Wednesday, December 23, 2015

HMANA Raptors of the Rio Grande Valley Tour 2016

Great Kiskadee - Luke Tiller
Monday, November 9th 2015
Meeting at our hotel in Harlingen, TX the obvious and planned first stop for our tour was out east towards the coastal plain that held one of our key target species: Aplomado Falcon. Counting against heading towards the proposed Aplomado site was the fact that multiple birders had found their cars recently stranded in the once dirt, now Battle of the Somme-esque mud, road that had been created by Hurricane Patricia as she’d passed through. There was also the allure of a Hook-billed Kite sighting a few days previously to our west in McAllen. I had warned participants that they key to a successful trip would be a little flexibility and the morning therefore started with plans thrown out the window and the group racing towards Anzalduas Park. 

Right on the border, the park provides both a great view of the river and thanks to the dam road levy a great site to look for raptors. As we arrived at the park we were soon stumbling upon the first specialties of the region with Cackling Great Kiskadees and garrulous Green Jays. As we approached the levy I noticed a new bunch of signage warning people not to go up on it. Assuming they just meant cars I breezed past only to get stopped by the passing border patrol. Apparently the new rules meant no foot traffic either. I asked the officer if we stayed off the road itself whether we could stand right at the very top of the entrance ramp to the levy. Thankfully the officer said yes as our new view was affording us some nice looks at some highly prized species including stunning Summer Tanagers and Altamira Orioles. Not long after our run in with border patrol, out towards Mexico we spotted what must be the holy grail for raptor fans in Southern Texas: the oddly paddle-winged, long-tailed shape and strangely acrobatic flight of a brilliant Hook-billed Kite! This was the bird we had come for. Found all the way south to Northern Argentina, the range of the species barely touches the tip of this little tropical part of Texas and is even here rarely seen. It is possible to come here for many years and not see one, so this was an incredible start to the trip!

Green Jay - Luke Tiller
After all enjoying scope views of the flying kite we decided to see whether we could see the bird from closer to the river and scout out what else was in the park. Beyond the kites there was much else here to enjoy including a couple of locally rare birds that seemed to have been swept in by Hurricane Patricia: Greater Pewee and Dusky-capped Flycatcher. Both species are also pretty limited in their US range to Arizona and New Mexico so were not birds we had anticipated on the tour. After these exciting out-of-place finds we stumbled on another couple of unlikely birds: first up were two Audubon’s Orioles. Though they are a specialty of the area, Audubon's Oriole are rarely found this far east and were in fact were just the second sighting of this species at this famous and incredibly heavily birded park. The second rarity was something more prosaic: a little flock of four American Robins. There are a number of species that though common almost everywhere else on the continent that do not often reach this little tip of the USA and American Robin is one of them (ditto House Finch, Mallard, Common Grackle, American Crow….). While not that exciting to most birders, the robins were rare enough to trip the eBird filters locally. We were able to share the sightings with a couple of other birders too, which is part of the fun and community that is birding in the Rio Grande Valley. 

After an incredible start to the trip we switched back to our itinerary. First was a stop at a secondary site that I had seen Aplomado Falcon at a few times before, but unfortunately this time we had no luck. From there we headed on to South Padre Island. Unfortunately the most interesting bird there (a Swainson’s Warbler) had perished at the hands (or hooked bill) of a Loggerhead Shrike the day before, but a couple of quick stops had soon brought us nice looks at some local beauties including Scissor-tailed Flycatchers galore. Our main quarry though was a few shoreline dwelling species and we were not to be disappointed as we picked up a bevy of stunning herons and egrets including Least Bittern, Roseate Spoonbill and Reddish Egret.

Other highlights included a couple of passing Merlins and a rather nice stop for lunch at a somewhat upscale burger bar! Our day ended with us stopping to check for Aplomados on the way back to our hotel, but again we had no luck, leaving us with both an amazing day but a change of plans required for the following morning.

Common Pauraque - Luke Tiller
Tuesday November 10th 2015
With Aplomado Falcon distinctly not on our trip list thus far we again switched up our itinerary and started our morning at a site that had earlier in the week been devouring birders cars: Old Port Isabel Rd. Little more than a dirt track, this site is renowned for Aplomado Falcon but also for a wealth of great sparrows, shorebirds and other things. We were met on site by a drier than expected road and a beautiful sunny sunrise: stunning. Almost immediately we had another much desired species under out belt: the terrifyingly ancient looking Wood Stork – all bald head and scimitar like bill. As we worked away along the road we were almost always entertained: a flock of feeding Long-billed Curlews, a drab but prized Cassin’s Sparrow and an oddly out of place Pine Warbler. We also had a wealth of raptors to accompany us including beautiful White-tailed Hawks (a local specialty), coursing harriers and of course an abundance of Osprey. After much searching and scanning of every fencepost we finally had our quarry: Aplomado Falcon. Though it was great to see them they were somewhat distant and though we were happy to see them we could have been happier with the views.

