Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Broad-winged Hawks of the Pacific Flyway

The Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus) is one of North America's smaller Buteos being about two thirds the size of a Red-tailed Hawk.  It is common and wide spread in the eastern half North America with an estimated breeding population of at least 1.7 million individuals.  It breeds throughout deciduous and mixed conifer-deciduous forests and hunts mostly small mammals and reptiles, but also includes the occasional bird, amphibian, or even more occasional insect.  Breeding densities have been estimated to range from 1 pair every 2 to 5 square kilometers.  However, breeding bird surveys appear to be inadequate at detecting Broad-winged Hawks do to how secretive they are when on their nesting territory.  Migration has proved to be a better point in their annual cycle to monitor population levels.

Along with the Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni), the Broad-winged Hawk is one of the raptor species that migrates the longest distances between its breeding grounds and non-breeding grounds which stretch from Mexico to Brazil.  As might be expected from the combination of how common they are and this long migration distance, this species is a very common member of fall hawkwatch counts in the eastern USA and in Central America.  Numbers in the 10s of thousands are not unusual at many sites (such as Hawk Mountain PA) and several sites have counts of 100s of thousands (such as Corpus Cristi, TX) and even over 1 million (such as Vera Cruz, MX).  It is unusual for a raptor in that groups of these birds migrate in flocks frequently forming large kettles that fill the sky as they move south.  But these are all eastern sites.  Do Broad-winged Hawk occur in the western half of the continent?

Before the 1980s the answer would have generally been no, but during the 1980s something started to change.  Sightings during migration have been increasing in many western states including Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.  This suggests that the breeding range of the Broad-winged Hawk is extending to the west into Alberta and British Columbia.  The Golden Gate Raptor Observatory (GGRO) in California have been seeing them regularly since that fall migration was first discovered in 1972.  It remains the best place to spot a Broad-winged hawk west of the Rocky Mountains.  This year was an amazing Broad-winged year at the GGRO.  Most fall seasons see between 25 and 240 Broad-winged Hawks with numbers generally concentrated in the last half of September.  But during the 2012 season (and only through the end of November, since the count season is still ongoing) hawkwatchers have counted a record-shattering  755 Broad-winged Hawks!  This total included one day which recorded a total of 295 which is higher than the previous record season total of 248!  No one is completely sure what caused this boom of Broad-wings, but one interesting facet is that of the 755 birds seen this year, about 99% of them were hatch-year birds.  This indicates that the population of Broad-winged Hawks that breed in western Canada had a very good year this past spring and summer.

The western expansion of the Broad-winged Hawk breeding range roughly matches the westward movement of the Barred Owl (Strix varia).  It also roughly matches the eastern expansion of the Evening Grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus) across the same geographic area of Canada, although the Evening Grosbeaks moved east earlier than the hawk or owl moved west.  All three of these species prosper in mixed deciduous-conifer forests, and that hints at a possible explanation.  These range expansions could be the result of increasing edge habitat that results from timber harvesting in areas of what would otherwise be wide swaths of coniferous forest.  They could also be due to the increased numbers of trees that are being planted in and around cities in the great plains of Canada and the USA as wind-breaks.  Such human-induced changes to the landscape will no doubt cause changes to the distributions of other organisms, and these three species may be examples.  More investigation into these changes in range are needed before any convincing explanation is reached.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Winter Raptor Surveyors can now enter data on line!

Surveying the landscape
W.Fogleman photo

Although HMANA has been encouraging its members to participate in Winter Raptor Surveys for a number of years, there has not been an easy way for surveyors to enter their data a la HawkCount.  The Winter Raptor Survey Committee has now succeeded in developing an on-line data entry procedure.

Log on to http://www.hmana.org/wrs.php and find out how to participate in what promises to be a valuable citizen science effort.  Winter Raptor Surveys provide an opportunity to a) bridge the gap between fall and spring migration; b) contribute to the growing understanding of seasonal raptor dynamics; and c) have fun.  

When you log on you will see the guidelines for selecting an area and designing a route.  You can then register your route, download a field data sheet, and look forward to having a lot of fun in the field this winter.  The data you collect will provide researchers with important information for, among other things,  studying the effects of global climate change on raptor distribution, for looking at fluctuations in gender and morph demographics; and population statistics which can be combined with migration studies and contribute to fine-tuning the Raptor Population Index.

Those who have done surveys in the past will be glad to know that they can register their routes and enter that past data for those routes.  If you have been doing surveys for a while, you should check the website above to read the changes in the instructions and to download the revised field data sheet.

Rough-legged Hawk photo by Vic Berardi
This HMANA WRS data entry system is now ready for survey data entry. Because in the “back-ground” it is techni-cally still under development, the WRS Committee requests you report any problems or suggestions to wrs@hmana.org.  The Committee hopes that any “glitches” during this initial phase will be minor, and that participants will find the process of entering data to go smoothly.

Male Northern Harrier photo by Vic Berardi

Watching a hover-hunting Rough-legged Hawk illu-minated by bright sunlight reflected off a snow-covered field, seeing how amazingly silver a male Northern Harrier looks as it courses back and forth over that same field, determining that the
lump of weeds off to the left is really a Short-eared Owl --- all these experiences await you this winter.  Record them!  Ten years from now that information could be of great value.

