Monday, December 23, 2013

HMANA CONFERENCE 2014 – 40 YEARS CONNECTING HAWKS AND PEOPLE

Braddock Bay Hawkwatch Platform - Luke Tiller
2014 sees HMANA's 40th anniversary, and to celebrate we are holding our 40th Anniversary Conference: 40 years connecting hawks and people. The event will take place between April 25 and 27 at Braddock Bay, which is just north of Rochester, New York.

I was lucky enough to be counting at Greenwich Connecticut when we held our last conference in 2012 and so got to experience all the fun of the event from my home turf. Most exciting to me about Greenwich was getting to make connections with other raptor aficionados from across the country and beyond. Two years later I am still in regular touch with many of those participants and attendees and consider them friends made. That's not to say that there wasn't plenty else to enjoy including: a wonderfully humorous and passionate talk by key note speaker Pete Dunne, lively panel discussions, fun field trips and fascinating lectures. Though it will be a tough event to top, I am convinced next years event is lining up to be even better.


The conference next April already boasts two excellent keynote speakers in Keith L. Bildstein and Richard Crossley. Keith is the Director of Conservation Science at Hawk Mountain and is renowned in the world of raptor conservation for his wide ranging research and accessible publications. As well as being the author of the Crossley ID Guide series (including this year's well received Crossley ID Guide: Raptors), Richards driving passion is to promote conservation by popularizing birding and I say what better way to popularize birding than to promote the coolest birds going: hawks, falcons and eagles!


Happy Hawkwatchers at Braddock Bay - Luke Tiller
As well as the keynote speakers there will be panel discussions on a variety of relevant topics, lectures on everything from how the latest technology is informing our understanding of raptor migration to how to develop outstanding educational programming. Apart from the talks, there will be workshops on raptor photography from some of the leading exponents in the field, classes on raptor identification from the experts out on the hawkwatch platform as well as field trips to local birding hotspots. There will also be additional more extensive field trips out to nearby birding hotspots and points of interest including the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, Derby Hill and other nationally renowned sites like Montezuma NWR. All these events will be lead by expert local guides and it will also be a chance to meet the guides who lead for HMANA's national and international tour programs.

The festival also takes place the same weekend as our host organizations 'Bird of Prey Days' event, so other events over the weekend will include tours of the legendary Braddock Bay Raptor Research (website here) and Braddock Bay Bird Observatory’s (website here) banding stations, live bird of prey shows and opportunities to try out the latest optics and birding related products at the trade show among the myriad of other fun events.

The only way to count all the birds at Braddock Bay - Luke Tiller
If that wasn't enough to tempt you, the festival just happens to fall on the same magical date that has historically seen the two largest raptor flights in Braddock Bay Hawkwatches history: April 27th. Of course if we do have days either like this or like this it might be hard to drag yourself away from the hawkwatch platform to see all the other amazing events. If you can't imagine what counting a 40k bird flight is like, here is my write up of the big day on April 27th 2011 on my blog (here) which was also published in HMANA’s Hawk Migration Studies magazine.

Some more information about the event can be found on the HMANA website (here).  Bookings will go live from early January so look out for notices online, via email and in our forthcoming journal. I'm sure you are as excited as I am to get booking - look forward to seeing you all in Rochester in April!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hawk gifts for the holidays

On my own blog I've always thrown together some ideas for what to get the avid birder in your life for a Holiday Gift. This year I thought I try and pick out some rare gems that might be cherished by the most avid of your hawkwatching friends. Or maybe you can just add them to the list you send to Santa.

Hawkwatching T-shirts - Birdspot
Cool Apparel 
I know it’s winter, but nothing makes a HMANA Winter Raptor Survey (details here) go more smoothly than having a comfortable and super cool hawk t-shirt on beneath your layers of smartwool and silk long underwear. I may be a little biased, but I reckon there probably aren’t many super cool t-shirts designed by hawkwatchers for hawkwatchers; including my favorite ‘I watch hawks. For a living.’ You can find more cool hawkwatching shirts here.

For the ladies, perhaps something a little more swanky to wear: how about these super cute bird necklaces and earrings from Piper NYC (here).

And on the practical level: keep the sun off your head or neck, create a temporary sling, have a cloth for cleaning up spills and be able to twitch birds in dodgy Los Angeles neighborhoods (choose colors carefully). All that, and use that same item for identifying the raptor that just flew over your head: Hawk Mountain Hawk Bandana (here).

HMANA Membership, Hawkcount etc
Give the gift of giving. If you want to do something awesome for hawks, hawkwatches and hawkwatchers this holiday, perhaps a gift membership of the Hawk Migration Association of North America (membership page here), sign up to support the hawkcount page of your local hawkwatch (here) or if you really want to treat yourself perhaps join us for a trip to witness the majesty of hawk migration at Braddock Bay or the Florida Keys next year (here).



Movies
Though a classic in the UK (rated as one of the ten best British Movies of all time by the BFI) I don't think many US movie fans are aware of the wonderful Kes. The story line revolves a young teenage outsider who finds purpose when he starts to train a Kestrel he takes from a nest from a local farm. It's an awesome movie and probably the only one where a hawk takes center stage. It's also rated by the BFI as one of their top fifty children's films. Available on Amazon (here).

