Thursday, January 16, 2014

Who Says Hawk Watches are Just for Hawks?

Matt Wlasniewski and Dave Kruel hawk watch at Hawk Mt.
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary photo archives

You spot a speck in your binoculars growing closer by the second. You follow it more closely, realizing it is not a raptor – or even a bird. It shoots down the ridge south and dismembers a butterfly on the wing, feasting on its prize as it continues southbound. For its size, it’s quicker than a peregrine and more powerful than a golden…that’s right, a dragonfly! And if you’re a hawk watcher, there’s no doubt you’ve seen your fair share of them zipping through your field of view as you try to bring that distant raptor into focus.

Hawk watchers now have a unique, new opportunity to assist with an important hemispherical dragonfly migration project that will benefit conservation of this ecologically-important group of insects. This past fall, HMANA partnered with the Migration Dragonfly Partnership (MDP) for a pilot study to get a better understanding of the timing and abundance of dragonfly migration across North America.
 If you’re not familiar with the MDP, it’s a pioneering citizen science-based study of dragonfly migration in North America that was launched by the 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 habitats.

Last year, HMANA and the Xerces Society developed a protocol and monitoring guidelines that were made available for any hawk watchers or any hawk watch site willing to help monitor dragonflies. We began to recruit fall hawk watchers for their help. Counts were set up to collect data in whatever time period was most convenient or possible: watchers counted throughout an entire hour, or performed a shorter, more intensive count (i.e. 5 to 10 minutes) from which hourly totals could be calculated.
Observations were recorded in either daily or hourly format, and included reports of total dragonflies counted, dragonfly species seen, flight altitude and direction, and weather. Observers focused on the five most common migratory dragonfly species in North America – Common Green Darner (Anax junius), Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum), Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens), Spot-Winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea), and Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata).

Thank you to all who participated! Twenty-one sites reported dragonfly observations to HawkCount this past fall. There were 636 dragonfly observation reports submitted that yielded records of over 11,000 individual dragonflies during the project. Topping the list in numbers of reports were Hawk Ridge with 137 reports of over 1,600 individuals counted, and the Illinois Beach Hawk Watch with 129 reports of over 2,600 individuals in total. Lighthouse Point Hawk Watch takes the cake for tallying the highest number of dragonflies overall: an incredible 3,346 individual migrant dragonflies were counted in just 11 days! This dragonfly migration data has now been submitted to the Xerces Society for inclusion in their dragonfly migration database where trends can be further analyzed.

Calling all Spring Sites! Based on the initial success of this partnership, HMANA is excited to continue participating in the MDP in 2014.We are looking to expand monitoring at spring sites who are willing to participate through collecting observations of timing and abundance of dragonfly migration.  How much you or your site would like to be involved is completely up to you. A hawk watch may designate a special counter just for dragonflies or use current hawk watchers to collect the data. Counts are timed for as many minutes as you can cover – one, five, ten for each hour, or simply whenever you decide to. Estimates of migrant numbers are also accepted (e.g., 500 plus, less than 10, etc.)

If you’re interested in participating in the MDP, please contact Julie Brown ( for more details.  For more information about HMANA's involvement in MDP, monitoring guidelines and protocol, please visit the HMANA website:
Thank you again to all participating hawk watch sites and individuals for making this initial season of HMANA's Migration Dragonfly Partnership participation such a success!



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