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!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Seeking the Karearea in a Land of Few Hawks - Part 1

My husband and I had the good fortune to spend almost a month in New Zealand last fall. (It was springtime there.) There aren’t many endemic bird species in that country, but the ones that are there are quite unique and unquestionably amazing. European settlement burgeoned only a little over 150 years ago, and oh, how that changed things. New Zealand’s native terrestrial avifauna consisted of mostly weak-flying or flightless species – think Kiwi, for example. Europeans missed their birds from home, consequently most of the birds one easily sees now are those commonly seen in the UK: Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Chaffinches, Skylarks, European Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Yellowhammers, and more. There were no native land mammals in New Zealand either, so in addition to birds and domestic pets, rabbits, sheep, stoats, ferrets (to “eliminate” the Polynesian rats introduced earlier by the Maori), and the omnivorous Australian brush-tailed possum were brought in. These actions spelled doom for native birds.

Raptors might have helped keep the small mammal population in check, but for the fact that New Zealand has only two raptor species, the Australasian Harrier (Maori name: Kahu) and the New Zealand Falcon (Karearea). The Kahu is fairly widespread across the lands of the southwestern Pacific, but the falcon is endemic to New Zealand. Naturally, this latter fact put the Karearea at the top of my “must see” list (along with Kiwi, Kokako, and Rifleman).

From the very first day leaving Aukland Kahus were seen, soaring over meadows and hillsides, skimming grassland and marsh, weaving through hedgerows. Resembling Turkey Vultures in flight, they have a deeper dihedral than do our Northern Harriers. Sometimes they are seen in groups, coursing above the landscape. Kahus feed on small prey like mice and insects, but carrion comprises a large part of their diet, making these birds vulnerable to collisions with vehicles.

Part 2:  The Karearea

Monday, March 22, 2010

Letting the Day Come to You

There are a host of reasons for spending a day or many days at a hawk watch. Many of those are readily perceived and understood: the excitement of thousands of Broad-winged Hawks in the sky at one time, a good look at a migrating Golden Eagle and the first Osprey of the season.

Underlying these fairly accessible pleasures are some other, perhaps more profound but usually subliminal reasons for what we do. One of these has to do, I think, with simply letting the day come to you.

In a way that's almost oriental and meditative, hawk watching entails patience and a willingness to allow the passage of time and the movements of a discrete day to unfold without aggressively trying to influence what happens in it. This letting go while still paying close attention to temperature, wind direction, cloud cover, visibility and other movements of the day returns to us a connectedness to the natural world that's rare in most of our lives. I think it's this feeling of connectedness, in this way and others, that calls us to the hawk watch, even when the wind is in the east and the hawks are spread out and few.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Monarch Butterfly numbers at historic low numbers

Most hawkwatch sites that see them count Monarch butterflies, and this year reporting those numbers may be more important than ever. Monarch Watch reports that flooding, resulting landslides and cold weather at the butterfly’s wintering grounds in Mexico have reduced the already small wintering population by as much as 50%. The 2009-2010 over-wintering season began with the lowest number of butterflies seen in the past 16 years, Dr. Lincoln Brower reported in the current issue of the  organization’s weekly spring newsletter, Monarch Butterfly Journey North.

The organization also reports that the 12 Texas observations of migrating monarchs for the current week are well below the nearly 70 sightings reported last year during the same week. The newsletter Journey North reports weekly on the progress of the monarch migration. Sightings of northward-bound monarchs may be reported directly to the organization on the site's Maps and Journal page.

Friday, March 19, 2010

HawkCount and Local Hawk Watches

I’m blissfully sunburned after about as beautiful a day as you can possibly get on the south shore of Lake Erie in March. We saw nice runs of Red-shouldered Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks, with a few great looks at Bald Eagles and other raptors thrown in for good measure.

As the Ripley Hawk Watch’s official counter, I’ve just completed entering our data for March 18th in http://www.hawkcount.org/. We only had six people at the watch today, but I know we have dozens, maybe hundreds, that follow our days by going to HawkCount on the internet.

If you haven’t visited HawkCount recently, go there and look at the expanded site profiles affiliates have developed with the help of HMANA staff. Notice also the expanded species information for reporting sites: HawkCount now includes graphic representation of migration peaks and duration for recorded species at each raptor watch.

I especially appreciate the way HawkCount presents polished and professional reports based on the data we enter daily. These reports reinforce the local message we try to get out that our monitoring of the migration is an important conservation activity, is disciplined, and constitutes a significant contribution to scientific knowledge about important resources.

If you aren’t already a regular user of HawkCount, check it out!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

How about those eagles?

Finally! The central and east coast weather systems have cleared, and the first decent flights of migrating hawks weren’t far behind. March 16 and 17 were the first good days for many spring hawkwatches.

West Skyline in Duluth counted (please sit down first) an amazing 679 bald eagles on March 16. Counter Karl Bardon reported the flight was very compacted with hourly counts of 218 from 12-1300 and 247 from 13-1400. Kettles of 30-40 eagles were reported. To make that sweet story even sweeter, their count of 30 Golden Eagles isthe  highest spring count for the site to date.

Red-tailed hawks generally posted good numbers elsewhere, with bald eagles also putting in a good show in a few other places. Derby Hill in New York found 156 Red-tails on March 17, and nearby Braddock Bay posted 100 on the 16th. The days were also good ones for variety at these New York Sites.

Even the sites that didn’t find great numbers of birds weren’t complaining about the weather.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Join HMANA in Costa Rica for a Birding and Raptor Migration Tour

October 15-24, 2010

Witnessing the migration of hundreds of thousands of raptors overhead is exhilarating. It is a phenomenon that every birder should witness at least once in their life. Join HMANA for an exciting 10 day tour through Costa Rica in mid October, as we explore a wide diversity of habitat types and the large-scale migration of Neo-tropical raptors.

HMANA’s 10-day trip will explore a variety of the country’s diverse ecosystems including the Caribbean coastal & Pacific lowland rain forests, the Central highlands and a volcano, mangrove swamps, and the dry forest. A central part of the trip will be two full days visiting the Kèköldi Hawk Watch, one of the greatest raptor migration hotspots in the world. The Migratory Raptor Conservation and Monitoring Program at Kèköldi regularly count 2 to 3 million raptors of 20+ different species each fall. It is not uncommon to observe over 200,000 raptors migrating on a mid-October day! Given the watchsite location, high in a canopy tower overlooking the Caribbean, it is an ideal spot to watch the large-scale passerine and waterbird migration, not to mention the rich local bird diversity.

Other highlights of this trip include observing up to 300 species of birds, numerous reptiles, including crocodiles, and diverse plant life. This tour includes eight full and active days of birding and sightseeing with moderate drives between locations. Several days in each eco-region will allow us a relaxed pace to absorb some of the rich culture and easy-going Costa Rican lifestyle that typifies this country’s unique charm.
Join us for this once in a lifetime experience!

For all tour information and pricing, please visit: www.hmana.org/Costa_Rica/ Or contact Julie Tilden at tilden@hmana.org, (781) 264-0778.