As we were leaving the site I spotted a stunning (and close) adult White-tailed Hawk and pulled over so that the group could get photographs. It sat accommodatingly for a minute or so before it dropped off of its telephone pylon perch and dive bombed a passing Aplomado Falcon! The falcon buzzed past us and headed away before circling a few times to put on something of a show! A brilliant end to the visit to this magnificent spot. Like the Hook-billed Kite, the falcon can be found all the way down to the pampas of Argentina, but again it ranges just into the tip of the US mainly in this Texas stronghold. Extirpated from the US in the early 1950’s the reintroduction of the bird has been successful in this part of Texas and the American Birding Association recently changed their rules so that you can now officially count these birds on your North American list.

White-tailed Hawk - Steve Hendricks
Our next stop of the day was at Estero Llano. Usually a reliable spot for a number of interesting species, we caught it at hot high noon. We managed however to dig up what was probably our main target species here a roosting Common Pauraque. A member of the nightjar family this cryptically colored but beautifully patterned bird is a real prize. Other highlights included a mixed roaming flock of warblers and an absolute abundance of vivacious Vermilion Flycatchers.

After a nice taqueria lunch stop we were on to our afternoon adventures. This involved taking in a few of the little parks around Weslaco and McAllen as we worked our way west. Here we were greeted by more warbler flocks as well as a number of other local specialties including cheerful Black-crested Titmouse, skulky thrashers of both Curve-billed and Long-billed flavors as well as our first Clay-colored Thrushes and Plain Chachalacas. Chachalacas are a large and somewhat comical chicken-like bird related to guans and curassows and their raucous calls are an integral part of the sounds of the Rio Grande Valley.

We ended our evening with a few celebratory margaritas just a stones throw from the hotel in McAllen.

Harris's Hawk - Steve Hendricks
Wednesday, November 11th 2015
We started our morning at the famed Santa Ana NWR. Here we were looking for raptors as well as a couple of wetland specialties. Overhead we soon had the usual throngs of Turkey Vultures, but they were rapidly joined by a couple White-tailed Hawks including one of those neat second year birds which allowed us the ability to study it intently. There were also a couple of Crested Caracaras around as well and a bunch of dueling Harris’s hawks.
On the pond we soon had a couple more target species, including Least Grebe and a trifecta of regularly occurring North American kingfishers with both Ringed and Green Kingfisher putting on a fine show. These two stunning species are real crowd pleasers and are a highlights of any visit. We also picked up a rather accommodating Olive Sparrow or two on our way back to the vehicle. Great birds at one of the Rio Grande Valley’s real gems.

We continued our day with a lunch stop at Anzalduas Park. This time it wasn’t quite as productive though we did find three highly prized Sprague’s Pipits. Unfortunately we didn’t find a Zone-tailed Hawk and to rub salt into the wound about one million Texas Mosquitoes found us (everything is bigger in Texas!).

Yellow-tipped Flasher - Steve Hendricks
With the day becoming almost unbearably hot and humid I suggested a trip to the National Butterfly Center. Though by no means an expert on Texas butterflies, the grounds of the National Butterfly center are beautiful and worth a trip any time you are in the valley. As we pulled up to the center, I wondered aloud to participants whether the strong southerly winds we were experiencing that day might have brought something interesting up from Mexico. Sure enough we arrived to butterfly insanity as at least two genuine rarities had been found on site: a subtly beautiful Yellow-tipped Flasher and a preposterously flashy Red Rim. There were plenty of other good butterflies being turned up by the enthusiastic hordes including a White Scrub-hairstreak and Lantana Scrub-hairstreak. Other beautiful species included Silver-banded Hairstreak and the stunning Malachite. There was even a few nice birds around, including a mixed warbler flock that contained a Tropical Parula! Hot and exhausted we called it a day early and headed back for a welcome shower and some air conditioning before heading out for Green Parakeets, some dinner and a craft beer or two in McAllen.