Short-eared Owl photo by Shawn Carey

Monday, November 5, 2012

Hitchcock's Eagle Migration festival

Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek IA will hold its annual HawkWatch Eagle Migration festival November 10 from 1-3 p.m. The event will include a live raptor demonstration by Raptor Recovery Nebraska, activities for children, scheduled programs and refreshments, weather permitting. Cost is $3 per person with children 5 and under admitted free. Hitchcock is one of the top hawkwatches for viewing migrating bald eagles, and November is the ideal time to see the birds on their journey south.

Hitchcock Nature Center is located 5 miles north of Crescent IA off the Old Lincoln Highway. For full directions and details about the event, visit www.pottcoconservation.com or www.facebook.com/hitchcocknaturecenter

If you would like HMANA to publicize your site’s raptor event, please contact info@hmana.org.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

HMANA's Counting for the Future Conferece - A Success!

On October 13 and 14th, some of HMANA’s biggest raptor enthusiasts gathered at Audubon Greenwich in Connecticut for two days of raptor presentations, field trips, and all around great discussions on hawk watching and raptor research .

Personally, as HMANA’s Monitoring Site Coordinator, I spend a lot of time emailing and talking with site leaders and hawk watchers throughout the year, but this is one of few opportunities each year to actually interact face-to-face with many site representatives and HMANA supporters. The Conference in Greenwich offered just that for others, too – a reunion, of sorts, a chance to catch up with friends old and new. Attendees included everyone from first-time conference goers to those who wouldn’t dream of missing one.

There was something for everyone! We had a really nice array of presenters – covering current research and education efforts around New England and across the map. To name a few, we learned about golden eagle tracking and the potential risk from wind power development, osprey telemetry efforts and exciting new data on their migration, navigation, and mortality. We heard about current kestrel nestbox programs in CT, saw-whet banding in MA and Red-tailed Hawk Natal Dispersal in NY.

Education was a major theme of the conference and we were lucky to have so many inspiring educators speak about their programs and how they engage all age groups with raptors – in both the classroom and the field.  We heard about using raptor banding as a way to connect with special education students, the use of nest cams in society and how to transform people into supporters, repeat visitors, and eventually informed constituents and conservationists.  The education panel discussion covered lots of issues including best ways to connect people to nature.
During the regional hawk watch session we had an opportunity to hear about eight New England sites across the Northeast. Site Coordinators discussed everything from staffing and fundraising to raptor migration trends. It was valuable to see how sites are both so different and so alike, and to learn about what works well and what doesn’t.

Field trip destinations included such famous locations as Lighthouse Point Hawk Watch, one of the falcon capitals of the Northeast, and the Chestnut Ridge Hawk Watch in nearby New York. Throughout the weekend, people popped out during conference breaks to visit the Quaker Ridge Hawk Watch a few steps outside the Audubon Center for some hawk watching. Among the observations for the weekend were plenty of Accipiters, high streaming Buteos on the move, and two Golden Eagles.  Snow Geese and a possible Ross’s Goose were highlights for some observers, and songbirds were spilling south in loose flocks throughout the weekend.

A personal highlight and undoubtedly one for many attendees was keynote speaker, Pete Dunne. Always a treat to hear, Pete took us on a trip down memory lane, sharing stories from his 36 years of hawk watching, as well as some interesting insight about the future of hawk watching – the theme of this very conference.

If that wasn’t enough, we also had a great array of table displays from local organizations and booksellers, live birds from the local rehabilitation center and a chance to try out some binocs and scopes from Swarovski, a sponsor of the conference.

Thank you to everyone who took part in our Counting for the Future conference; presenters, planners, volunteers and attendees. Folks at Audubon Greenwich did a fantastic job hosting the conference; from handling the technical computer setup to food prep. They kept everything running smoothly all weekend long.  I left the conference feeling inspired and refreshed about the work HMANA continues to do thanks to its many dedicated members and contributors. The future of hawk watching is bright, indeed.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Season Record for Peregrine Falcons set at Florida Keys Hawkwatch

Congratulations to Florida Keys Hawkwatch –the new Peregrine Falcon “capital of the world.” On October 16 at 14:49 Peregrine #3220 was tallied for fall 2012, breaking the previous seasonal record of 3219 set in Kekoldi, Costa Rica, in 2004.

By the end of the day, the new season total at Florida Keys stood at 3242. And yesterday (October 17) the site on Little Crawl Key added 27 more Peregrines, so their current total stands at 3269, at least until today is over.

Along the way to this historic number, the site also broke its own previous high daily count for Peregrines, tallying 651 Peregrines on October 10. The previous daily record was 638 set on October 11, 2008 at the site, which was then named Curry Hammock.

Along the way to both the season high and the high daily could total were several multi-triple digit Peregrine counts, starting with 113 on October 5, and followed by 237 on October 6, 155 on October 7, 230 on October 8 and 318 on October 9.

The count at Florida Keys runs until November 13, so the new high seasonal number for Peregrines will only continue to grow. Congratulations to everyone at the site!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Hazel Rocks and Wedding Bells Ring!

