing, and to search for a geocache. My spouse had walked up a stream to a waterfall for the latter, and I had gone in a different direction for the former purposes. From our widely separated positions we heard it: “kek-kek-kek-kek-kek-kek!” Sounding like a Kestrel on steroids, the heavily-streaked dark chocolate-colored bird was circling above us carrying prey. “FALCON!” we each shouted. And then I saw the female, the probable intended recipient of the small bird clutched in the caller’s talons. The vocalizing bird disappeared behind the ridge above me, as the larger bird dropped onto a rock high on the slope. “Grab the camera, I’ve got the female!” I shouted to my husband, now running up the road, but still a couple of hundred meters away.

She was still there when he arrived, panting, but with his lens already in position. The male never came back into view – too bad, because the light was such that a shot of him against the blue sky would have been awesome. Presumably he had touched down somewhere above the female, and was waiting for us to clear out before bringing her his gift. We waited in vain, and finally had to leave. The photo of the female isn’t wonderful; she was just a little too far away.

Karearea. Pai rawa atu!