Pyrrhuloxia - Luke Tiller
Thursday, November 12th 2015
Our day started pretty early as we searched for somewhere to pick up an early morning coffee and then headed northwest to a wonderful feeder setup along the river: Salineno. Among the now usual feeder suspects Green Jay, White-tipped Dove and Golden-fronted Woodpecker we enjoyed stellar views of a number of great birds including Long-billed Thrasher (which performed it’s thrashing behavior perfectly), Altamira and (had it not been for an amazing find earlier in the trip) our target bird Audubon’s Oriole. We also checked along the river here which proved productive for a mixed flock or two that produced cheeky little Verdin as well as Clay-colored Thrush in their natural environment. Also along the river we garnered beautiful views of elegant Gray Hawks as well as a soaring adult Peregrine Falcon – which spooked the abundant White-winged Doves.

Next stop was a little spot I’d discovered during me couple of days scouting the area. Though it wasn’t quite as productive as it had been during scouting (of course) it did allow us to pick up Neotropic Cormorant, Cactus Wren and perhaps North America’s most stunning sparrow: Black-throated Sparrow.

Long-billed Thrasher
The habitat dries as you head west out of the valley and so the birds there change with it: Greater Roadrunner, Pyrrhuloxia and Verdin. Our destination for the afternoon was the Max A Mandel golfcourse. Here we added to our mode of birding transport for the trip: Golfcart. Whizzing around the course in Laredo was almost as much fun as the birding itself. We worked hard for White-collared Seedeater and were rewarded for our tenacity. A covey of well seen Northern Bobwhite were new for the trip, as was a Say’s Phoebe. Highlights though were of an owl kind when, one of our participants, Steve spotted a likely looking crevice and eventually found two Barn Owls inside. We ended our day being serenaded by two Great Horned Owls as they duetted on the Mexican side of the river. They even appeared for photographs - simply magical.

Friday November 13th 2015
Our next stop was Falcon State Park. Here we searched the scrub for sparrows and whatever else we might discover. Though Scaled Quail vocalized they never showed and the one that got away was a large falcon which was distant in poor lighting but gave more of a Prairie feel than a Peregrine one. Down on the deck there were plenty of nice sparrows to sort through including a bunch of Vesper Sparrows, one Grasshopper Sparrow and even better an uncommon Lark Bunting.

Greater Roadrunner - Luke Tiller
This was essentially our last day birding in the valley, so we were keen to make the most of it. We briefly stopped just to look at Roma Bluffs but were keen to get on the road to Bentsen and other sites just to see what we could dig up. Bentsen proved somewhat productive as we turned up roving flocks of warblers that included a nice Black-throated Gray and a Parula which was sadly Northern rather than Tropical. After doing a fair amount of walking we also got to ride their rather comfortable tram back to the center.

Our day ended back at the place the tour had started Anzalduas Park, where we picked up our first Eastern Bluebirds and had another visit with the continuing Greater Pewee. More importantly as the light began to fade I picked up the up slurred call of a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. With a little fussing the group were finally on the bird. This was the perfect way to end our Rio Grande Valley portion of the trip with a specialist bird of the region.

Whooping Cranes photobombed - Steve Hendricks

Saturday November 14th 2015
The final full day of our trip saw us winging our way north to Rockport, Texas and a trip out on a boat with Rockport Birding and Kayak Adventures. Whooping Cranes are one of the rarest birds in North America (even though they have bounced back to about 600 individuals from an all-time low of about 20 in the 1940’s!!!!) and one of the most compelling too. Standing at about five feet and with a wingspan of seven feet they are impressive birds. Though sometimes visible on land the most intimate way to see them is on a boat out on Aransas NWR.

The boat also provides the opportunity to see a bunch of other cool birds including a couple of Sandwich Terns that paralleled the boat as we headed out to Aransas. Our first stop included a sheltered shorebird spot that the Army Core of Engineers created with dredge spoils and we had soon picked up a few nice ones including Marbled Godwit and American Oystercatcher. As well as the Sandwich Terns their were a few other gull and tern species loafing on the islands including Forster’s Terns and the odd but splendid looking Black Skimmers.

As we got out to Aransas the neat sightings came thick and fast: our first distant cranes, a rather healthy looking coyote and a White-tailed Hawk that was eating lunch on the wing! Eventually we tracked down a close family group of spectacular Whooping Cranes. A moment that made the whole drive north worth it. Even better we got shots of the group being photobombed by one of the islands wintering harriers: very cool!