Those who keep up with the fall migration reports from the various "hotspots" around the continent might recognize the familiar sign-off phrase from the Corpus Christi watch:  "Hazel Rocks!"  Dane Ferrell and Libby Even have been the count leaders at Hazel Bazemore (Corpus Christi Migration Project) for several years now.  With soaring spirits and hearts they have counted several hundreds of thousands of hawks passing the site.  And Hazel (the affectionate nickname for the site) indeed rocks during fall migration.  So far this season over 225,000 individual hawks of 23 raptor species have been counted there.  The highest numbers by far are provided by the huge kettles and streams of Broad-winged Hawks heading toward their wintering grounds in Central and South America.  Dane's and Libby's clickers kick into overdrive as they concentrate on the counts.
Broadwings streaming from a kettle over Hazel Bazemore County Park

Along with small kettles and streams of Mississippi Kites and smaller numbers of Swallow-tailed Kites, Hazel's skies also yield some great views of south Texas "specialties," such as White-tailed Hawks, Harris' Hawks, Crested Caracaras, along with the occasional but regular Zone-tailed and less-regular Short-tailed Hawks. The second half of Hazel's season sees increased numbers of Swainson's Hawks.  Check  www.hawkcount.org for more information on the counts from Corpus Christi.

It was on the watch platform (worthy of another essay another time!) that Dane and Libby brought the migration day to a close on the twenty-second of September this year.  Earlier in 2012 an email had announced "Save the date!"  Friends of the couple from as far away as England and the west coast, convinced that Dane was a confirmed bachelor, rejoiced at the happy news.  So on September 22, surrounded by family members and their many hawkwatching friends, Libby and Dane were married.  As the ceremony began, the last of the day's migrant Broad-wings settled into the trees for a night's rest.

In a magical moment acknowledging the miracle of migration and their own soaring hearts and spirits the couple released over a dozen monarch butterflies into the air. Some immediately flew skyward while others came to rest on the bride's bouquet where they remained as the newlyweds left the platform.  Best wishes, Libby and Dane.  Hazel rocks!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Congratulations to Hawk Ridge MN for their 16,135 count on September 10. They counted 15,204 Broad-winged Hawks and 130 Bald Eagles, as well as 608 Sharp-shinned Hawks and 87 American Kestrels to reach their total. Included also were 7 Swainson's Hawks.

In the east, many sites posted numbers in the several hundreds, including Quaker Ridge CT, 959; Waggoner's Gap PA, 633; Militia Hill PA, 522; Franklin Mtn. NY, 475 and Holiday Beach ON, 418, to list just a few. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

HMANA on Twitter! One more way to track raptors this fall

There has been a lot of talk amongst hawkwatchers over the years about finding better ways to stay in touch while hawkwatching and how to share up to the minute reports on what’s being seen across the network of sites. Well HMANA is happy to report that we are officially taking the Twitter plunge and we have a hawkwatcher to thank for helping us make it happen!

A message from hawk counter, Luke Tiller:
Sitting at the Quaker Ridge hawkwatch a few season’s ago, I had an idea of setting up a ‘live’ hawkwatch update service. The thought reoccurred to me after getting a call from a New Jersey watch south of us today and spurred me to discus implementing this idea through HMANA. I’m sure I’m not the only hawkwatcher to wonder how we could better be in touch with other counters across the country and to have the facility to access ‘live’ reporting of what is happening at other sites, whether it is big flights or interesting birds. Beyond collecting tens of phone numbers (and then spending important watching times to call those) I thought that a little modern technology might be able to help us accomplish that.
Twitter seems like the obvious tool for this sort of thing and discussing it with a few friends, my thought was that we could create a dedicated hawkwatch Twitter account that could be used by watchers to put out details of what they were seeing during the day. Lots of us now have smartphones or web access at our sites which would allow us to access this kind of information and the kind of reports one would want to send would fit perfectly into a short tweet format. E.g: CT, Quaker Ridge, 9/5, 12:15pm 1 Swainson’s Hawk (juvie dark morph) heading SW
This one account would mean there was a central location for people to read live reports of what other watches were seeing. Any legitimate counter (paid or volunteer) who wanted to participate would be given the username and password to the account so that they could post to it.

If you are interested in being able to post your sightings send an email to hmanahawkwatchne@gmail.com to get set up. You will be sent a password for the Twitter account username hmanahawkwatch and you’ll also get a posting protocol guide. If you only want to read the feed, just go ‘follow’ hamanahawkwatch on Twitter.

 We are in the process of testing this but hope to make the feed available on the HMANA Facebook page and website in the near future (for those Twitterless people). With big Broadie pushes just on the horizon it seems like the perfect time to kick this off!


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

August Wrap-up - Bring on September

September is now upon us, and every hawkwatcher hopes for top-notch results at his or her favorite spot. But just for today we’re going to take a last look at the August hawkwatching results to see how those ended up.

Despite poor weather throughout much of the east, several sites posted some good numbers in what was largely a lackluster month for most sites this year.

Rockfish Gap VA doubled its count hours this year and then posted high August numbers for several species. Perhaps best of all were 36 Bald Eagles, compared to the previous August record of 14. Other species also benefited from the increased time at the site, especially Osprey, American Kestrel and Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Corpus Christi TX came oh-so-close to breaking its August record for Mississippi Kites. They ended up with 20,064, just 800 off the 2007 August record of 20,833.

