Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Birthday for the Birds

Looking for some inspiration to get you excited about HMANA’s Spring Raptorthon Challenge? Below is a summary from HMANA board member, Daena Ford describing her Raptorthon experience this past fall.

September 20 is my birthday. I typically do not go around announcing that to people. It’s not that I don’t like getting older, or hate having people ask my age. I simply don’t like to draw much attention to myself. So, I usually just sit back and let it arrive, and enjoy the greetings I get and the celebrations with those closest to me.
This year I decided to give myself a birthday gift, by spending part of the day doing something I enjoy which actually had the potential to help out the two organizations I volunteer for – Braddock Bay Raptor Research (BBRR) and the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA). That gift was to participate in a Raptorthon. Basically it was an excuse to go out and do some birding, search for the magnificent raptors that inspire me, and spend some quality time with my daughter outside in nature. Not a bad gift if I do say so myself.
Raptorthon is a fundraising effort, organized by HMANA to raise funds for itself and hawk watch sites all across the continent, as well as serving as an outlet to raise awareness of raptors and their importance in our natural world. Anyone can participate in Raptorthon, either in the fall or spring (when raptors and other birds are migrating in great numbers), and choose which hawk watch or other conservation-based organization to support. Pledges and donations are collected based on how many species of raptors (and other birds if chosen) are counted.

My decision to do a Raptorthon in the fall might seem odd to anyone who knows that Braddock Bay is a spring hawk migration spot. I knew I certainly was not going to see the thousands of broad-winged hawks in September that we would typically see here in April. But, Braddock Bay is a great place to bird year-round and though raptors take a different route around the Lake Ontario in the fall, we still see many species of songbirds, waterfowl and other birds in great numbers. Besides being a great birding spot, it’s a great place to get outdoors and enjoy nature no matter what time of year. And that is precisely what happened on this birthday outing.
I started out with no real goal in mind, other than to see as many bird species as I could see. I knew that I probably would not see everything that was around, mainly since I was bringing my 3 year old daughter Emily with me. Don’t get me wrong…one of the best things about the day was that she was with me, and she is definitely a lover of the outdoors. She often finds things on our outings that others would just pass right by and not even notice (like the thumbnail sized tree frog she found on a cattail when she was barely 2). However, she is still 3 and is a very strong-willed, boisterous girl at times. Not to mention much of the time we refer to her as our little “bull in a China shop.” But she certainly does exhibit an excitement about some of the smallest things in nature, like a lily pad on a pond or caterpillar crossing our path, and I wish I could bottle that up and share it with everyone in this world.
I began the Raptorthon with the morning’s feeder birds, starting at 6:40 am (daylight savings time), as I was preparing breakfast and lunches for school and work in the kitchen. The first bird of the day was a female Northern Cardinal, who was later joined by a juvenile begging for its own breakfast. Other species that stopped by the Ford’s breakfast cafĂ© were a couple of Black-capped Chickadees, a male House Finch, and several House Sparrows. Unfortunately I was out of niger seed, and none of my regular American Goldfinches made an appearance that morning.
After getting my son off to the bus (wishing he was also joining us on our adventure), and completing morning chores, Emily and I set off in the car at 9:40 and traveled the 25 minute drive up to Braddock Bay. The drive is mostly expressway for us (I-390 and the Lake Ontario State Parkway) and that usually means we have a good chance of seeing the common roadside raptors – Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels. True to form we counted 2 Red-tails and 1 Kestrel on 390, and another Kestrel on the parkway. Other species picked up on the drive were American Crow, European Starling, Ring-billed Gull, Blue Jay, Mourning Dove and Rock Pigeon. No surprises there. Now we were up to 12 species.
Arriving at Braddock Bay I decided to make our first stop the passerine banding station at Braddock Bay Bird Observatory. What a good choice that was! North winds off the lake that would normally persuade me to just skip the hawkwatch at Braddock Bay all together in the spring were a blessing this day as they brought migrants right to us. The banding station was buzzing with activity. Emily and I enjoyed meeting several colorful species up close and personal, and also got to take a walk to accompany a few of the banding assistants on a net check. Emily was super careful while walking by the mist nets. “Mommy, look how careful I’m being,” she was quick to point out. (I admit I was very proud of her.) Below is a list of the birds we were fortunate to see, in the order we saw them:
· White-throated Sparrow
· Common Yellowthroat
· Lincoln’s Sparrow
· Red-eyed Vireo
· Tennessee Warbler
· Brown Creeper
· Black-throated Blue Warbler
· Gray-cheeked Thrush
· Golden-crowned Kinglet

