Monday, August 25, 2014

Hawkwatching guides: where to begin

Guides - Luke Tiller
I thought it would be interesting to do a few posts looking at equipment you might use at a hawkwatch, and that lead me to approach Rick Bacher to write a blog post about what to look for in a pair of hawkwatching sunglasses (post here). Recently I've been thinking about Raptor ID guides: there has been a slew of excellent ones published over the last few years, but which ones do raptor professionals recommend? I thought it would be fun to ask a few selected raptorphiles and hawkwatching amigos what they liked.

With that in mind I set them these two questions and let them have at it: 
Question 1: Which raptor guides do you think are essential for hawkwatching fans to own?
Question 2: If you had to give a beginner JUST ONE guide to hawks to start off with which one would you give them?

Just so it doesn't seem like I am getting my friends to completely write my blog posts for me I thought I'd chip in with my thoughts too...

Julie Brown at HMANA's 2012 Fall Conference
Julie Brown - Site Coordinator for HMANA
Question 1: I think I have them all but I would say the most essential are Hawks In Flight (Sibley, Sutton and Dunne) and Hawks From Every Angle, J Liguori. My old standby for years was The Photographic Guide to North American Raptors by Clark and Wheeler and I really like the extensive background and detail given in Raptors of Eastern/Western N America, Wheeler..but that's not great for the field.

Question 2: Choosing just one is hard because I like different things about each one but a good beginner guide would be Hawks From Every Angle. And although not a field guide, I ALWAYS recommend Hawks in Flight to anyone getting into hawk watching. I think the authors captured perfectly the essence of hawks and how they look, behave and move.

Angela Woodside and friend
Angela Woodside - Lead Counter Chelan Ridge Hawkwatch, Washington
Question 1: When I showed up for my first hawkwatching internship three years ago, I was pretty sure I knew how to identify a red-tailed hawk. I knew bald eagles had white heads, and who didn’t know what a peregrine falcon looked like? Needless to say, I was completely unprepared for what fall migration back East had in store for me, and how all those facts that I “knew” would change with distance, lighting and weather conditions. The counter—my raptor guru—handed me the first edition of Hawks in Flight, and essentially said, “Read this. It’s the hawk-watching Bible.” Over the next couple months, having the descriptions in that book constantly reinforced by the birds I was seeing daily was incredibly helpful. Using this book in conjunction with Jerry Liguori’s books Hawks from Every Angle and Hawks at a Distance as a way of fact-checking what I was seeing in the field with the photos on the page served me well at the two sites where I counted—in particular because distance and lighting more or less precluded using any plumage characteristics for identification. Shape and flight style pretty much ruled the day.

Question 2: That being said, I think Hawks in Flight might scare off a total beginner. It’s a lot of information to take in, particularly if you haven’t spent a great deal of time watching birds in flight. Don’t all birds just flap? How can one bird flap differently than another similarly sized bird? For that person I might hand them a copy of Hawks from Every Angle to start with, just to familiarize them with the idea that the bird you’ve seen perched on a telephone pole can take on so many different shapes up in the air.

Derek Lovitch at Bradbury Mountain
Derek Lovitch - Author, co owner of Freeport Wild Bird Supply and founder of Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch, ME (Hawkwatch website here).
Question 1 and 2: In my opinion, there is only one "essential" reference to hawkwatching, for both beginners and veterans, and it is the venerable "Hawks in Flight" by Dunne, Sutton, and Sibley. While I definitely recommend theCrossley Raptors, and secondarily, Hawks from Every Angle, as a great book to take up to the count site for a quick reference and for studying, nothing will ever adequately represent all of the angles, shapes, silhouettes, and especially the sometimes-distinct motions that we use to identify distant raptors. Movements (wingbeats, flight style, behavior) simply cannot be represented by photos or paintings. Only Hawks in Flight actually instructs people on how to look, and so adeptly describes how to look beyond field marks (often of limited value at a hawkwatch) to truly SEE a raptor. It should be read before and after visits to your local count site, especially when getting started!