A hearty “welcome back” is due to Smith Point TX, which had been closed for a few years. They counted for several days in late August and ended up with nearly 6000 Mississippi Kites and 183 Broadwings.

Hawk Ridge MN counted 737 Broadwings in August, which is at least their highest total in the past 12 years.

Hawk Mountain Pa tallied 12 Merlin in August, the highest total since at least 1995. With 75 years of records to look through, I didn’t go back the whole way.

Waggoner’s Gap PA also set two August records, one for Broad-winged Hawks at 363, just inching past 1999’s August record of 359, and another for its 3 Merlin (previous high of 2 in August)

Hawk Cliff ON saw a lot more Broadwings and American kestrel than they usually do in August. They had a record 162 kestrels, boosted by a thoroughly impressive result of 112 on August 28. The next day, a total of 137 Broadwings helped to boost the month’s total of that species to 174, and that looks alike another high tally for August.

And now it’s on to September, and for all of us who spent time on an eastern ridge, let’s hope for some better weather to bring us some more hawks!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fall hawk migration - late August

About the middle of August as I was looking at the early season hawkwatch results, many of the sites were posting decent numbers for early August. I remember thinking that if the results continued at the same rate, most of the eastern hawkwatches were just about one good day away from posting nice August results. Unfortunately, that was not to be. Now it’s the end of the month, and while Hawk Ridge MN has some nice numbers, the eastern hawkwatches have pretty ugly August results.

First, let’s look at the good news. As of August 28, Hawk Ridge had posted its third best August ever for Broad-winged Hawks with the highest total of the little buteo since 1998, which had 719. They may have a shot at that second best August Broadwing total over these last few days of the month but likely aren’t going to reach 1977’s 1031. Hawk Ridge also counted the season’s first Northern Goshawk on August 20 and currently have a total of 4. That result isn’t an August record, but it’s close. The rest of the species have not fared nearly so well.

When I say the eastern hawkwatches aren’t having a good August, what I mean is that many are posting results that are half of their best results. American Kestrel seem particularly low pretty much everywhere, but everything from eagles to ospreys to Sharp-shinned Hawks were also counted in very low numbers.

Weather is to blame, of course. In the east this August has been untypically rainy and foggy after a blistering hot and dry July. Nice cold fronts have been in short supply. August hawkwatching is always a bit chancy, so let’s look at the bright side and hope that a poor August means a super September is only a few days away.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Conference 2012 - Quaker Ridge Lowdown

Quaker Ridge Hawkwatch - Jeff Cordulack
I was excited to learn that the HMANA Conference will be coming to my home town hawkwatch this season at Quaker Ridge in Greenwich CT. The facilities down at Audubon Greenwich are fantastic, and the watch itself is pretty nice as wellBest of all it's very accessible. As much as I know some of you love hiking two miles up hill to get to a watch, this one requires little more than rolling out of your car.

It'll also be exciting to introduce people to some of the other local birding hotspots including a field trip to the excellent Lighthouse Point Hawkwatch in East Haven and Chestnut Ridge, which is just a stone's throw across the border in New York state. If people are thinking of making a long weekend of it, I'm more than happy to share thoughts and advice on where to bird, eat and visit in the local area, so do feel free to drop me a line at streatham2003@aol.com  You can also get information on my blog about hawkwatching basics in Connecticut (www.underclearskies.com) and in the links section also find a map to some of the birding hotspots in the local area, which might help you plan your visit. It's also worth checking out the Connecticut Ornithological Association's website, which has lots about state birding and a helpful seasonal guide http://ctbirding.org/resources_ctfall.htm  

Quaker Merlin - Luke Tiller
If you are counting down the days to the festival, you might also want to add this date to your diary--September 30. On that date Julie Brown (Monitoring Site Coordinator at HMANA) will be appearing on BirdCallsRadio. One of North America's only dedicated birding radio shows is based right across town from here in Greenwich CT but covers the world of birds and birding across North America (and the globe). Previous guests have included luminaries from the world of birding as well as yours truly talking about hawkwatching  http://birdcallsradio.com/2011/09/06/bird-calls-radio-archive-for-sept-3-with-luke-tiller-as-guest/ You can visit their blog and listen to other archived interviews at http://birdcallsradio.com/

Quaker Sandhill Cranes - Ken Mirman
I'm looking forward to seeing you there!

Luke Tiller, Official Hawkwatcher, Audubon Greenwich http://hawkcount.org/siteinfo.php?rsite=149

Another Classification of Birdwatcher

Photo Courtesy of Bert Willaert

In the introductory pages to his Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Ken Kaufman draws a distinction between birdwatchers and birders, offering some of the defining characteristics that make birders different than "garden variety" birdwatchers.  I've never been particularly fond of this distinction, largely because I feel it is prone to misinterpretation.  Promoting the birder as a kind of "elite" birdwatcher unnecessarily fractures a community with a common interest (i.e., birds and their conservation), and I do not feel this was Kaufman's intention at all.  But having spent much time afield with birders of all stripes at raptor migration sites both in North America and abroad, I'm inclined to suggest that there might exist another distinction that separates birders and migration counters.  Admittedly, the distinction is rarely clean: while there are birders who do not consider themselves migration counters and migration counters who rarely watch birds at all when not at their favorite migration site, most individuals blur the line and retain a more balanced interest.  But when working with groups of observers at migration sites, I feel the difference in focus between birders and migration counters often comes to the fore, and the distinction may be worth keeping in mind.