Books
There have been a slew of excellent raptor ID books in recent years. The reworked classic Hawks in Flight and Jerry Liguori's two guides have set the bar pretty high. This year saw the release of the Crossley Raptor Guide. The guide takes Crossley's innovative approach to field guides and is a book any hawkwatching aficionado would want in their library (available in all good stores). You, or the recipient of the gift, can come and get it signed by Richard himself at the HMANA Conference in April (find out more here)

I've been lucky enough to be asked to review Conor Mark Jameson's Looking for the Goshawk. It's a fine read and definitely one that those with an interest in raptors and raptor conservation will have an interest in. It's combines being both nicely written as well as being informative.

Beyond the world of just raptors, the book of the year bird wise in many estimations is Mark Cocker's Birds and People. The book charts mans relationships with birds and their importance to us as simply food or as part of our recreation, art, origin stories and religion. The photography by David Tipling (website here) only adds to this fantastic tome. 
Adopt a Hawk - BBRR 
Adopt a Hawk
This always struck me as being the awesome gift for the birder/hawkwatcher who has everything - their own bird. Worth noting that you don't get to actually take the hawk home, as one of the 'adopters' at Braddock Bay thought one time - bless 'em. What you do get though is an awesome image of your bird a certificate with details on the bird and the promise that you will be updated if the bird is recaptured in the future. I know Hawk Ridge in Duluth have this as an option to support their work (here) and so does Braddock Bay Raptor Research (here) and I am sure there are others.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Raptor Bytes - hawkwatching morsels from around the web

Hawkcount - HMANA
HMANA New Web Presence
As the fall season starts to draw to a close, I am hoping that readers have noticed some recent changes both to our redesigned and relaunched website (here) and some spiffy new updates to our Hawkcount page (if you missed it see the blog post here). All of this has been undertaken thanks to the support of our membership and the hard work of our mainly volunteer team. In the recent HMANA Hawk Migration Studies Magazine we pledged to have a much more active online presence (it is 2013 after all) and the new website will offer part of this.

HMANA 'News'
With the Fall counting season drawing to a close, it can only mean that it is just a few months until the Spring season is upon us. Until then there will be plenty on our website and blog to keep you entertained! As well as the blog, important news pieces concerning HMANA can be found in the 'HMANA News' section on the website. For example, usually the seasons flyway reports are only open to the membership of the organization, but last fall's editions are now up on our website for your perusal (link here). To read the reports click on the icon with the small white arrow in a black box at the top right of the document. You can also download this PDF. For an organization that is focused on conservation it feels right to be putting more of this information online. Reports will at future date be moved to a members only section of the website.

HMANA Conference
In other news our 40th Anniversary Conference is really starting to take shape now (Braddock Bay, near Rochester, NY April 25-27 2014) and we are excited to confirm that a certain British author with a recently published guide to raptor identification will be our keynote speaker at the event.! Keep an eye on exciting event developments here.



California Condors: Good news, bad news
In 1982 only 22 California Condors remained in the wild, however through successful captive breeding programs their numbers have grown steadily. The recovery of this species is still on a knife edge though, with their main threat coming from continuing lead poisoning. For those that care about condors it can only be seen as a good thing that the State of California has recently extended the ban on the use of lead based ammunition statewide. It hasn't all been good news however, with two condors being lost in accidents in Kern County, CA recently (story here). This news followed hot on the heels that October has seen significantly larger numbers of birds than normal having to be treated for lead poisoning at the Los Angeles Zoo (more on the story from the L.A Times here).

California Condor Cam
For those that love raptors then a must see is the Oakland Zoo and Ventana Wildlife Society run Condorcam. As well as the condors the odd Golden Eagle drops in to grab some food as well as the ubiquitous Ravens. Very, very cool (check it out here).

California Condor movie 
Some of you might be aware of the above movie The Condor's Shadow. It has just been announced that it will air on PBS SoCal on Dec 7th at 8pm. Looks to be an interesting movie. You can find out more about the movie, view extra footage and find out more about future screenings on Facebook (here).

Thursday, November 14, 2013

10 good reasons to join us for the HMANA Raptor ID Workshop at Braddock Bay

Red-shouldered Hawk - LukeTiller
HMANA Raptor ID Workshop at Braddock Bay, near Rochester, NY - April 6-12 2014

1/ You get to hone your raptor identification skills in a small group led by Frank Nicoletti, probably one of the most accomplished hawkwatchers anywhere on the planet.

2/ Early April is prime time at Braddock Bay to see the highest diversity of raptors in terms of species: with potential to see seventeen species of eagles, hawks, falcons and vultures. Perhaps almost as importantly the tours timing will also provide the greatest opportunity to grapple with aging, sexing and, where possible, even identifying birds to subspecies.

Merlin - Luke Tiller
3/ Tour timing is perfect to see some big movements of raptors as it falls squarely within the time period that often sees the kind of flight that produces one thousand Red-tailed Hawks, a four figure tree top flight of Sharp-shinned Hawks or more than five thousand Turkey Vultures. How does a day like this spent in one of the countries most knowledgeable raptor experts company take your fancy? Or maybe one like this or this? You can read about a past big day at Braddock Bay Hawkwatch that happened during the same time period on my blog (here).

4/ Between our base camp at Braddock Bay and a day trip or two, it will be great timing to see good numbers of some of North Americas most desirable raptor species such as Golden Eagle, Rough-legged Hawk and Northern Goshawk as well as other potentially locally interesting species such as Black Vulture and Swainson’s Hawk.