We could only stay an hour at the banding station (had a lunch date with my husband), and bird bags were full when we left the station so we surely missed some other species. Never the less, I was super happy with what I saw, and equally as excited for Emily. The best bird for me was the Black-throated Blue Warbler, because it was one of the few warblers that Emily and I looked at in the field guide before we left that morning.
Up to 21 species now, we headed out to lunch by the way of Edgemere Drive which runs along a few of the ponds that are part of the Braddock Bay Wildlife Management Area. There was not too much activity, but we did pick up a Turkey Vulture soaring, a couple of Great Blue Herons fishing, and Mallards and Mute Swans swimming.
After lunch we had just enough time to explore Burger Park on Hogan Point Road near Braddock Bay for about an hour. I had heard through the local birding listserv that there was an American Bittern spotted there the day before. We did not have luck finding the Bittern, but were able to pick up a Belted Kingfisher along Salmon Creek, a Downy Woodpecker and a few Red-winged Black-birds. The highlights of Burger Park this day though were not avian. The field of golden rod and asters was alive with Monarch butterflies, and it was simply mesmerizing to watch them. There also were, to Emily’s delight, several orange, fuzzy caterpillars (like a wooly bear with no black) crossing the gravel path as we walked, as well as grasshoppers which she tried in vain to catch. We also spotted a small, slender garter snake along the pond’s edge.
Unfortunately we had to leave around 1:30 in order to be home in time to meet Emily’s brother as he arrived home from school. So, our Raptorthon was done with 28 species of birds under our belt for the day. For most die-hard birders, that would be a disappointing tally. Though part of me wished for more, I was extremely satisfied with the day we had, knowing that if I had not decided to participate in this fundraiser for BBRR and HMANA, I probably would not have gotten as many “birthday presents” as I did that day – the birds, the butterflies, the beautiful weather, the chance to share it all with my daughter, and some support for BBRR and HMANA. I want to thank my sister and my parents who gave me pledges as birthday gifts to show their support for the organizations that are so important to me, and to the raptors.
Daena Ford

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Raptorthon Challenge

It’s that time of year again. The ponds may still be frozen and the snow may still be lingering in the back yard but birds are moving and some spring watchsites are already out there counting! (See recent hawkwatching reports on This spring, HMANA is celebrating migration with a new kind of Raptorthon event. From March 1 to May 31, 2011 we invite you to join us in finding the best place in North America and best date to find the most species of raptors in a single day. Maybe it’s somewhere in your town or state, or maybe you’d just like to get out for a fun day of birding and see what you find.

Raptorthon is a fun event, much like a regular Birdathon, but focused on raptors. Choose your own date and place, and get sponsors to support your efforts to find as many raptors, (and optionally other bird species) as possible in a 24-hour period. Get together with friends to help you find raptors, or go it alone. All participants get a free Raptorthon T-shirt. Of course, Raptorthon is also designed to raise money – to support HMANA’s and hawkwatchers’ work for raptors and hawkwatching throughout the Americas. It’s a great opportunity to support HMANA programs like HawkCount and RPI as well as your favorite local hawkwatch or conservation organization.

So many hawkwatches are struggling to stay afloat these days and HMANA is always looking for new ways to offer support. Not only can Raptorthon help raise money for your local site but it can also help raise money for the recently-formed HawkWatchFund. The purpose of HMANA’s HawkWatchFund is to provide grants to support hawkwatching and hawkwatch programs. Helping us get this important Fund started, a HMANA Board member has generously offered to match every HawkWatchFund dollar raised! You can learn more about it and how to contribute on the Raptorthon website.

