Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Winter Raptor Survey - Blizzard Raptors – Houtzdale WRS

Dark Rough-legged Hawk - Alex Lamoreaux
Guest Post by Alex Lamoreaux from Nemesis Bird
Earlier today I ran the Houtzdale Winter Raptor Survey in Clearfield County, PA. This 110 mile route meanders through pockets of grasslands, stripmines, agricultural fields, and forests from Tyrone to Curwensville and then up to Clearfield. When we left State College to drive down there this morning it was sunny and calm. About halfway, in Blair County, we spotted an immature dark type Rough-legged Hawk hunting in the median strip and perching in the trees along the road. I quickly pulled over to try for a few photos as it glided past us. I was shooting into the sun, but the bird was close enough to make up for it.
Dark Rough-legged Hawk - Alex Lamoreaux
Once we got down to the beginning of the survey route clouds had moved in and it was beginning to feel like snow. Sure enough within an hour or two it was lightly snowing and the roads were already covered with over an inch. The snow fell harder throughout the day, and the wind picked up a bit. Needless to say, raptors numbers were a little low despite the great habitat along the route. Almost all of the birds we did see were perched in trees and trying to stay warm. We had 5 adult Red-taileds, all perched in trees along the route, 1 adult Red-shouldered Hawk that we inadvertently flushed out of a tree while driving. We had only 1 immature Red-tailed Hawk and it was perching right along the road, hunting and diving into the snow ahead of us. We also had 2 immature Cooper’s Hawks – one flying over the road and perching in a tree briefly, and another perched in a tree above the road. At a bridge over the West Branch of the Susquehanna River we got out to stretch our legs and had a nice fly-by Great Blue Heron and two female Common Mergansers.
Cooper's Hawk - Alex Lamoreaux
You can find out more about HMANA Winter Raptor Surveys be visiting the HMANA website (here).

About the Author
This post was originally posted on Nemesis Bird. You can see more of Alex's excellent photography and read his articles on the Nemesis Bird Blog (link here). If you like raptors and haven't already got Nemesis Bird on your blog reading list add it now!

Alex is currently studying Wildlife Biology at the Pennsylvania State University. Alex is a traveling field ornithologist, most recently working for the Center for Conservation Biology, studying migrant Whimbrel and other coastal birds of Virginia's Eastern Shore. He has done field work across the US on everything from Yellow-billed Cuckoos to Long-billed Curlews.
An avid birder since 8 years old, Alex has since been able to travel not only across most of the United States, but also to Central America and Southern Africa in search birds. Raptors, shorebirds, and warblers are among his favorite groups of birds to observe and photograph.
Alex is obsessive about eBird, combing through the data to help out with Big Days and is also a budding wildlife photographer.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Raptor Bytes - hawkwatching morsels from around the web

Battling Bald Eagles - Steve Beal
Not sure why but these raptor notes seem to be taking on a somewhat themed feel to them. Let's just roll with it shall we?

Eagle Festivals
Mid-winter can be tough on your average raptor enthusiast what with the beginning of spring migration still over a month away. Though there’s winter bird surveys to do (link here), looking for something to really entertain the less fanatical birders in your clan isn’t always as easy. That’s why when I lived in New England I always looked forward to the area's various Eagle Festivals. Even as a hard bitten hawkcounter that has racked up daily flights of almost 100 eagles at Braddock Bay (hawkcount link), it’s hard not to still get excited by any encounter with a Bald Eagle. As anyone who has stood at a hawkwatch with a group of kids, or adults, knows, just one eagle can inspire game changing awe, so when you get the opportunity to share a bunch of them with other people you have to grab it.

Personally I worked on the Connecticut Audubon Eagle Festival in Essex on the Connecticut River for a couple of years and it was quite simply amazing. Though they stopped running the festival a few years back, they still run the eagle viewing boats (details here), and if you've never viewed Bald Eagles from a boat you haven’t lived in my honest opinion! There are also excellent events run on the Hudson River near Croton (details here) and on the Merrimack River in Newburyport and Amesbury (details here). 

What are your favorite winter raptor events? Share them in the comments section or on the link from our facebook page.

Bald Eagle - Steve Beal
Eagle Myths?
I'm sure you've all heard the story that Benjamin Franklin proposed that the Wild Turkey should be the national symbol rather than the Bald Eagle. The truth of the matter is he really didn't. What he did do was complain in a private letter to his daughter, after the eagle had been chosen as the national symbol, that veterans' organizations might be better off using the turkey rather than the eagle (a symbol often used by European monarchies) for their organizations symbols (more here). Thanks to Rick Wright for steering me towards this, his blog has lots of fascinating posts about birds including things like 'Are Bald Eagles really Bald' (link here)!

Eagles in North American Birds
The most recent North American Birds, which is published by the American Birding Association (website here) and available to members for an additional subscription, has an excellent article (here) concerning a possible White-tailed Eagle that was reported from late April at Derby Hill in 1995. Though rejected by the state rare records committee, the sighting has been included in a number of publications on raptors. This most recent paper reevaluates the report referencing important developments in White-tailed Eagle identification. It's a fascinating article and one that is well worth a read. You can also read the original NYSARC (New York State Avian Records Committee) reasons for rejecting the report on their website (here). Worth noting that Derby is one of the sites closest to Braddock Bay, will be one of the conference field trips, and the date almost corresponds to our 2014 conference date (details here)! Not sure we can promise you a repeat of a rarity of that magnitude, but it does show the incredible potential of hawkwatches in the region.

Wild Russian Eagles
Talking of Eurasian eagles, I wonder if anyone else has been catching the rather excellent Wild Russia documentary series that is being aired by Animal Planet here in the US. The Kamchatka episode had some amazing footage I rather enjoyed of dueling eagles. Though this clip doesn't show the best of it, the Golden Eagle tangling with the heftier Stellar’s Sea Eagles was incredible.

Thanks to Steven Beale for the use of the Bald Eagle shots. You can see more of his excellent work on his photo blog (here). 

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!



Wednesday, January 8, 2014

(almost) Wordless Wednesday

Rough-legged Hawk - Jim Zipp
This week's outstanding Wordless Wednesday shot comes from Connecticut based photographer Jim Zipp. Jim's work can be seen in numerous field guides and birding publications, including the Red Crossbill that graces the cover of the latest edition of BirdWatching Magazine. You can see more of his stunning work on his website (here). As well as being an incredible photographer and mainstay of the Connecticut birding scene, Jim also runs  The Fat Robin: one of Connecticut's specialist birding shops (website here). Thanks to Jim for the loan of this stunning shot!