Hazel Bazemore Hawkwatch - Luke Tiller
As we worked our way back we picked up a few more birds for our ever growing trip list before heading for lunch. With just a few hours of the tour left we decided that there could be no more perfect way to end a HMANA Tour than to head over to the Hazel Bazemore Hawkwatch. We were met by the friendly faces of Kevin, Erik and Dane and happily whiled away the next couple of hours in their company talking about hawks and hawkwatching across the county. A fine end to a fun trip and not without a few more avian rewards. First our smallest bird of the trip, a Rufous Hummingbird and our nineteenth and final raptor of the tour a late Broad-winged Hawk. A nice relaxing end to a good trip spent in fine company including the cute little Javelina family that came to hang out at the hawkwatch feeders.

Aplomado Falcon - Steve Hendricks
That evening we headed out for our final meal at the area’s best BBQ joint. We reflected on a fun and action packed week and reminisced about cool birds and exciting sightings. In all we had managed an impressive 187 bird species over the week that included the two rarest raptors in the United States: Hook-billed Kite and Aplomado Falcon. We had also birded by boat, by car, by tram and by golf cart: next time we need to jump on a train just to round out the experience.

You can find out about upcoming HMANA Tours on our website (here)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hawk Watch Fund - Help your watchsite be all it can be!

2013 Hawk Watch Fund winners display a new interpretive sign at Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch, VA.
If you coordinate a hawk watch site, chances are you have ideas milling around your head on how to make improvements. Maybe you have hopes for hiring an educator, a new tally board or platform to see over all those trees. I know I often brainstorm about all the great things I’d like to offer to our thousands of visitors each fall at the Pack Monadnock Hawk Watch in NH. New raptor silhouettes for education programs or an interpretive sign labeling all the mountains in the landscape would be great!

Whether sites are managed by state agency, non-profit or one or more raptor enthusiasts, we all seem to share the same challenge…finding ways to sustain our counts. We all seem to be struggling financially in one way or another. That is why HMANA created the Hawk Watch Fund to offer support to the hawk watching community. The purpose of this Fund is to provide grants through the production of educational materials and displays, construction and maintenance of viewing platforms, hiring of hawk watchers, or purchase of equipment. The grants are made through a competitive application process and judged annually by a committee appointed by HMANA.\

Last year’s winner was Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth, MN. They received $1,000 in support of a Migration Monitoring Count Traineeship last fall which was a great success.

Applications may be submitted between December 1, 2015-February 15, 2016 and grants will be announced and applicants informed by April 1, 2016.

Please see for guidelines and application.

Good luck!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Meet the Hawkwatchers - Ryan MacLean - Quaker Ridge

Ryan MacLean and Friend
1/ Tell us a little about your history!
I grew up just about an hour north of NYC in Katonah NY. As a kid I developed a huge love of raptors, taking out pretty much every library book I could that had pictures of them and going to as many raptor centers and falconry shows as I could to watch them up close. Then when I was 10 I went to Mount Peter Hawkwatch in Warwick NY and instantly became hooked on watching them in the wild instead of captivity. I remember it was a late September day (post Broad-Wing season) so it wasn't an epic day numbers wise, but seeing 10+ different species of hawks in their element was enough to blow my young mind. 

A couple years later I discovered that Quaker Ridge Hawk Watch in Greenwich CT was only 15 minutes from where I lived so I started going there pretty much every day after school. Over the next several years I basically received my hawkwatching education by sitting on the lawn there watching and learning. I went to Bard College in Dutchess County NY where I studied music, but I continued to bird very frequently while I was there and always made time to get back down to Quaker Ridge for Broad-winged Hawk season. After I graduated in 2013 Quaker Ridge was seeking a counter (some guy named Luke Tiller had decided to leave and head to California) so I immediately applied and was accepted. 
Ryan MacLean, Ted Gilman, John Hannan, Rosabel Miro at Quaker Ridge
Where are you counting this year?
Three years later I'm now in my third season counting at Quaker Ridge. Each season has had a distinct set of highlights, with my first year having nice Broad-winged Hawk numbers and last year having a record crushing number of Red-Shouldered Hawks (1,046 birds). Our hawkcount page can be found here (link) as well as our Facebook page here (link). Last year I even created an Instagram page for the hawk watch to share some of our great bird photographers' pictures of hawks we see. As of now I think we're only the second hawkwatch to create an Instagram and I hope more do in the years to come. You can view the page here (link).

