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.

No comments:

Post a Comment