I hope you will join me in our 2011 Raptorthon. If you are unable to take part yourself you can still support HMANA by sponsoring me (or other individuals or teams). Pledge online! I am looking forward to a good list of raptors (and other species) at Pondicherry NWR in New Hampshire on May 14th. (Look on the HMANA web site for more information about my Raptorthon). All forms, detailed instructions and how to sponsor a team are available at: Register today and have fun!

photo: Kiptopeke hawkwatcher, Zak Poulton wearing his Raptorthon T-shirt during his Fall 2010 Event in Virginia.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

NorthEast Hawk Migration Conference Saturday, April 2, 2011, in Holyoke, MA

The NorthEast Hawk Watch (NEHW) will hold its 9th Northeast Hawk Migration Conference in Holyoke, Mass., on Saturday April 2, 2011. Anyone with an interest in hawks is encouraged to attend. This is the 9th conference organized by the NEHW since it was founded in 1971. NEHW held its first one-day conference on hawk migration in New England in 1978 and now organizes a regional conference every four years. This year’s conference was delayed a year so it did not conflict with the HMANA conference in Duluth last April.

The NorthEast Hawk Watch was originally founded as the New England Hawk Watch, to organize counts of migrating hawks over three weekends in the six New England states. Initially, the activity centered on western Connecticut and western Massachusetts, especially the Connecticut River Valley. Gradually, it spread throughout New England, and in 1991, it was expanded to the NorthEast Hawk Watch, including portions of eastern New York State and northern New Jersey.

The NEHW conferences offer a great opportunity for hawk watchers from across the northeast to get together to see presentations on what is happening with hawk migration in the region and talk with other hawk watchers. The conferences regularly draw attendees from as far away as southern New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ontario! Many attendees stay over Saturday night to bird hot spots in western Mass. and Connecticut on Sunday, before departing for home.

The program for the 2011 conference includes presentations on

  • The Decline of the American Kestrel in the Northeast by Larry Fischer
  • The Nesting American Kestrels of Manhattan Island by Robert DeCandido
  • Stopover Ecology of Migrating Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks in the Central Appalachians by Laurie Goodrich
  • Lazy Circles – An Approach to Counting Turkey Vultures in the Northeast U.S. by Arthur Green
  • The Hazards of Hawk Watching by Susan Fogleman
  • Mt. Peter – The Longest Running, All-Volunteer Fall Hawk Watch In The Country by Judith Cinquina
  • Scenes from the BP Oil Disaster by Shawn Carey
  • An extensive live birds-of-prey program by Wingmasters (Julie Anne Collier & Jim Parks)
  • And More....

The conference will be held at Holyoke Community College in Holyoke, Mass., from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For complete information on the conference, including registration, information on the speakers, directions, accommodations, and more, visit <>

The first forty registrants will receive a free one-page hawk calendar at the conference!

(Photo courtesy of Joseph Kennedy. All rights reserved.)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

‘Io, ‘Io, it’s off to hunt I go…

The names of Hawai’ian birds are so melodious. I love to say them: “I’iwi, Apapane, Ou.” And then there’s the ‘Io – a name given, no doubt, because of the bird’s high-pitched cry. The ‘Io, otherwise known as the Hawai’ian Hawk (Buteo solitarius), is the only hawk found in our fiftieth state. Osprey and Peregrine Falcon are rare vagrants from time to time, but the ‘Io is the island group’s only endemic.

Few of Hawai’i’s native bird species remain, and most of those are on the brink of extinction. Some, like the Nene goose, are benefiting from strong conservation efforts. Classified as endangered, the ‘Io is found only on the “Big Island,” Hawai’i. Hope for an increase in the population is marginal, as a breeding pair usually manages to fledge only a single chick, and competition with humans for appropriate habitat grows daily. The diet of the Hawai’ian Hawk includes insects, rodents, and birds.
About the size of a Broad-winged Hawk, the ‘Io in flight has an interesting “jizz.” From below, the bird’s silhouette is a little like that of a soaring Red-shouldered Hawk, with slightly forward-pointing wings. Bulging secondaries resemble those on a Red-tail. The tail is only finely barred and pale grey or taupe. In profile, this hawk soars with a distinct dihedral, and in some ways made me think of Zone-tailed Hawk. Hawai’ian Hawk has dark and light color morphs. On a recent trip to the Big Island I saw at least two, possibly three ‘Ios, all dark morphs. For a great look at a light-phase bird feasting on one of the ubiquitous [introduced] Common Mynas check out

dark phase Hawai'ian Hawk photo above by W.Fogleman, January 2011