Tell us what you like most about the watch you are currently at?
The variety and numbers of each species can be incredible at certain times during the season. While some hawkwatches are strictly ridgeline concentrations of birds and others are coastal, Quaker Ridge is really a combo of both since we're at the very bottom of a line of ridges that extends southward through Connecticut and only 6 miles from Long Island Sound. You can get a great push of Broad-Wings and then a late day falcon flight as an added bonus. Over the last few years, we've also experienced an unprecedented increase in Red-Shouldered Hawks. From late October through November we've witnessed almost mini Broad-winged like flights of Shoulders often in kettles of 10 or 20 birds. This makes sitting out in the cold extremely rewarding even late into the season. Since I'm housed on the property during the season I also frequently wake up early to catch early morning warbler flights, which can often be excellent. Even when it's a slow day the hawkwatch lawn is always such a relaxing place to hang out at and the regulars that come out to the watch are a great bunch. We even had a family of bobcats visit us a couple years ago.
Merlin: Quaker Ridge - Luke Tiller
What is it that you especially like about raptors?
To me they're the most free-spirited of all the birds but at the same time the hardest working. Since they're at the top of the food chain they possess this carefree yet determined attitude that always rubs off on me, particularly during migration. They have incredible distances to travel yet thanks to the power of thermals and updrafts they get the joyride of a lifetime from Quebec to Ecuador every year. But at the same time, one misstep along the way could cost them their life. In a way viewing the migration and appreciating it makes you live in the moment and at the same time appreciate that fragility. I was really drawn in to how therapeutic hawkwatching could be but at the same time make you work hard.

What do you like particularly about the world of hawkwatching? The spectacle? The ID challenges? The camaraderie of being at a hawkwatch? The outreach? Something else?
Over the past several years of counting I've really come to love the overall process of identification by impression. At Quaker Ridge we get many very high birds due to our low elevation, which has made me learn to appreciate and acquaint myself with the shapes of the birds at that altitude. Above all it makes a Merlin zipping by you point blank even more jaw-dropping. It also makes you sit and think about the magnitude of just how far the birds are going and how we can possibly bridge communities and cultures in order to ensure their protection after they leave the continent. At Audubon Greenwich we've made connections with numerous Audubon organizations in Central/South America and as a result cooperated together in conservation efforts focused on hawks. 
Olive-sided Flycatcher Quaker Ridge - Luke Tiller
I also love how hawkwatching can be such a universal form of birding since its easy to share with people and get them excited about it. I've seen many non-birder friends and many visitors to the Audubon Center become instantly hooked after viewing a kettle of Broad-winged Hawks or a Bald Eagle. If you spend enough time at a hawkwatch you get to know enough people that it becomes a great social gathering and reunion of sorts each season too. You get excited not only to see the hawks but old friends every fall.

Unfortunately hawks don’t migrate year round. What do you do for the rest of the year?
I spend a lot of my non-hawkwatching/birding time focusing on my other love of music. I play guitar, drums, bass, mandolin and keyboards and write/record my own material with my band Meadowhawks and I've played/studied in many other groups ranging from rock bands, jazz groups and orchestras. My ultimate dream is to have enough success as a musician to tour frequently and bird as much as I can along the way, even using my platform as an artist/performer to make the people aware of issues like bird/habitat conservation that aren't really talked about in the music world. This past year I also worked at Audubon Greenwich's summer camp, which is a great program for kids to learn about and observe nature. Some of the kids that came to the camp are now actually coming to Quaker Ridge Hawkwatch and getting really into hawks, so it looks like the future is in good hands.
Saw Whet Owl: Quaker Ridge - Luke Tiller
If you could go and count hawks anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Rosabel Miro, the executive director of Panama Audubon and one of the hawkwatchers at Panama City's Ancon Hill. We were floored to learn that last year they counted two million raptors in one day including a million Turkey Vultures and hundreds of thousands of Broad-winged Hawks and Swainson's. I don't know how I could ever possibly manage to count that many birds but I would absolutely love to go there and witness something like that in person. Cape May, Duluth or Corpus Christi also come to mind since not only are hawks a spectacle at those places but so is the entire bird migration in general. 

What do you like to do when you aren’t watching hawks (or birding)?
If there aren't any hawks to be seen I'm usually out chasing warblers, sparrows, shorebirds, ducks, gulls, butterflies or whatever else is around. I also have a major soft spot for owls and you can easily get me out at 2 AM for a Christmas Bird Count to go owling. When I'm not birding or exploring the natural world I'm usually playing/writing/recording music or going to see concerts with friends. Aside from that I enjoy British comedy, baked goods and hard cider.
Bobcats at Quaker Ridge - Stefan Martin
Do you have a personal blog, website, flickr page etc that we can keep up with your adventures?
You can check out my band Meadowhawks at our website (here) or our bandcamp (website here). I'm always looking to connect with fellow hawkwatchers/birders so feel free to friend me on Facebook as well (personal page here) . I also recently created a facebook group for birders like me in their 20s called '20something Birders' since I feel like birders in our age group haven't really had a place to connect. Its still kind of in the infant stages but hopefully it'll become a fun meeting-place for us college/post-college bird lovers (link here). 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Hawkwatching Across The Globe - Georgia (the country!)

