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)

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