Common Redpoll - Luke Tiller
5/ In among the flying raptors there will be other great migratory birding to experience. All of this will allow us to hone our visible migration skills as well as our knowledge of flight calls. How do you separate a Snow Bunting from a Lapland Longspur? A flock of American Pipits from a flock of Horned Larks? The buzz of Pine Siskins from either goldfinch or redpoll? All of this is becoming part of being a well rounded hawkwatcher, and this HMANA Workshop will help you explore and develop these set of skills.

6/ The workshop will also guarantee you a week in the company of both fun and like minded people: what could be more entertaining than kicking back at a couple of the US’s finest spring raptor migration sites with a group of newly acquired friends?

Braddock Bay Hawkwatch - Luke Tiller
7/ As well as years of general experience, both tour leaders have counted at Braddock Bay specifically, so they know where and when to go in the area in order to ensure participants get the most out of the migratory experience and perhaps almost importantly the best places to go grab some fine BBQ and a great beer afterwards!

8/ Get excitingly up close and personal experience with raptors and other birds as we visit the hawk, owl and songbird banding projects that are undertaken in the area. These in hand views of raptors can be invaluable learning experiences.

Dark Rough-legged Hawk - BBRR
9/ Know that your participation will help support the conservation and research work that HMANA undertakes, help provide the resources they provide to counts across the country, as well as assist the important work undertaken by local non-profit organizations like BBRR that are funding the rapotor projects around the country which we all love so much.

10/ All this and you don’t even have to count one bird that is flying past you; well unless you really, really want to.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

(almost) Wordless Wednesday

White-tailed Hawk - Luke Tiller
Just back from an amazing week at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival doing some scouting for a potential future HMANA event (click here to see our website for current events and updates in the near future). Though the news of the week was almost certainly Jeff Bouton of Leica Sport Optics fame discovering the second US record of Amazon Kingfisher (picture and map here), for me the raptor viewing opportunities were the real highlights. It's hard to pick a favorite with such an extensive list of southern specialties down there: Harris's Hawk, White-tailed Hawk, Hook-billed Kite, White-tailed Kite, Zone-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara and Gray Hawk, but you'd be hard pressed not to pick the Aplomado Falcon, even if they might not be technically 'countable' yet.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Winter Raptor Survey season

Adult Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk
The winter season is fast approaching which means time to hit the open country for great raptor watching. If you aren't doing a Winter Raptor Survey route already, I hope you'll get on it and create one or join with someone else. Well worth it and the effort will ultimately help paint a picture of winter raptor distribution across the continent. Ferruginous, Harlan's, Rough-legged hawks, Eagles, Merlins, etc. are getting re-aquainted with their winter haunts as the days get shorter and colder. For most of us these birds are important talismans to the winter landscape that bring excitement to our winter birding. It is always with eager anticipation that I head out in search of these special birds. I'm never sure what I'll find.
     A short outing yesterday produced some nice birds. One of these is the Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk pictured above. This is the same bird that spent last winter in the exact same spot, and possibly for a number of years prior to that. With their unique plumages, Harlan's are great to document long-term winter site fidelity. Another gem was a Richardson's Merlin getting a scolding from two kestrels. I was a bit surprised then to see the male kestrel and Merlin taking a break from the dogfight to sit together for about 30 seconds. Not something you see every day. Four Ferruginous Hawks, including one dark bird, completed the day nicely.
Kestrel and Merlin...momentary truce


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

(almost) Wordless Wednesday

White-tailed Kite - Lloyd Spitalnik
This week's incredible Wordless Wednesday shot comes from New York City based photographer extraordinaire Lloyd Spitalnik. Lloyd is a mainstay of the Central Park birding scene and you may recognize him from the recent HBO documentary The Central Park Effect. You can see more of his beautiful work on his website and his blog also contains some excellent reflections on producing outstanding bird photography (here) . His images have been used in numerous birding publications and last year he coauthored the book Visions, a nature and bird photography collection (here). Thanks to Lloyd for the loan of this stunning shot!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

(almost) Wordless Wednesday

Osprey - Melissa Groo
This week's awesome (almost) Wordless Wednesday image is kindly donated by award winning photographer Melissa Groo. You may recognize her work from the All About Birds website or her stunning Avocet portrait that graced the cover of Cornell's Living Bird Magazine Summer 2013 issue. You can find more of her breathtaking work on her website (here).Thanks for the loan of the image Melissa!

Note all images on the blog can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Friday, October 18, 2013

New HawkCount feature now online!


Have you seen HawkCount lately?

Now, when you visit http://hawkcount.org you can immediately see all the hawkwatches and the total hawks seen there for each day of the past week.  Daily totals are listed for each site reporting that day, and you can then click on any site’s name to open and view its  full daily report and the hourly totals. The daily lists for the current day (and for the previous day) automatically update every couple of minutes, so you don't need to reload the page to see listings of new reports as they come in.

The new tabular listing only displays the last week’s totals, but all of a site’s information is always available at that site’s page in HawkCount.  Just click on Find a Hawkwatch to locate individual sites or select Monthly or Daily data summaries and then choose the hawkwatch you wish to view from the dropdown list.