Continuing our series introducing HMANA members to hawkwatches beyond the Americas here is a little information about the incredible raptor migration through Batumi, Georgia. With season counts of over a million raptors of thirty different species and day counts of over 100,000 raptors it's easy to see why this site is becoming more and more popular with birders. Thanks to this years count coordinator Aki Aintila for both the accompanying photographs as well as translating his answers from his native Finnish to English for us!

View from Station one - Aki Aintila
1.Tell us a little about your watch.
Our watch is held at two count stations in the north side of Batumi. Count station one is located in the village of Sakhalvasho and Count station two in the village of Shuamta, approximately 3 kilometers apart from each other. We use radio communication between the two stations during the count.

The count season lasts from August 17th until October 16th. Both count stations are manned daily during the season, except for days of really heavy rain and severe thunderstorms. The pilot count was conducted in 2007 and since 2008 we have run the count annually.
We rely on volunteer counters who cover their own expenses (travels, food and accommodation costs). For count coordinators, the project covers their travel and other expenses.

Honey Buzzard - Aki Aintila
2.What is the most numerous raptor species seen at your count?
The most numerous species is the European Honey Buzzard. This season's total in reached almost 590 000 individuals. During the years with the highest counts the season's total can reach over 650 000 individuals. The peak of this migration of Honey Buzzards is in the end of August and beginning of September.

3. What are the most sought after? One of the most sought after species for visiting birders is the Crested Honey Buzzard as Batumi is one of the best spots to see this Asian species in the Western Palearctic. Counters and ecotourists also enjoy seeing Pallid Harriers, Saker Falcons and aquila eagles like Greater Spotted, Steppe and Imperial Eagles.

Black Kite "kettle" - Aki Aintila
4. Do you band (note referred to as "ringing" in Europe) raptors too?
BRC is not running it's own ringing projects at the moment, but we collaborate with other organizations and people. Our fellow organization SABUKO ( runs bird ringing activities, including ringing of small raptors.

5. Do you just count raptors or are you counting other bird species as well? We focus on counting raptors, but we also count some soaring-migrant species (Black Stork, White Stork and Common Crane) and species that are easily detected and provide additional information on the importance of the Batumi bottleneck, like European Roller. We also count high numbers of Bee-Eaters and Swallows if resources allow us to do so, and record interesting observations, like rare species or huge flocks of Herons, Egrets and shorebirds.

No Hunting sign - Aki Aintila
6. What are the goals of your count?
The aims of BRC are in monitoring, research and conservation. 

We are aiming for a long-term monitoring of the raptor populations that cross the bottleneck. We also collect additional data than just numbers of individuals per species, by identifying age and sex classes for many of the species monitored. You can read more about BRC's aims and visions here.

Illegal hunting of raptors in our monitoring area is sadly a major conservation issue. Approximately 10,000 raptors are shot down in the area during every season. Long-term monitoring and data collecting is a crucial approach and together with SABUKO we work for the conservation of the bottleneck and birds that pass through it. You can read more about hunting issues and hunting monitoring results here and here.

Research interests of BRC are on the results of long-term monitoring, impacts of hunting on the raptor populations and impact of weather conditions on migration patterns. Find out more about weather impacts on migration (here). Local flight routes and strategies (here).

Steppe Buzzard - Aki Aintila
7. What is the best time to visit your watch?

The best time to visit the area depends on what one wants to see, since the season can be roughly divided into 3 parts:
1. Peak migration of Honey Buzzards and harriers, last week of August and first week of September. Peak days up to 100 000 birds.
2. Most diverse season is mid-September, during the best days one can see 20 different species of raptors in one day.
3. Peak migration of Steppe Buzzards and eagles in end of September and beginning of October. Peak days up to 50 000 birds.

Counters at Station two - Aki Aintila
All in all, raptor migration in Batumi offers many different rewards for visiting birders. There is the pure enjoyment of the mass migration of birds that is almost beyond imagination during peak Honey Buzzard or Steppe Buzzard migration. The variation of different species, ages and plumage from mid-September onward  poses identification challenges and rewards for the birder wishing to hone their skills with Eurasian raptors in flight. There is also the reward of being able to witness an incredible 30 species of raptors over our season!
Montagu's Harrier - Aki Aintila

8. Can your data be viewed online, if so where?
Our daily count results since 2008 are available on our website, were we upload our count results daily (visit the website here).