Birders who are not migration counters are the easiest to identify.  They are the ones who have a tendency to "filter out" common countable species when plumbing the skies for "special" birds.  For them, the common species are not so important.  While this is understandable given their peculiar focus, this can be frustrating for true migration counters whose defining responsibility is to offer a balanced coverage effort for all countable species, not just ones that should happen to strike the fancy of the legion of birders lining the platform.  More times than I can count, I've watched birders "helping" with the count effort turn their back on large areas of sky for extended periods of time to focus their scopes on a single distant harrier or falcon as one "not-so-special" raptor after another passed by in areas they left without coverage.  This can be frustrating for a true migration counter, who often finds his or her count effort directed by where the 10-15 scopes on the platform are not directed.  At its worst, a migration counter can feel screwed out of some satisfactory views of "good" birds as the birders' attention flit from one small spot in the sky to another without a second thought about what might be transpiring elsewhere.  So despite plentiful talent on the platform, the migration counter can find his or her count effort surprisingly lonely.

I choose this example not to berate birders so much as to help outline what I believe are fundamental "cultural" differences between birders and migration counters, because it is often assumed that everyone volunteering at a hawkwatch has the same objectives in mind.  And it is similarly assumed that good birders are, by implication, good migration counters, and I feel this is not always the case.  If you are a birder helping with a count effort, make a point to give the entire sky balanced coverage, or at least let the counter know before you ignore a large section of sky.  If you are a watchsite coordinator, identifying counters and volunteers who are partial to the objective of balanced count coverage will pay off with higher quality data in the long haul.

Good Hawkwatching,

Monday, August 20, 2012

First hawkwatches open!

It’s fall! Or at least the first of the fall hawkwatches are open for business. Waggoner’s Gap near Carlisle PA, was the first to open, starting their season on August 1. Nearby Second Mountain wasn’t far behind, first counting on August 3. More hawkwatches, including Hawk Mountain PA, Corpus Christi TX and Hawk Ridge MN, opened on August 15. At last count so far 14 North American hawkwatches have put in at least one count day at their sites.

And the results? It’s mostly been slow, of course, though numbers are ever-building. Hawk Ridge’s 167 raptors on August 18 can boast the largest daily total. Corpus Christi tallied 160 on the same day. No other sites have yet reported triple digit counts, but most have now posted double-digit days. The other high counts were Waggoner’s Gap with 87 on August 18; Hawk Mountain with 74 on August 16; and Bake Oven Knob, PA, and Rockfish Gap, VA, with high totals of 62 and 61.

Corpus Christi’s total was boosted by 130 Mississippi Kites on August 18, the first day with more than 4 of those. Hawk Ridge’s total includes 139 Broad-winged Hawks seen on August 18. They also had 10 Bald Eagles that day.

It’s the third week of August, and hawkwatches from Maine to south Texas are now open. Whatever the weather, that can only mean one thing—it’s fall!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

HawkCount Now and Forever.

It’s that time of year again. It’s time to dust off your binoculars and head out to your favorite watchsite.  Raptors are on the move! In fact, this week is the start of many hawk watches across North America. Happy fall migration!

While it’s the season for counting raptors, likewise it’s also HawkCount season! HMANA’s HawkCount database sees its heaviest traffic during the fall season as hawk watchers check out what’s being seen across the map. Aside from the up to date hourly and daily summaries, they are checking site profile details, species stats and viewing the new trend graphs as part of the 2011 RPI analysis.

HawkCount.org is a service to the hawk-watching community and is open to everyone free of charge and free of advertising. We intend to keep it that way. Much of its development has been accomplished by volunteers and the content is contributed voluntarily by hawkwatchers. Anyone can use this information, restricted only according to the wishes of the contributors who own the data.

This past fall, we asked friends and users of HawkCount to help provide support for HawkCount.org by making a donation or by sponsoring the web pages of their favorite hawk watch sites.  With your help, we’ve raised over $5000 so far, all of which goes towards the general maintenance and improvement of the web site and data archive.

Become a Site Sponsor at a Special Discounted Rate!  Until October 31, new or renewed Accipiter level sponsorships will be available for a minimum donation of $50, instead of the regular $75.
Sponsorships are open to individuals and organizations. Your name (or the organization’s name) will be displayed on that site’s pages and the funds go towards sustaining all the great services that HawkCount.org offers. If you belong to an organization that supports a hawk watch, ask your organization to sponsor the hawk watch’s pages; or suggest a joint site sponsorship to your site coordinator.  Sponsorships received this fall will be effective to 31 December, 2013.  

Already a Site Sponsor? Renew your sponsorship!
If you made your donation last fall, your sponsorship will run out December 31, 2012. Take advantage of the special Accipiter level discount until Oct 31 and renew online or by mail by downloading the Watch Site Page Sponsorship Form.

For more information, please visit www.HawkCount.org and click on the Learn More or Donate Now in the box at the bottom of the page: or, in October, click on the banner at the top of the page.

