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.