For the first time you can now quickly glance through all reporting sites for a given day and see the total number of hawks seen in one spot.  Check it out!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

(almost) Wordless Wednesday

Western Buteos - James Coe
This week's almost Wordless Wednesday image comes from artist James Coe. His work is known to birders from his seminal Eastern Birds field guide for Golden (view here). The above image is taken from an unpublished plate for the Western Guide. As well as his bird illustration, James is also known for his stunning and award winning oil paintings. He is a signature member of the Society of Animal Artists and member of the Society’s Board of Directors as well as being a keen birder. You can view more of his work on his website (here). Thanks to James Coe for the loan of the image!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Raptor Bytes - hawkwatching morsels from around the web

Google Doodle
Swainson’s Doodle
On Tuesday (October 8th) it was nice to see www.google.co.uk celebrating the birthday and work of ornithologist and illustrator William John Swainson. Though he lends his name to the common name of three North American bird species, with the hawk being the most important obviously, sadly we weren’t treated to the same celebration on this side of the pond. You can read more about Swainson, his work and his somewhat checkered history by following the link (here). 

Swainson's Hawk - Alex Lamoreaux
Swainson’s Blog - Nemesis Bird
Talking of Swainson’s, this has to be one of the most sought out species for any eastern hawkwatch, and with the insanity of Broad-winged season now passed, it’s a good time to be grilling those passing raptors for a nice rarity. The majority of eastern Swainson's records seem to fall into a period from early October to late November. One of my favorite blogs, Nemesis Bird, produced a series of excellent articles on aging and determining the color morphs of Swainson’s Hawks a couple of years back and you can see part one of the three part article (here).

Nemesis Bird is a fantastic blog with lots of lively and valuable content from a collection of excellent and interesting young writers. A bunch of the team for the blog are also self confessed raptor fiends so raptor fans will find much to enjoy there. Other posts have included such cool ideas as live blogging via ustream from their local hawkwatch (here). One of the Nemesis Bird team, Mike Lanzone, also sits on the HMANA Board. As well as the blog you can keep up to date with what the guys and girls from Nemesis Bird are up to on their facebook page (here).

Possum & Hawk Migration Studies - Luke Tiller
Swainson’s Snaps
I was excited to receive my fall copy of the HMANA Hawk Studies Magazine and it looks like my dog Possum was pretty thrilled too (congrats if you noticed that he is looking at a Red-tailed Hawk, the awesome Swainson’s shot is on the back cover). Fascinating articles on the history of NEHW (so cleverly named they didn’t even need to adjust the acronym when they changed the name) from good friend Neil Currie, in depth Raptorthon reports from Laurie Goodrich, Hawkwatching in Hawaii with Lance Tanino, the fall 2012 flyway reports from across the country, an article about teaming up with the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership and all complimented by some stunning and often full color raptor photography from Steve Byland and Vic Berardi amongst others.

Hawk Migration Studies comes as part of your HMANA membership package so if you aren’t a member already or haven’t signed up for the year you can do so by visiting the membership page of our brand spanking new website (here). You can also download membership brochures to distribute at your local hawkwatch and I would encourage members to do so.

Swainson's Hawk (dark juvenile) - Braddock Bay Raptor Research
Swainson’s Maps
I'm wondering if everyone saw those cool little species maps that eBird were producing - essentially an annual cycle of species reports . This one from March is for the Swainson’s Hawk (here).  Interesting that it doesn’t register the increasing number of individuals that seem to be overwintering on the Gulf Coast (perhaps still not in enough density to be picked up in this kind of data representation). These Gulf Coast birds have been suggested as the potential originators of some of the hawkwatch sightings of Swainson’s Hawk across the northeast.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

(almost) Wordless Wednesday

Broad-winged Hawk - Catherine Hamilton
This week's (almost) Wordless Wednesday image comes from Catherine Hamilton. Thanks to Catherine for donating the image. You can see more of her work on her blog (here) and follow her on her facebook page (here).

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Migration in central Arizona