For more information about Raptor Population Index (RPI) and the recent 2011 analysis, please visit www.rpi-project.org.

And thanks for your support!

Photo: hawkwatchers scan the skies at Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory, NH

Friday, August 10, 2012

California (raptor) dreamin'....

     In February the Bear Valley, like many other parts of California, is green with spring.  Farms, orchards, and vineyards carpet the valley floor.  Bordered on the west by the Gavilan Mountains and on the east by the southern Diablo Range, the valley is a visible manifestation of the San Andreas fault.  A quiet two-lane highway runs the western length of this striking landscape, a road enough off the beaten path that one can pull off to the side without fear of causing a traffic catastrophe.  And that's a boon to birders, especially hawk gawkers.

     It was one gorgeous late February day that we ventured southward from Hollister along the verdant fields and hillsides. The valley must be home to uncountable small furry critters and lizards and other tasty fare because we saw raptors almost everywhere.  A wide range of behaviors were exhibited: many were hunting, some of the birds were in dramatic courtship displays, some were engaged in what appeared to be territorial disputes, some were migrating, and some were possibly hangers-on from winter, not quite ready to head north.  
photo by S. Fogleman

     Red-tailed Hawks predominated, providing great opportunities to study a wide range of color variation.  I believe I have come to love the dark Western morph the most.  American Kestrels seemed to be everywhere, and I think I can truthfully state that I have never seen so many in one day anywhere other than a coastal migration watchsite.  They hover-hunted over fields, they were perched on utility lines, on fence posts, on small saplings.  They pestered Red-tails, they pulled the wings off large insects, they preened, they mated, and made us wonder if this was the Kestrel Shangri-la.

     Northern Harriers were probably the next most numerous, with silvery adult males as well as "brown" birds drifting back and forth above the grasses and marshy areas, and sometimes sitting on a fence. Red-shouldered Hawks were often perched on utility poles along the road.  We spotted the occasional Merlin zipping along parallel to the road, or perched on a snag on the steep slopes on our west side.  Here and there a delicate-looking White-tailed Kite captured our attention. Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks were frequently spotted.  A side trip up into Pinnacles National Monument rewarded us with awesome albeit too-fast-to-get-the-camera views as a Prairie Falcon whipped over us at about 30 feet.

     When the frequency of Golden Eagle sightings equals what you might have of Red-tails in the East, you know you're in great raptor country.  Two Goldens acting a bit "courtship-ish" caught our attention as we scanned a horse pasture below us.  At another stop one appeared to be mantling over prey .  Sometimes, while watching a pair of Red-tails in the sky, a Golden would drift into view.  Then there'd be one that was perched on a rocky outcropping, or the archway of a ranch entrance.  At overlook pull-offs where we would be looking down on these birds, their golden nuchal feathering gleamed in the afternoon sunshine.

     Best of all to this Easterner, were the Ferruginous Hawks.  I spotted the first one when we were still about 400 meters north of it as it perched on a fence post.  It was definitely a "wow" moment for me, but the next three or four sightings of that species were just as "wow," as each of those long-winged buteos made certain we appreciated their majesty.
Ferruginous Hawk - photo by W. Fogleman

     Had we visited a week later would we have seen as many raptors?  Would we have seen as much diversity(12 species, including the abundant Turkey Vultures)?  What might it have been like a month earlier in that valley?  Perhaps some light could be shed on the situation by systematic monitoring such as the Winter Raptor Survey.  I'd volunteer, except that I live 3000 miles away!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Kittatinny Roundtable

John Reed from Picatinny Peak NJ holds aloft the "coveted" blinking eagle award as Gene Wagner from Waggoner's Gap PA looks on
For some years now, Hawk Mountain Sanctuaryhas hosted an annual Kittatinny Roundtable, which gathers watchsite compilers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey to discuss the previous year’s raptor migration results. The day-long event is a good way for hawk people to get together and talk about hawks in the off-season. A good-natured rivalry about who had the “big day” this past year is always part of the mix, too.

And it’s not just talk about the numbers, either, as attendees always get to hear a presentation about some interesting point of research. This year, Nick Bolgiano presented about changes in Red-tailed Hawk migration and the declines in migration results for the species at many hawkwatches. He used data from HawkCount, Christmas Bird Counts, Breeding Bird Surveys and banding results to show how all the data sources confirm Redtails are staying further to the north than previously and are often wintering over. He was able to track this northward wintering through many years of data and show how it has progressed ever northward decade by decade.

Hawk Mountain will be recording migrants with and without crops this fall and asked that other sites along ridge consider doing the same. Counters will decide “crop” or “no crop” for every bird that passes close enough to see a crop. The plan is to use evidence of raptor feeding as an index to the health of the habitat along the ridge that might be impacting birds’ feeding. Contact Laurie Goodrich at goodrich at Hawkmtn dot org if you’d like more details for your own site.

In looking at the spring 2012 results from the ten sites that attended, some interesting details emerged. Allegheny Front PA recorded its highest Northern Goshawk count in 12 years of counting this past spring. Tussey Mountain recorded 212 Golden Eagles, its second highest total.

