Saturday, October 18, 2014

2014 Raptor Research Foundation Conference

The Raptor Research Foundation (RRF) held its 2014 conference in Corpus Christi, Texas, September 24-28, scheduled during peak Broad-winged Hawk migration in Texas in hope that attendees could see a significant flight. An avid hawk watcher who planned to spend three days after the conference on the hawk watch platform at Hazel Bazemore County Park, I was pleased that we had easterly winds and rain throughout the conference, with clearing on the last day.

The superb conference, chaired by Kate Davis, included 13 papers in a Raptors and Energy Development Symposium and 13 in a session on Coastal Raptors. Ten papers were given on Migration and Movements, 8 in an American Kestrel Symposium, 6 on Breeding Ecology, 4 on Techniques, and 3 each on Genetics and Evolution and on Anthropogenic Impacts. The conference also included a special all-day symposium on Avian Power Line Interaction and a Wind Energy and Raptors workshop. Energy development, especially in the western U.S and Canada, is having a dramatic impact on raptors.

The RRF also offered an early career Raptor Researcher workshop on techniques for handling, marking, measuring and sampling birds in the hand, along with Harnessing Raptors with Transmitters, Safely Accessing Raptor Nests, Raptor Necropsy, and Raptor Trapping and Handling Techniques for Scientific Research. Bill Clark also offered a half-day workshop on field and in-hand identification.

The opening keynote by Grainger Hunt on Texas raptors and a closing keynote by Steve Hoffman on western hawk migration were among the highlights of the conference. There were also over 30 poster presentations and two special photography presentations by Nick Dunlop and Rob Palmer.

As a hawk watcher for 40 years, but not a professional raptor or wildlife biologist, I was like a kid in a candy shop. For example, David Brandes gave an excellent overview of the Raptor Population Index, and David Oleyar gave a fascinating paper on Fall Migration and Climate Change. Other papers of special interest to hawk watchers included Jeff Kidd’s paper on Ranges and Migration of Rough-legged Hawks, and two papers on movements of Bald Eagles. Nicholas Smith reported that most of the breeding population and immature birds in Louisiana moved north out of the state for the summer, while an audience member from Arkansas said that was not true for the Arkansas population!  The Coastal Raptors Symposium included several studies of Peregrine Falcon movements.

The conference program, including abstracts of all the presentations, can be downloaded at

The great people of the Corpus Christi Hawk Watch at Hazel Bazemore welcomed all the RRF visitors to the platform daily and held their annual Celebration of Flight that weekend. Following the conference, over the next three days hawk watchers saw roughly 80,000 Broadwings, along with Swainson’s, White-tailed, Zone-tailed and other hawks, and record flights of Wood Stork, Bald Eagle (3) and Sharp-shinned Hawk.

The next RRF conference will be held in Sacramento, California, November 11-15, 2015, hosted by the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. Field trips will be offered to many excellent sites to view raptors, including the spectacular Sacramento Wildlife Refuge complex north of the city.  Anyone seriously interested in hawks should consider attending.

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