Ryan MacLean at Quaker Ridge

Ryan MacLean - Official Hawkwatcher Quaker Ridge, CT (Quaker Facebook Page - here).
Question 1: As a hawkwatcher who has to put a good percent of his effort into identifying very distant raptors, both 'Hawks at Every Angle' and 'Hawks at a Distance' by Jerry Liguori have been definitive in helping to decipher differences in little black dots in the sky. What his guides cover that I've rarely seen in other guides (especially in 'Hawks at a Distance') is how to factor in changes in a birds appearance with different lighting or landscapes. All too often we've called that horribly backlit Kestrel a Merlin or mistaken juvies of a species for adults (or vice versa), but Liguori prepares us for these instances by reminding us of the more telltale but sometime more subtle markings or behaviors that can clinch a tough ID when color and lighting fail. I'll still refer to 'Hawks in Flight' (Dunne/Silbey/Sutton) alot of times as well because it contains not only great ID pointers but also information on different species' migration habits and routes which in many cases could also be helpful in IDing a bird.

Question 2: I owned a lot of hawk related books as a kid, but I have more memories of flipping through 'A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors' by Brian K. Wheeler and William S. Clark than others. I would suggest this or Wheeler's 'Raptors of Eastern North America' to any novice because its not only very picture-heavy but it has pictures of both perched and flying birds. Many novices obviously want to equate themselves with the perched birds first, so jumping straight to the strictly flight ID Liguori guides might be a bit overwhelming for people just getting into the game. Having page after page of pictures of perched birds right next to flying birds though is a great stepping stone to focusing only on the birds in flight. Once people start to equate the shape of a bird in flight with the image they see of a perched bird, then they are ready to move on to the texts that make up Hawk Watching's higher education.

Genevieve Rozhon -watching out west
Genevieve Rozhon - Graduate student studying Rough-legged Hawks at Humboldt and previous counter and trapper at sites across the US (website here).
Question 1: I think every hawkwatcher should own Hawks from Every Angle and Hawks in Flight at a minimum. Between the thorough descriptions of raptor shapes and the highly accurate black and white drawings, Hawks in Flight, in my opinion, has the most utility as a hawkwatching guide. That being said, Ligouri's Hawks from Every Angle really captures what hawks look like from a hawkwatch site (birds migrating past you from every possible direction). I particularly appreciate the photos comparing species that can look similar in tricky lighting. I like to re-read both these books once a year before every hawkwatching season as a refresher and I always take Hawks from Every Angle up to the hawkwatch. Wheeler's Raptors of Western North America can also be nice to have around as a plumage reference.

Question 2: I've now given Hawks in Flight to several aspiring hawkwatchers in the past and now, at least one of them, has gone on to run several hawkwatches herself.

Rick Bacher and lunch
Rick Bacher - Hawkwatcher and bander from Western NY to Cape May. (Read his blog here).
Question 1: I am a bit of a field guide nerd, and happen to have an extensive collection myself. I'll narrow it down to three selections based on leaning style. I'll start with Jerry Liguori's "Hawks at a Distance" book. This is a great visual reference, and Mr. Liguori is one of North America's most trusted raptor experts. I want to mention that he is always beyond helpful to anyone that contacts him. The book focuses on what the title says, and it does it a great job of it, while providing ample photographs of hawks just like you might see them at a Hawkwatch. I refer to this book constantly when looking at pictures of high up hawks that people post online or send to me. The next book I like is "Hawks in Flight" by Pete Dunne, David Sibley, and Clay Sutton. This book has fantastically written literature on each raptor, and serves well for those that retain information best by reading. I should't have to mention that the illustrations and photographs in this book are top-notch as well. The last book is a bit of an outlaw in some circles, and seems to raise eyebrows whenever it is mentioned. "The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors" is last, but certainly not least on my list. This guide broke all the rules by superimposing multiple photographs of raptors over the landscapes you might see them in, and doesn't follow any sort of traditional field guide rules as far as that goes. The book is a visual masterpiece, and perfect for the hands-on learners among us.

Question 2 If you're a heavily hands-on learner like myself, I recommend you start off with the "Crossley ID Guide: Raptors." The book doesn't just serve as a guide to check when you want to confirm a raptor, or casually study up on them. This book forces you to learn! It makes you look at raptors in ways that other books do not. The book includes multiple pages of mixed raptors in flight with answer keys in the back. That means it is constantly begging you to take critical looks at raptors in flight, and make calls based on shape and plumage like you would in the field. I often find myself picking it up just for fun so that I can test my id skills when no raptors are flying. No other book provides a similar experience. Short of being at the Hawkwatch in person, this is the closest you can get to actually testing your skills. It's almost like you're right in the field.

