Friday, March 25, 2011

The Joy of Spring Hawkwatching

“Keee-errrr, Keee-errrr, Keee-errr!” The wild sounds tumble out of the March sky as I stand on a late winter snowbank. In the warming provided by the climbing sun a softer sound can be heard all about as little clusters of snow break off the edges that line the roadsides and ditches. But the insistent calls of newly-arrived Red-shouldered Hawks demand attention, and to me are confirmation that despite lingering patches of the white stuff, Spring is indeed here. Spring hawkwatchers can be plagued by the fickleness of the season. Warm days tempting jacket-free watching can too quickly turn into blustery chill. Snow showers morph into powerful winds straight from the tundra. And then a Bluebird sings overhead and you remember why you really love doing this. Each day brings more exposed ground, and each day has its new spring messengers. One morning it’s Killdeer, and soon afterwards the Meadowlarks arrive. Male Harriers begin to float past, skimming the dried grasses protruding through the aging snow. Lit from below by bright snow-reflected sunlight, these almost magical visions drift silently toward the northeast.

Again: “Keee-errr, Keee-errr!" The Red-shoulders are in tumultuous courtship, breaking now and then to chase away a passing hawk. Occasionally they disappear behind the trees to the northeast where they no doubt reaffirm their bond, and perhaps add a sprig of greenery to their nest.

And now comes the loud “Keh-keh-keh-keh-keh” of one of the two pairs of Northern Goshawks whose territory boundaries apparently meet over the adjacent meadow. Dramatic courtship displays ensue. Deep wingbeats, loud vocalizations, and then a talon-grappling plummet catches me holding my breath as I wonder just how long the pair will dare the approaching earth before releasing their grip on each other.

Arrivals are following an almost precise calendar. Here are the Phoebes, the Song and White-throated Sparrows. And now the Tree Swallows. Overhead skeins of geese and other waterfowl aim their arrows northward. “KleeeKleeeKleeeKleeeKleee!” The Kestrels are back! And there, over to the west! The resident Red-tails are performing their own courtship maneuvers. One April morning the trill of a Savannah Sparrow welcomes us to the hill. Will this be the day the Broad-wings return? What an affirmation of Life spring hawkwatching provides!

above photo by Joseph Kennedy

Thursday, March 10, 2011

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Release of Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently released a draft of its land-based wind energy guidelines along with the release of its draft eagle conservation plan. Comments on both drafts will be accepted through May 2011. HMANA’s conservation and education committee and its board of directors will be reviewing the guidelines over the next few months in preparation for meeting those deadlines.

A preliminary review of the draft land-based wind energy guidelines finds a document capable of establishing preconstruction study and post-construction monitoring parameters that can improve an understanding of the risks wind power projects pose to raptors (and other birds and bats). Both the American Bird Conservancy and the American Wind Energy Association have weighed in on the guidelines: ABC faults the guidelines because they are voluntary and not compulsory; AWEA complains that the guidelines diverge unduly from the recommendations of the Federal Advisory Committee convened to review and revise the original USFWS guidance. The AWEA also claims the current draft guidance would overly burden wind power developers and unnecessarily prolong the period required for environmental clearances.

If after a thorough review of the guidelines the favorable preliminary opinion of them holds, HMANA will comment strongly in their favor in the hope that HMANA support will help preserve their value.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A preview of the spring 2011 Hawk Migration Studies

The spring 2011 issue of Hawk Migration Studies will soon be in members’ hands. I’m always relieved when the last of the material arrives and is finished. I tell people that I give myself a week off before I will start thinking about the fall issue of HMS.

Since I’m not yet ready to think about the fall issue, I’ll give you a preview of what’s in store for the spring issue:

• Reestablishing the Curry Hammock hawkwatch in the Florida Keys. This site historically sees more Peregrine Falcons than anyplace else.

• What to do if an industrial wind power farm is planned near your hawkwatch.

• Tips from a few of the successful hawkwatches that you can use to help increase volunteers and visitors at your own site…as well as things that you can’t change that can still affect your site’s success. Based on a HMANA survey.

• What you missed if you didn’t join HMANA’s October trip to Costa Rica for hawkwatching and birding.

• The upcoming Northeast Hawkwatch conference

• Red-tailed Hawk sexing—it’s not as simple as size.

• Some great raptor writings from a talented, young counter, Henry Waters

• Kudos to Chimney Rock and Kiptopeke hawkwatches for reaching (and soon to reach) some big milestones.

• Lots of outstanding raptor photos.

• And much, much more…

This is a great spring issue, packed with lots of articles and photos. If you’re not a HMANA member please join now so you don’t miss out.