The totals from fall 2011 also contained some nuggets. For the second year, Waggoner’s Gap PA tallied the most eagles seen in the region, a total of 700, 230 of them were Golden Eagles and 470 were Bald Eagles. Allegheny Front recorded the highest total of Golden Eagles with 279. Picatinny Peak NJ had the biggest Broad-winged Hawk day with 6201 on September 17, but Scott’s Mountain, NJ, had the most for the season, with 14,227.

November 2011 turned out to have disappointing results for nearly all the sites, primarily because the day after the big eastern snowstorm in October produced record migration days on October 30 and 31. The group felt that big weather system pulled birds into October that normally would migrate in early November.

Predictions for this fall? Speculation is that it might be a good year for Ospreys, based on the number of young seen at nesting sites. Also, the country-wide, ongoing drought might push birds to head south earlier than is typical. Whatever the results, you can be sure these counters won’t miss any of the action!

Monday, July 16, 2012

HMANA 2012 Fall Conference - "Counting for the Future"

The Hawk Migration Association of North America is excited to present its 2012 Conference “Counting for the Future” hosted by The National Audubon Society at the Audubon Center in Greenwich, Connecticut.  The conference will be held on October 13 and 14, during peak migration season at one of New England’s oldest Hawk Watch sites, Quaker Ridge. 

To sustain and advance raptor conservation, “Counting for the Future” will seek to actively engage participants in bird conservation efforts, with a strong emphasis on educating the next generation of hawk watchers.  The conference will feature an array of scientific presentations, panel discussions, raptor identification workshops, and field trips to local hawk watch sites and birding hotspots.

Registration is open to all raptor enthusiasts!  Conference activities will begin at 8:00AM Saturday, October 13th and continue throughout the day. A social event on Saturday evening will be held prior to our keynote address. Activities will continue throughout the day on Sunday, October 14th, and will wrap up at 5:00PM.
The conference will feature keynote speaker Peter Dunne, noted author, bird conservationist, Chief Communications Officer for New Jersey Audubon, and the Director of Cape May Bird Observatory. Sponsored by Swarovski Optik, Mr. Dunne will look back on his amazing career and highlight, in his keynote address “Islands in the Cloud Stream:  A Reflection on 36 Years of Hawk Watching,” the events and people that profoundly influenced his work.

A full program schedule will be available soon.  A handful of conference activities are listed below.

  • Raptor Population Index Project Update – New North American Population Trend Results. Presented by Julie Brown, HMANA Monitoring Site Coordinator
  • Osprey Satellite Tracking.  Presented by Dr. Robert Bierregaard, University of North Carolina
  • Raptor Photography – A Seasonal Approach.  Presented by Steven Sachs
  • Red-tailed Hawk Natal Dispersal at Braddock Bay.  Presented by Daena Ford
  • Golden Eagle Satellite Tracking.  Presented by Mike Lanzone
  • Bald Eagle Restoration in NY State. Presented by Mike Allen, retired Wildlife Technician from the NY Department of Environmental Conservation
  • Raptor Education: Everybody’s Doing It.  Presented by Rodney Olsen, Special Education Teacher from Addison Central Schools in Vermont
  • Using Raptor Nestcams for Educational Outreach.  Presented by Laura Erickson, educator & author
  • Raptor Education Panel Discussion 
  • Digi-scoping and optics demonstrations by Swarovski Optik
  • Hawkwatching on site at Quaker Ridge Hawkwatch
  • Hawk Identification Workshops for all skill levels
  • Early morning bird walks on the grounds of Greenwich Audubon
  • Live Raptors from the Sharon Audubon Center

Saturday, October 13 - Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch, New York
Located in the southern foothills of the Taconic Mountains this hawkwatch sits at the highest point in The Nature Conservancy’s Arthur W. Butler Sanctuary, Bedford Hills, NY.  Chestnut Ridge has been operated by the Bedford Audubon Society for over 30 years. Season totals average 10,000 to 15,000 raptors of 16 species.  Just last year, counters tallied 9,655 Broad-winged hawks in a single day, which is more than a typical season’s count! 

Sunday, October 14 - Lighthouse Point, Connecticut
Located at Lighthouse Point Park, in New Haven along the Long Island Sound.  This hawkwatch is a coastal plain site which receives impressive numbers of falcons and accipiter in the fall season. 

Visit the HMANA Conference webpage for registration information.  Hope to see you there!  

Friday, June 1, 2012

Okay Folks, let's keep it CLEAN!!