Luke Tiller at the HMANA Raptor ID Workshop 2014
Luke Tiller - Board Member and Tour Committee chair HMANA and counter Braddock Bay Hawkwatch. (Blog)
Question 1: I think there is value in owning any guide to identifying raptors and we have been lucky enough to have been treated to a number of excellent guides recently. I like to get into the mind of any fellow hawkwatcher and try to see the birds through their eyes. There is always something new to learn and therefore I voraciously read anything that covers raptor ID. Perhaps it's a generational thing, but though I like the writing style of Hawks in Flight I find Liguori's two guides somewhat more utilitarian. That said you'd be mad to not have both on your shelf. Perhaps a less recommended guide, maybe because it's out of print, that I like is Wheeler's Raptor's Eastern North America. Through photos it highlights the myriad variety of plumages within species and has an amazing wealth of notes on age, molt, subspecies, color morphs, status and distribution among other things.

Question 2: A difficult choice, but I think I'd start them off with Liguori's Hawks at every Angle. Perhaps because it's the book I really started with.

So there you go, what do you all think?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

HMANA's 1st Annual International Hawk Migration Week

Share the magic of migration with someone.

 Come one, come all. We are inviting all hawk watchers and raptor enthusiasts to celebrate migration with us this fall! HMANA is excited to announce the first annual International Hawk Migration Week, taking place September 20-28, 2014.  The purpose of IHMW is to raise awareness of hawks, hawk migration and the HMANA network of sites that count hawks.
We chose this week because it is the week when peak numbers are counted across the continent. But it doesn’t matter whether your site is known for thousands of broadwings or just a few redtails. It’s not about the numbers.  Our hope is just for people to head outside and spend time hawk watching and enjoying the spectacle of migration. Here are a few suggestions of ways you can take part.....

-Submit Your Daily Data to HawkCount during this week. This should include standard data on number/species of raptors counted, number of visitors, weather etc. (Data must be submitted by September 29).

-Participate in the “IHMW Big Day”. Modeled after a Raptorthon, teams and/or individual hawk watchers gather sponsors for a day of hawk watching from a chosen hawk watch site. After the event, pledges are collected and 50% goes to HMANA programs while 50% goes to the watchsite.  See links to registration and forms online.

-Help us Reach More Hawkwatchers! Hold a HMANA Membership Drive at Your Watchsite. Set up a table or display sometime during the week in efforts to recruit new members to HMANA. HMANA will provide membership brochures. Recruit at least 5 new members and get a HawkCount sponsorship for your site!

-Host a Hawkwatching Festival. Everyone loves festivals and there are lots of ways you can celebrate migration.  You could sell t-shirts to support your site, have a volunteer available to answer questions about your site or give raptor ID instruction, offer banding station tours or work with a local wildlife rehab or education center to have a live raptor presentation.

-Hold an Identification Workshop. Late September is the perfect time to offer a raptor ID workshop and connect people with the excitement of migration. An indoor slideshow or onsite program could be a great way to engage the public. Contact us for ideas.

-Choose to Sponsor a Watchsite on HawkCount. You can choose to support HMANA’s data archive to celebrate IHMW! If you sponsor a site during the week of September 20-28, your name will appear with IHMW designation and you will receive a special gift (while supplies last). This sponsorship would expire September, 2015 like normal sponsorships. See

-Create an IHMW banner for your site. This is a great way to draw people to your hawkwatch site during the week. “Come celebrate HMANA’s International Hawk Migration Week with us at xxx Hawk Watch! September 20-28th.” Be sure to send us a photo of your banner!
Following the week of September 20-28, we will release a report with the overall number of species and raptors counted which will show the extent of the migration occurring during that time. It should be interesting to see.

If you plan to take part, send me an email at and we’ll list your events on our webpage.  For more details on how to take part or to download a flyer, visit

We hope you will join us in celebrating the annual spectacle of fall raptor migration!