Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hawk Fun in the Summer

HMANA’s vice-chair and Hawk Mountain’s senior monitoring biologist Laurie Goodrich hosts an annual event, the Kittatinny Roundtable, each July. For the day-long event, hawk counters and site leaders from along the Kittattiny Ridge in Pennsylvania and New Jersey come together to hear about ongoing raptor research and share results from the prior migration season. It’s a rare opportunity for hawk people from different sites to get together for some fellowship and information.

Last weekend’s event was no exception. We heard Nick Bolgiano discuss his research studying distribution changes for the American Kestrel in eastern North America. Nick looked at Christmas Bird Counts, banding data, breeding bird surveys as well as migration information from HawkCount from the 1970’s to the present to see how kestrel reports shifted over time. He’s discovered that kestrel breeding seems to occur in more southerly locations now than earlier. Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and similar states report increased breeding. Migration data shows kestrel numbers are down, except at Hawk Ridge in Minnesota where results are up, which makes sense if the breeding population is also shifting. Banding recoveries are found now more to the southwest than along the coast. He speculates that smaller and fewer farms as well as more fragmented farmlands are a factor in the decline in the east. The increase in Cooper’s Hawk predation may also be a factor.

Jeanne Ortiz from Pennsylvania Audubon talked about conserving the Kittatinny Ridge by identifying the most important parcels along the ridge with a goal of creating a connected corridor of protected lands. She is also working to raise awareness and show the economic value of conservation, which was estimated at $1.2 billion annually in Cumberland County PA alone.

Laurie gave us an update on her own Broad-winged Hawk tracking project where several fledglings and an adult female are equipped with radios so they can be tracked. She is hoping to discover where these Pennsylvania birds winter and monitor their trip south. Click here to learn more about the research.
Jacks Mountain Pennsylvania gave an update on the wind power companies that are seeking to build wind farms both in front of and behind their watchsite. While the ultimate outcome is still unknown, the Save Our Jacks Mtn. group now has 240 members and was instrumental in getting four nearby townships to pass wind ordinances. While such ordinances can’t keep the wind farms out, the ordinances do regulate their operation and construction. The group is also working with two other townships. They are selling patches to raise money. Visit
www.savejacksmountain.org to keep up with their work.

Long-time Picatinny Peak New Jersey counter John Reed reported his count there may soon end its full-time coverage. As the site is on a military reservation, it is difficult for the public to reach it, and he has been unable to get someone to replace him. He did say he will likely move into the Hudson Valley and hopes to prospect for a new site in that area.

Then it was time to explore the migration data from the 11 attending fall migration sites. One thing was discovered pretty quickly. Northern Harrier counts were all very low or even at the lowest totals ever for several sites. One year’s result is not enough to sound the alarm but it is certainly enough to make other sites aware of this possible trend and to keep a close eye on what happens next year. Also discovered was that the other accipters, namely Cooper’s Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawks, were also counted in below average numbers at the attending sites, though none of these declines were as dramatic as that of the harrier.

Finally, what has now become an annual "award" went to Waggoner’s Gap, Pennsylvania, for yet again posting the area’s highest count of eagles. They counted 499 Bald Eagles and 245 Golden Eagles during fall 2013. The award is a plastic eagle with red, white and blue blinking lights. Counter Dave Grove has been hoping some other site will win and take the traveling trophy off his hands and his mantelpiece for a while.

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