Adult male Cooper's Hawk, Sierra Prieta Overlook, Prescott AZ, 25 September 2013
       For the last several years, I haven't done a whole lot of migration hawkwatching. I definitely miss being in the thick of migration season at such epic locations as Cape May, Kiptopeke or Veracruz when every day brings the possibility of something amazing. 
        Last year,  my wife and I moved to Prescott, AZ. (near the geographical center of the state) and I immediately began looking at maps to find a good spot to see some migrant raptors. Mountains rise to the west and of town to just over 7000 feet. I noticed a pullout along a dirt road running along a southwest facing escarpment that dropped steeply to the west...the Sierra Prieta Overlook (SPO). Besides looking out over such a view, anyone visiting has to 'overlook' the broken glass from weekend revelry. This spot had potential. 
       Migrant raptors don't congregate in too many places in Arizona to make hours of watching pay off. Yaki Point, on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, has been operated by Hawkwatch International for several years and produces some decent flights. A good place to see Broad-wings reliably. Not far south of here is the Aubrey Cliffs IBA, a volcanic bluff running north of the town of Seligman. Arizona Game and Fish coordinates volunteers to cover this site during fall and decent numbers are seen. South of Tucson along the Santa Cruz River, a recently discovered passage of Gray, Common Black and Zone-tailed Hawks is the only other concentration of note. I wanted something a little closer to home. 
      So, with a bit of hope, my binoculars and a notepad, I ventured up to the SPO for a few days last September and saw...nothing. Local Red-tails and milling vultures. I knew the site wasn't going to produce a ton of birds, but maybe a trickle. But I would find out this fall that the site is fairly sensitive to wind direction and speed. I just needed to spend more time. My ego was bruised a bit, but not beaten.
      Why not give Spring a try? I only spent parts of three days in late March and early April and noted migrating Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawk, Swainson's, Zone-tailed and Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Merlin and Peregrine Falcon. Numbers were low, but it was encouraging. Other commitments kept me from more days on the SPO, but my gut told me that more birds were passing the site. In a stroke of luck, I was able to convince the Arizona Field Ornithologists to award me a small grant to explore the site in greater detail in 2014. Fingers are crossed for good flights. 
     A couple of weeks ago, on 24 September, I found myself at the SPO scanning the hills and ridges to the north looking for migrants. I had to give the fall flight another chance. I wasn't disappointed this time. The winds were from the southwest (perfect) and there were birds. Needless to say, I was pleased. The totals for 5 hours of watching:
T. Vulture - 42
Sharp-shinned - 10
Cooper's - 24
Red-tail - 12 (difficult to get accurate with local birds confusing things)
A. kestrel - 12 (most of them before 9am)
Peregrine - 2
Total - 102
      On subsequent days, I also observed a few N. harriers and Swainson's hawks, but overall numbers were significantly lower. For the first few days in October, the winds have been northeasterly, which isn't good for the overlook, and migrants have been scarce. But, I will be back up there soon, looking north. My goal for the season is a migrating goshawk. It's just gotta happen.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Eagle has landed: 'southern' Bald Eagle dispersal in spring

Juvenile Bald Eagle - Joseph Stevenson
'Southern' Bald Eagle migration. It’s a phenomenon that spring hawkwatches, especially along the great lakes, look forward to for late season excitement. I distinctly remember my first major flight at Braddock on May 29th 2011 when an incredible 94 individual Bald Eagles soared past me on the day – including kettles of eagles up to nine strong and an hour where 63 birds were tallied.

Though even relatively recently I have had experienced hawkwatchers question me about the veracity of the phenomenon, it was back in the mid eighties that experienced hawkwatchers like Frank Nicoletti started to note the occurrence of these flights. As the story was related to me, during his first seasons tenure at Braddock Bay Frank noticed that a lot of the late season birds they were seeing looked like small (see Bergmann's rule), crisp and extensively dark hatch year birds – unlike the bleached and worn juveniles one would expect to see if they had hatched the previous year. Apparently he stated immediately that he believed these were hatch year birds from Florida and other Southern States.

Juvenile Bald Eagle - Joseph Stevenson
During an average season one can view this kind of flight reflected on the HMANA Hawkcount website in May at Braddock Bay (for example). In fact these flights can often be seen moving over watches into June after the official end to the season at places like Braddock and Derby Hill and those eagles can often make up a significant percentage of those days flights (example here). 

Personally, whilst counting at Braddock, I had noted up that some of the birds arriving with the Broad-wings in mid-April also appeared to have this smaller, darker, crisp appearance. It seemed to me impossible that these could be southern birds though just due to the early timing, but they sure looked right for them. That, however, would mean birds, just a couple of months out of the nest, had made it the 1000-1500 miles all the way from Southern Florida up to Rochester; it just seemed too incredible to imagine.

Juvenile Bald Eagle - Joseph Stevenson
A little research though seemed to back up the possibility, as according to the USFWS Bald Eagle egg-laying can begin during October. Given a four and a half month cycle until fledging and then a few extra weeks spent around the nest that would seem to point to the potential dispersal of these young eagles during late March. To witness this early breeding in action you can follow the nestcam of a Bald Eagle in Southwestern Florida (here), you can also see updates on their exceptionally popular facebook page (here). The feed starts in just a day or two on October 1st.

These theories at Braddock got the support of some hard evidence this year for the first time. On April 13th one of BBRR’s stalwart banders, Dan Niven, captured a Bald Eagle at the Braddock Bay Raptor Research main blind that was already sporting a band. This was exciting enough in and of itself, but when the report was received from the bird banding lab we discovered something incredible and important, that the bird had been banded as a hatch year bird on February 5th down in Florida (coincidentally enough by ex-BBRR bander John Newhouse). Here was definitive proof that birds that hatched that same year in Florida could make it up to Braddock Bay by mid-April as part of their dispersal.

'Southern' Bald Eagles had initially been believed to be a sedentary subspecies until banders in Florida started to actively band them. Returns of these bands showed that these birds were heading north for the summer. Check out this awesome article (here) from 1947 that Rick Wright brought to my attention after reading this post. Note firstly how far north these banded birds were recovered: PEI, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and secondly, sadly, the number recovered dead after being shot (even though the Bald Eagle Protection Act had been passed in 1940).

Juvenile Bald Eagle - Joseph Stevenson
This northbound dispersal, to me, underlines the incredible feats these birds perform and just another reason to be in awe of them. If you want to come see some of these 'southern' Bald Eagles fly, come join The Hawk Migration Association of North America and Frank Nicoletti for their Raptor ID Workshop up at Braddock Bay in early April 2014 (link here) or for HMANA's 40th Anniversary Conference in the same location later in the month (link here).