9. If visitors wanted to visit your site where should they go to find out more?
Further information for participating in the monitoring or visiting the area as an ecotourist can be found here, details on travel options are here and tour options on arrival are here.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Meet the Hawkwatchers - Erik Bruhnke - Corpus Christi Hawkwatch

All hawkwatches rely on the skill and enthusiasm of their respective counters. Here at HMANA we thought it would be fun to interview a few of the hard working members of the hawkcounting community and ask them everything: from how they found their passion for hawkwatching to what they like to do on their days off. First up in our series Erik Bruhnke who is counting at Corpus Christi Hawkwatch in Texas this season.

If you have a great counter at your site this year who you think deserves a little wider recognition leave a message on the blog post or send us a message and we will send them the interview questions too!

Erik Brunkhe
1 Tell us a little about your history: where did you grow up? What got you in to birding? Did you study ornithology or something similar at college? How long have you been counting hawks? Where have you counted before.

I grew up in a little town of Pewaukee near Milwaukee, WI. I’ve been interested in birds and nature since I learned how to walk. My birding spark moment was when I found a Cape May Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, and Bay-breasted Warbler bathing in an artesian creek just down the road from where I was attending college (Northland College in Ashland, WI). All three of these were life birds and being all new to boreal warblers, this experience got me hooked in a special way. Growing up I’d go on nature walks with my mom, dad, brother and sister on the weekends. Always had my binoculars with me.

I studied biology in college, specifically through a natural resources degree. It was great taking all of the “ologies” which helped establish a special sense of place. I aided teaching field ornithology and ornithology for several years while in college, and I continued to teach field ornithology as an adjunct professor for two additional years after graduating.

The first six fall seasons after college I worked at Hawk Ridge (Duluth, MN) as a count interpreter, and would aid the count on my time off throughout the fall. I have counted raptors for the Duluth spring count for several years. Having moved to Texas last year, this is my first fall counting raptors in Texas.
Broad-winged Hawks - Erik Brunkhe
2 Where are you counting this year? 

I am counting at Corpus Christi HawkWatch. There Facebook Page can be found here (link) and their individual page on is here (link). I love the massive flights of raptors at the Corpus Christi HawkWatch. The kettles of Mississippi Kites and Broad-winged Hawks are spectacular. The occasional Zone-tailed Hawks are a thrill and beautiful treat to see. I’m looking forward to the massive push of Turkey Vultures that I’ve heard about… The daily sightings of Green Jays, Inca Doves, and Olive Sparrows are icing on the cake for this wonderful site.

4 What is it that you especially like about raptors. What turned you on to hawkwatching? What was the first site you visited?

I really enjoy the beauty and identification of raptors. They’re large and their colors and markings are gorgeous from so many angles. Red-tailed Hawks are one of my favorite raptors. They are often overlooked, and their complex array of plumages throughout North America is stunning. Having seen nesting Krider’s Red-tailed Hawks in North Dakota and many forms of Red-tailed Hawks coming through Hawk Ridge (and many birding travels elsewhere), it’s hard not to admire this wonderful species.

I’ve been into hawkwatching since my very first visit to Hawk Ridge (Duluth, MN) during my freshman year of college back in 2003. There was something about seeing Broad-winged Hawks kettling overhead, a new phenomenon I had never seen before. I got to witness one of their many Northern Goshawks in-hand from the banding station. There were miles of colorful aspens and maples mingled through spruce tops as far as I could see, with Lake Superior bracing the slope of this site. My whole first experience at Hawk Ridge was breathtaking, and I couldn’t wait to come back and watch hawks again.
Zone-tailed Hawk - Erik Bruhnke
5 What do you like particularly about the world of hawkwatching? The spectacle? The ID challenges? The camaraderie of being at a hawkwatch? The outreach? Something else?

I enjoy the solitude, the beauty witnessed, and pleasant challenge of hawkwatching. Hawkwatching has plenty of fast-paced moments where the birds are streaming and zipping by, and hawkwatching also is filled with many moments of soaring birds in the distance and overhead, allowing for careful study and appreciation of each bird. The spectacle of raptor migration is simply incredible. Raptors do something that other non-raptors don’t. I love all birds, and raptors as a whole are quite unique.