Okay.  You’ve just spent a substantial chunk of your life scouring the skies for birds, taking careful systematic counts of everything you see.  (For some of you, we’re talking hundreds of hours spent in one place!)  The daily forms for each count day are in your possession, the data is submitted to HawkCount, and all the original paperwork is filed away for safekeeping.  Mission accomplished!  But wait!  Just how “clean” is your data?
Most veteran hawkwatchers I know pride themselves on the quality of their fieldwork.  They’ve developed their ID skills after years of practice, and putting a name with reliable ease to most every raptor they see is something they have every right to be proud of.  But at the end of the day, what happens to all those paper forms with the tiny boxes of numbers they’ve scrawled all over them?  Does your hawkwatch have a procedure for handling data?  If it doesn’t, I implore you think seriously whether it might need one.
I raise this issue now as the end of spring hawkwatching season draws near, because I’ll admit I’m easily impressed by the large stack of count sheets presently on my desk.  After all, I worked hard to collect nearly all of that data, and I try very hard to be a careful/conscientious counter.  But an integral part of the job of counting hawks is to see that the data collected can actually be used, and for this to happen, it must be correct!  And for it to be correct, it must be checked through thoroughly, line by line, to see that the paper forms are faithfully transcribed electronically to HawkCount.  So these count sheets on my desk are not yet a finished product, despite appearances to the contrary.  I’ll admit that this is possibly the least glamorous aspect of counting hawks I can imagine, but it’s of paramount importance to the science side of it.  And I think it’s much too easy, especially in this age of nearly realtime HawkCount posting, to come back at the end of the day and quickly bang out the day’s results for all your eager fans waiting to see them and be done with it.  But after spending a full day on the hill, you’re probably tired.  You can barely see straight!  And now you’re going to take aim with your mouse and cursor at more little boxes on your computer screen and expect perfection.  This is unrealistic.  I don’t care who you are, you’re going to make mistakes!  And this, too, is part of the job of counting hawks.
So I’d like to make a special request of you: if you don’t already, make a point to take as much pride in the correctness of your data as you do in your skills at identifying birds.  Whether you audit the data yourself at a later time or designate someone willing (and able) to do it, just ensure that it gets done.  And if you must do it yourself, try to approach it with fresh eyes rather than a mind clouded by fatigue, which is why it’s almost always a bad idea to try to audit the data yourself the very day it was collected.
My personal ritual is to export the submitted data from HawkCount as an MS Excel worksheet (ask your site coordinator to do this for you if you don’t have direct access to your HawkCount profile), and then I’ll tote my laptop with me down to a coffee shop that offers free wireless internet.  In the midst of a caffeinated buzz while wearing headphones to cloud out the surrounding din, I’ll step through the spreadsheet on the computer cell-by-cell while tracing through the stack of daily forms sitting before me with an index finger.  (I imagine it might be entertaining to watch me work!)  My preference for coffee shops with WiFi is twofold: a) it’s perfectly acceptable in many coffee shops (e.g., Starbucks) for one person to spread out his paperwork and things all over a table for several hours at a time and only order a few soy CafĂ© au laits, and b) having internet access means I can correct errors on HawkCount as I discover them, and also allows me to take breaks and screw off a little when my eyes begin to glaze over.  Admittedly, coffee houses are not cheap in an absolute sense.  But we’re not talking about making them a daily habit.  We’re talking about spending $10 on your pleasure as an *investment* in the quality of your count data, and this begins to look especially cheap given the amount of time you’ve already invested in counting birds.  (And if coffee is not your thing, do what you can to make the job slightly more pleasurable/rewarding if you find the task as monotonous as I do.)
So getting back on track: accurate counts are at the core of what we do.  Do what you possibly can to make sure they really count!
Good Hawkwatching,

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Afternoon of the Condor

Southbound.  California Highway 1, along that spectacular piece of our planet called Big Sur.  This particular February day was sunny with some ocean haze screening really good looks at Grey Whales migrating just off-shore.  We stopped frequently to admire vistas, examine flora, search for geocaches and, of course, look at birds.  Raptors can abound along the steep slopes bordering the eastern side of the road, and that day we saw numerous Red-tailed Hawks of various color morphs.  There were Kestrels, a few Cooper's Hawks and a Sharpie.  But we kept our eyes on the high ridges, scanning for The Prize of the Day.  We'd had reports that three California Condors were being frequently seen along a particular stretch of Route 1, soaring just above the ridges.  Every once in a while a distant Turkey Vulture would cause our hearts to skip a beat, but as the day wore on, we began to think we weren't going to be lucky Condor-spotters.

We had stopped at a sizeable pull-off opposite a deep canyon which led up toward the high country of the Ventana Wilderness.  No soaring condors in the sky above the fire-scarred peaks.   Turkey Vultures.  A couple of Red-tails.  A Cooper's. We debated going "just a couple more miles maybe?" versus turning and heading back north.  Suddenly a bright white splotch high on a very steep wooded slope above towering ledges caught my husband's eye.

California Condors, Big Sur February 2012
from video clip; Susan Fogleman all rights reserved
Condors!  Three of them!  Two appeared to be full adults, and the third looked a little younger. Nearly a half-mile above us they were perched on a dead redwood trunk that had lodged among its neighbors when it fell. As we cheered our good fortune, we saw one of the adult birds open its wings, and next thing we realized it was standing on the back of the other adult.  Mating California Condors!  Elated, we watched, photographed and filmed the birds for almost an hour as they preened, changed positions on their perch, and basked in the afternoon sunshine. During that time we observed the adult birds copulating three times.  We were able to share our telescope views with many people who stopped to see what we were looking at.  

For recent information about the Condor Recovery Project and the efforts of the Ventana Wildlife Society check out the newsletter Ventana News and also click on links you can find there.  According to the VWS  condorblog as of April 25 this year there were seven nests in central CA, at least 5 were still active, and two of those have nestlings. I'd like to think that one of those chicks is the offspring of the birds we saw that February afternoon.
photo by W. Fogleman  2/2012