Thanks to Joseph Stevenson for the photographs of the event.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Raptor Bytes - hawkwatching morsels from around the web


PBS Earthflight
I hope that many of you have been able to catch the stunning Earthflight series on PBS. The next episode is airing tomorrow, September the 25th and is set in South America. You can see previews, bonus footage and the three already aired episodes on the PBS website here (link). To get some idea of the incredible footage that the series includes watch the video above of Long-legged Buzzard hunting Rock Pigeons in JodhpurIndia. For Sci-Fi fans and anglophiles you might want to watch the BBC version on YouTube which is narrated by ex-Doctor Who actor David Tennant. 


Male Northern Harrier - Vic Berardi

Easy Harriers?
The Grey Ghost is a much sought after and venerated raptor at any hawk watch. It certainly seems to be high on most people’s favorites list when you discuss raptors with aficionados. That said it always seems to raise the question: ‘why do you see so few male harriers?’ Well, back in April the American Birding Association published a fascinating article in their magazine: Birding (available to members) by Jerry Liguori and Brian Sullivan suggesting one potential reason. It is known that many 2nd cycle males hold a brownish plumage, but the article notes that many male harriers continue to be brownish birds well past their second year. You can read the article for yourselves as the ABA have kindly posted a PDF of the article online here (link). Bird banding expert Peter Pyle wrote a rebuttal of the argument in the letters page of the July/August issue of Birding which also had a response to that rebuttal from Liguori and Sullivan. Fascinating stuff.

Liguori Blog
Incidentally the latest posting on Jerry’s excellent blog (here) is all about aging ‘brown’ juvenile/female type harriers and the need to be careful when doing so. If you haven’t already checked out Jerry’s blog,  make sure you add it to your reading list as it is absolutely packed with fun, fascinating and useful blog posts about raptor identification and more.

Hawkwatchers - Luke Tiller

Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival
How I wish I were heading for the Florida Keys Hawkwatch this week! Today sees the start of the Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival, which runs through until Sunday. You can check out the events on the festival website (here).  The hawkwatch runs through until early November and boasts massive flights of Peregrine Falcons, southern raptor specialties, Florida bird specialties and being perhaps the only hawkwatch in the US where you have any chance of having a Short-tailed Hawk catching some thermals with a Magnificent Frigatebird! You can check out the hawkwatch website here (link). It’s also the destination for HMANA’s much anticipated tour in 2014, more detail on our website (here).

American Kestrel - Luke Tiller

Crossley added to Hawk Mountain Board
Richard Crossley of bird identification fieldguide fame (including the excellent Crossley ID Guide: Raptors) and one of the driving forces behind the Pledge to Fledge: an organization focused on promoting birding across the globe (website here) has recently been added to the board at Hawk Mountain. It’s good to see such a tireless advocate for birds and birding added to their board.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

'Tails' from a Braddock Bay banding station....

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk - Braddock Bay Raptor Research
Although Braddock Bay, the destination for the forthcoming HMANA Raptor ID Workshop (link here), is best known for spring migration and raptor banding it also annually tracks the movement of dispersing hawks in the late summer, when the Braddock Bay Raptor Research (website here) open their nets again to band mainly young Red-tailed Hawks. As a hawkwatcher, it has always amused me that whilst watching many birds heading south in fall Braddock Bay is still catching the northbound movements of these young birds.

Recently an incredible story of one of these juvenile Red-tailed Hawks reached us at Braddock Bay via Jeff Bouton. Back then he was a bander extraordinaire with Braddock Bay Raptor Research and Braddock Bay Bird Observatory though now he is probably best known to most of you as the birding expert at Leica Sport Optics. Anyway, all the way back on the 3rd of September 1991 Jeff banded a Red-tailed Hawk at Braddock Bay, as part of the annual late summer juvenile Red-tailed Hawk movement. Recently, 22 years later, Jeff received word that the band from that bird was recovered in Pennsylvania after the bird had been found dead. Though somewhat sad, for a hawk that is a pretty good run and in fact this makes it one of the 10 oldest wild Red-tailed Hawks on record. 
Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk - Jeff Bouton
Jeff noted in his message that the day they banded the bird was not a particularly exceptional day for raptors at Braddock as they had captured and banded a mere 10 Red-tailed Hawks. To me that seems pretty good, but then we are comparing it to the kind of days where well over 100 birds have been banded at the Braddock Bay stations. As Jeff noted in his message to BBRR though:  

"...One of those 10 birds however would turn out to be exceptional. One of the largest birds of the day, which took the largest band size acceptable for the species (7D), was just reported found dead near Marion Center, PA. This means the bird lived over 22 years in the wild and makes it the 10th oldest wild Red-tailed Hawk on record!"

Though the above photo of Jeff was taken at the time, it probably isn't of the bird in question as Jeff reckons it to be a little too small. To me it's incredible to imagine this tenacious bird staking out its territory and surviving quite so long in the wild. Out of interest Marion Center, PA is about 250 miles south from Braddock Bay so the bird obviously did a little more wandering before settling down. Data like this shows the continued value of raptor banding. The USGS page on Longevity Records for North American Birds provides a useful educational tool when people ask those inevitable 'how long do they live' type questions about raptors, or any other birds for that matter (visit their page here).