Hawkwatching is like a treasure hunt. As we watch raptors more and more, we learn about subtleties that makes each raptor species that-species. Studying the behavior, structure, and form of each bird that flies by puts a smile on my face, and it’s great to be in the presence of other people who smile and understand the hawkwatching addiction as the migrating raptors fly by. There is something to be said as well, about hawkwatching at hawkwatching sites. Areas like this are great for networking with other people who understand the world or hawkwatching, whether it be a profession or hobby. It’s also a great teaching opportunity to point out birds to friends and others in the area, to share the excitement of the migration.
Corpus Christi Hummingbird Feeders - Erik Bruhnke
6 Unfortunately hawks don’t migrate year round. What do you do for the rest of the year?

I run my own birding tour business, Naturally Avian. I also lead birding tours for Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. Throughout the latter half of each year I lead Texas Pelagic trips that depart from South Padre Island, TX. When I’m not leading birding tours I work regularly at Quinta Mazatlan, one of the World Birding Centers in McAllen, TX. I write periodically for birding magazines and enjoy speaking and leading trips at birding festivals. I’m a part-time bird photographer too.

7 If you could go and count hawks anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

I have a few answers…

First off, I’d love to visit Gunsight Pass (Alaska) someday. Red-tailed Hawks are one of my favorite birds, and I think it would be thrilling to partake in the cool, refreshing elements up there while seeing Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawks among the many northern raptor and non-raptor species. Big raptors are great! Snow is fantastic too.

It would be fun to visit the River of Raptors in Veracruz some day. Having spent this season counting at the Corpus Christi HawkWatch, I have a feel for the massive lines of raptors and what it is like to count them. I think it would be interesting to see the masses of birds moving through in a different setting too. Every hawkwatch has its charm, and Veracruz is on the bucket list.

To a site I’ve worked at before, I have to say it would be great to visit Hawk Ridge (Duluth, MN) again. I love the powerful changing of the seasons, with the sights, sounds, smells and temperatures varying from day to day. The flight of Northern Goshawk, Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles and boreal birds all-round is quite a spectacle.
Harris's Hawk - Erik Bruhnke
8 What do you like to do when you aren’t watching hawks (or birding)?

I enjoy cooking and baking. Camping and long hikes hit the spot too. It’s fun to sketch birds. When the outside conditions are right, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are great. I’m a fan of craft beer as well, and enjoy a good pint while reading bird books.

9 Do you have a personal blog, website, flickr page etc that we can keep up with your adventures?

For Facebook, friend me! I use my personal Facebook page to post pictures and birding-related matters daily. I also have a Naturally Avian Facebook page too. My business website Naturally Avian can be found here (link), and you can find the trips and tours I’m leading for VENT here (link). My personal blog is not up yet, but I'm working on that soon!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

1.3 Million Hawks and Counting.....

Militia Hill Hawk Watch displaying its banner during IHMW.
Photo by Rich Conroy.
Congratulations to the 102 watchsites from Ontario to Mexico that counted over 1 million raptors during HMANA’s 2nd annual International Hawk Migration Week (IHMW) September 19-27, 2015. 

Thirty-one states and provinces counted thirty species of raptors, the vast majority being Broad-winged Hawks (1,304,132) - since IHMW took place during their peak migration. Other high counts included 23,244 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 6,659 Turkey Vultures, 6,182 Mississippi Kites, 5,696 American Kestrels and 3,661 Osprey.
Graham Scarborough, Eli Gross and Dave Youker
at Kiptopeke, VA. Photo by Brian Taber.
 HMANA started IHMW in 2014 as a way to celebrate raptor migration. We wanted to shine a light on the incredible spectacle that takes place each fall and highlight all the watchsites in the HawkCount monitoring network. 
Jerry Ligouri raptor talk, Celebration of Flight,
Corpus Christi, TX. Photo by Patty Waits Beasley
It’s the perfect opportunity to connect people with the cycle of migration. I think many of my fellow hawk watchers would agree that one of the great joys is introducing someone to a big flight or low-flying peregrine for the first time. It gives my goose bumps to see the excitement in their eyes. Recently during a spectacular flight of broad-wings at my local watchsite, I heard a man say, “Wow, I feel like a better person having witnessed this.”

So the goal of IHMW is to share these experiences with others. And I think we were successful in that. In addition to submitting daily counts to, sites celebrated across the map with various hawk watching festivals, identification workshops and live bird of prey events. Some celebrations included a handful of people on remote mountaintops while other events drew thousands to multi-day festivals but no matter the size, it all revolved around the love of raptors and the pure joy of migration.

For more information about IHMW, please visit 

Hawk watchers at Wellsville Hawk Watch, UT. Photo by Neil Paprocki