"Mr Grumpy Pants" - Luke Tiller
Coincidentally one of the oldest Red-tailed Hawks in captivity is held by Anne and Paul Schnell. Anne is co-director and heads up the banding efforts at Braddock Bay Raptor Research. Anne and her husband Paul have educational birds and Pauls birds are a major part of the BBRR's educational and outreach events. Their 35 year old Red-tailed Hawk, affectionately called 'Mr Grumpy Pants' still gets called in for publicity duty and my first season at Braddock Bay I ended up posing in the snow alongside Mr Grumpy Pants for the cover of the local newspaper. Grumpy was born in 1978 and is an imprint, as a result of being fed by hand once removed from his nest. As far as I can ascertain, the oldest recorded captive bird died at 36 and a 1/2 years

Saturday, September 14, 2013


HMANA Opposes Extended Lifetimes for Eagle Take Permits
Recently, the American Bird Conservancy hosted a webinar to discuss the possibility that the USFWS may be about to issue the first incidental eagle take permit for an industrial wind power project under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.  The webinar featured a wind power project of concern to Oklahoma’s Osage Nation for which the issuance of a take permit may be imminent.  Although the permit for the Osage project may be the first to be issued, there are others in process that could develop close on its heels.  
The ABC webinar also discussed the expansion of permit lifetimes to 30 years, which the ABC has been opposing.  On the basis of its newly revised wind power siting and development policy, HMANA’s conservation committee has sent a letter to the Secretary of the Interior supporting ABC’s position. 
HMANA’s conservation committee will be monitoring the eagle take permitting process and the proposed USFWS permits being considered, including the take permit for the Osage turbine development project.  The committee also will actively engage in the public review of those projects.   

Friday, September 13, 2013

Problems with the USFWS Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines


Problems with the USFWS Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines
Yesterday, we discussed the change in HMANA’s support for the new Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines (LBWEG).  One of the problems with the LBWEG for siting wind turbines is that compliance with them, including detailed consultation with the USFWS, is voluntary. The eagle take-permitting process can be seen as a strategy to address this deficiency, an enticement to developers to work with the USFWS in siting and developing energy projects. 
The USFWS grants incidental take permits based on a developer’s commitment to incorporate specific features and standards in their projects and perhaps engage in certain activities that mitigate any harm to eagles as a result of any specific project. In theory, the developer is protected from prosecution for any incidental killing, injuring or interfering with Bald or Golden Eagles caused by the project.  In exchange for this benefit, the USFWS is able to influence the siting, development and implementation of projects.  
Currently, incidental take permits must be renewed every five years, but the service is proposing to extend the life of a take permit to 30 years.  While  this extension may further encourage developers to engage with the USFWS through the permitting process, HMANA feels this extension:  
  • neutralizes the effectiveness of post-construction mortality monitoring 
  • protects the developer from submitting to public review of a project’s actual harm to eagles
  • protects the developer from a review of the project’s compliance with the conditions of the take permit.  
As a result of these concerns, HMANA opposes any extension of the time period for take permits that removes the opportunity and necessity for periodic public review.  Further, HMANA finds the current five-year life span of take permits to be appropriate.
Next:  American Bird Conservancy’s actions on take permits

Thursday, September 12, 2013

HMANA's New Wind Turbine Siting Policy


HMANA's New Wind Turbine Siting Policy

At its monthly board meeting June 17, 2013, the HMANA Board of Directors approved an update to its 2008 policy on industrial wind turbine siting and monitoring. It can be seen in its entirety on the HMANA website:  www.hmana.bbrr.org/wind-turbine-siting-policy  The update reflects changes between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2003 interim guidelines and its current Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines (LBWEG). This update also reflects HMANA’s concerns about the USFWS commitment to extending the life of incidental eagle-take permits from five to 30 years.  

HMANA strongly supported the USFWS 2003 interim guidelines, especially the stipulations that developers of industrial wind energy projects avoid known bird migration pathways and daily movement flyways, avoid features of the landscape known to attract raptors (such as ridge lines and coastlines), avoid areas formally designated as Important Bird Areas and avoid documented locations of any species protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The current LBWEG constitute a significant departure from the 2003 guidelines, scrapping these important stipulations and failing to establish permanent and binding regulations or guidelines that provide clear, unambiguous federal guidance to the state and local entities that must make decisions about the proper siting of proposed projects.  The 2013 LBWEG are available for review at www.fws.gov/windenergy/docs/weg_final.pdf.

Next:  We’ll discuss why the new USFWS guidelines are problematic

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

HawkCount Now and Forever

It’s September! Horray! If you're a hawk watcher, this means it's time to head out to your favorite site and enjoy migration. You may also find yourself spending time on www.HawkCount.org. 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 profiles for things like species stats, trend graphs and site histories.

HawkCount.org is a free service.  Nevertheless HawkCount does cost money to run, so if you are not currently a watch site page sponsor, please consider joining the elite ranks of those who have already sponsored one or more sites.  And, to those who contributed previously, we invite you to renew your sponsorship and remain as an essential partner in maintaining and improving HawkCount.

September is Fund-raising Month on HawkCount.org, which means that we want all visitors and friends of HawkCount to be aware of the need for funding and how they can help.   To find out how you can support this valuable hawk watch resource go to http://hawkcount.org and click on one of the links in the box at the top of any page.

You can help support HawkCount “Now and Forever” either with a donation of any amount or by sponsoring the pages of a hawk watch site.  Sponsorships are available at several levels from Accipter at $75-$199 to Eagle at $1,000 and up.  Your name or the name of a sponsoring organization will be displayed on every page of the hawk watch site you choose.

New This Year!  In addition to the regular site sponsorships, we’re now offering sponsorships of non-site pages.  See HawkCount.org for details.

Thank you for helping us keep this valuable information system up and running!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Fall hawkwatching season already heating up!

The first hawkwatches are already counting and reporting data to HawkCount.  Even though few have been open for longer than a week, some interesting results are already showing up.

At two Pennsylvania sites, Hawk Mountain and Waggoner’s Gap, each has posted a record early date for the first merlin sighting.  The first merlin was seen at Waggoner’s on August 5 and at Hawk Mountain on August 15.  Waggoner’s also posted a record early Peregrine Falcon sighting on August 4.  Not to be outdone, Corpus Christi in Texas posted its first Peregrine sighting on its first official count day on August 10.  The site’s first merlin sighting came the next day on August 11.

August 17 was Corpus’ first four-digit day of the fledgling raptor season. They tallied 2802 Mississippi Kites.  August 16 wasn’t bad for the kites either, with 550 counted.

The new season has barely started and already it’s giving us something to talk about!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Calling all dragonfly enthusiasts!

HMANA has some exciting news about a fun new research opportunity and we’d like to invite you to take part. Starting this year, HMANA is partnering with the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership to assist in the better understanding of dragonfly migration. 

The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP) is a pioneering citizen science-based study of dragonfly migration in North America that was launched by US Forest Service International Programs and is chaired and coordinated by the Xerces Society, a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat.  Regular monitoring and centralized reporting among participants across the US, Canada and Mexico will help to answer some of the many questions currently surrounding dragonfly migration and provide information needed to create cross-border conservation programs to protect and sustain the phenomenon.

Where do you come in? Well, what better way to monitor dragonflies than from a local hawkwatch!  Migrating dragonflies are often seen along routes used by migrating birds and hawk watchers are ideally situated to observe dragonfly migration. A lot of us are up there all day, every day throughout the migration season, so why not?

Whether you are a casual hawkwatcher on weekends or a full-time counter, you can participate in this important citizen-science project.  How much you’d like to be involved is up to you.  A hawkwatch may designate a special counter just for dragonflies or use current hawkwatchers to collect the data. Either can work! Counts are timed for as many minutes as you can cover, one, five, ten, for each hour or whenever you can. Estimates of migrant numbers are also accepted (e.g., 500 plus, less than 10, etc.) You may find you don’t have time for dragonfly watching at all which is fine, too.

Check out the downloadable data collection protocol and datasheet available at www.hmana.org. If you are associated with a particular hawkwatch, please contact me at brown@hmana.org so we can sign you up.  Please try to respond by August 15, 2013.  We will need to add some data fields to your online HawkCount data entry form.  If you would like to participate on your own, go right ahead. Data sheets should be sent to Xerces Society at the end of the migration season.

For information on the five dragonfly species MDP is tracking and how to identify them in flight go to http://www.migratorydragonflypartnership.org/uploads/_ROOT/File/MDP-field_guide.pdf.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Upcoming raptor-based tours from HMANA, Hawk Mountain and Hawk Watch International



November 5-11, 2013: Golden Days Hawkwatching and Fall Migration Tour  Join HMANA on a tour of select Northeastern hawk watches and Cape May, NJ to witness the spectacle of fall migration. This week-long tour will include the peak period of Golden Eagle and large buteo movement across the Northeast. We will visit locations that capture the rich history of the hawkwatching tradition, enjoy the area’s breathtaking fall colors, and focus on honing our hawk identification skills with our accomplished tour leaders. For more information, please visit: http://www.hmana.org/tours/Golden/
 
April 6-12, 2014: Raptor ID Workshop/Tour at Braddock Bay, NY
The focus of this tour will be sharing raptor ID tips from some of the best hawkwatchers in the country, utilizing both field and classroom components. We’ll also enjoy all the splendor of one of the Great Lakes’ best migrant hotspots at Braddock Bay Hawk Watch and visit raptor and owl banding stations. More info at: http://www.hmana.org/raptor_id_workshop/
 
October 7-12, 2014: Southern Florida: Hawk watching and birding in the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas
Join us for an exciting birding tour through southern Florida to experience waves of fall migrants and Florida specialties. We’ll spend time at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch during peak Peregrine Falcon migration. The site set a new world record (3,836 Peregrines counted this past fall!). More info at http://www.hmana.org/tours/Florida/
 
 
Experience the Veracruz River of Raptors - the world’s largest hawk migration! Join Hawk Mountain and Pronatura biologists in autumn 2013 for a nine-day tour timed for the peak of Broad-winged Hawk migration, September 27 - October 5. Enjoy hundreds of thousands of migrating raptors and waterbirds and view regional specialities such as aplomado falcon, bat falcon, red warbler, and double-striped thickknees. For more information on the tour:
 
Join HawkWatch International in a wild west adventure on a mountain-top hawkwatch site! Frontline Science: Spend a weekend banding, counting, and observing the migrating raptors side-by-side with our field crew at either our Goshutes, NV or Manzanos, NM migration sites. Space is limited so visit www.hawkwatch.org for details and registration today.