Friday, July 31, 2015

And they are off!

Clickers - Catherine Hamilton

It's started! Southbound migration. Here in Los Angeles those tiny terrors: Rufous Hummingbirds are back and bullying all and sundry at the feeders as they make their way south for the winter. Down along the LA River and out in the desert beyond the San Gabriel Mountains, shorebirds, terns and swallows are starting to pile up at the usual watery oases. Though just a trickle of landbirds so far, we aren't so far removed from the migrant flood.

Though most 'Fall' watches won't start up for a couple of weeks yet it was exciting to see the first flight of raptors reported on Hawkcount from Congaree Bluffs, SC (report here). It always seems weird to me to talk about Fall migration when most of my non-birding friends are still in the middle of their beach season. Of course in reality some birds are on the move most of the year and it always amuses me to think that while many hawkwatch sites are tallying southbound migration, up at the Braddock Bay Hawkwatch in NY (home of the HMANA Raptor ID Workshop) they are counting the northbound push of post breeding dispersal along the Great Lakes (read about the phenomenon here).

Red-tailed Hawk - Luke Tiller

Reading that report from South Carolina I find myself imagining the excitement of seeing those initial couple of migrant raptors breaking over the horizon, as well as enjoying the other soaring birds like Wood Storks and Anhingas as they float by. I wonder if I am the only one out there that gets a vicarious thrill from looking at the day's reports in Hawkcount and reading through the highs and lows of other peoples days out hawkwatching? Being in the Los Angeles Basin means that there is little in the way of any visual migration of raptors, or anything else for that matter, so being able to scan through the reports in the evening is about as close as I get.

I start with sites that I know well: either ones I have counted at or that I have visited. That way you know what you've missed by being miles away, or maybe just stuck in the office all day. As well as keeping up with known sites I also just enjoy looking through and reading the reports, appreciating the descriptions of the flights, the humor of the counters or even just sympathizing with the frustrations of a seasons developments. The real highlight for me though is to look at those sites with mind-boggling flights in Texas, Mexico and Panama and try to imagine the panic, joy and insanity a day with two million raptors might cause (Hawkcount report for Cerro Ancon, Panama here).

Braddock Bay Hawkwatchers - Luke Tiller

Am I alone in this? Or are there other online hawkwatchers enjoying the seasons flight from the comfort of their own office? Of course I have to say that being there for the flights would be better, but when you can't, at least for me, there is always Hawkcount! Maybe I should start a hawkwatchers anonymous for those of us deprived of the real thing by location, work or whatever else in life is getting in the way?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Report from Kittatinny Roundtable

Laurie Goodrich hosting the Kittatinny Roundtable at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary
The annual Kittatinny Roundtable for hawkwatch coordinators is always great fun, and this year was no exception. Hosted by Hawk Mountain Sanctuary for nearly 40 years now, the summertime event is a chance for hawk site coordinators in southern Pennsylvania, upper Maryland and New Jersey to get together in the off season to discuss raptor migrations from the previous year.

The event includes a roundup of the previous year’s migration results and timing, as well as several presentations from researchers about their current work.  This year we heard from Jean-Francois (J.F.) Therrien about Project Snowstorm and some of the conditions that led to the big irruption of snowy owls last winter.  Nick Bolgiano reported on his study of the geographic changes in the distribution of the American Kestrel. The kestrel is declining in much of the northeast, but is stable in the Midwest and, at least for the moment, in Pennsylvania. He also found a direct correlation between cold and snowy winters and lower kestrel populations the following year.  Holly Merker described the advantages of using a group or hawkwatch site account to enter sightings through HawkCount and eBird.  Jack’s Mountain reported on a record-breaking Golden Eagle flight in three hours on October 31. They tallied the first eagle at 12:55, saw several kettles of 5-7 eagles during the afternoon and ended the day with 56 Golden Eagles, which smashed the old record of 31.

The meeting’s organizer Laurie Goodrich reported on Hawk Mountain’s Broad-winged Hawk migration tracking. The Broad-winged Hawk tracking project just completed its first year but already has produced some new information.  Four broadwings were fitted with radio transmitters, an adult female and three fledglings.  The fledglings made it down into Mexico and central America but apparently did not survive to travel further.  The female bird, dubbed Abbo, made it into Brazil for the winter, where she was already starting to float around in a constantly northerly direction by mid-January.  Her flight paths to the south and returning to Pennsylvania this spring were nearly identical. This year four more female birds are or will be trapped to see where they go and when.  Female birds are used as they are larger, and the tracking devices are still too large for the smaller male birds.

Most of the sites attending this session had poor Broad-winged Hawk flights in 2014, though Scott’s Mountain in New Jersey could boast 11,208 for the season.  Kestrel flights were both up and down but probably averaged out to be about the same overall. Golden Eagle flights were strong, with Waggoner’s Gap the leader at 241.  Overall, that flight had two big days at most sites on October 26 and November 2.

Laurie believes the Kittatinny Roundtable is the only regional get-together of its kind.  It would be nice to see similar events in other regions, especially around the Great Lakes and the far northeast.

Monday, July 13, 2015

2015 AOU Check-list Supplement

Roadside Hawk - Catherine Hamilton
The American Ornithological Union recently released its 2015 Check-list Supplement (available here). There are a few changes that will be of interest to raptor aficionados and hawkwatchers in this year’s supplement. Coincidentally most of them seem to affect raptors that we hope to see on our Raptors of the Rio Grande Valley Tour in November (link here). 

One change is a new genus and sequence for both White-tailed and Roadside Hawk. White-tailed Hawk makes a change from Buteo albicaudatus to Geranoaetus albicaudatus based on genetic data. This means that White-tailed Hawk moves into a genus with Variable Hawk and Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle and becomes the only North American Geranoaetus. White-tailed Hawk is mainly restricted to coastal southern Texas in the USA and can be found southwards all the way to Argentina.

White-tailed Hawk - Catherine Hamilton
Roadside Hawk also comes out of Buteo into its own genus Rupornis. This species has a number of subspecies, some of which may well deserve species status, and can be found from Mexico south to tropical South America. Though considered a mainly resident species there are eight winter records of the species from the Rio Grande Valley, TX (so we will keep our fingers crossed).

New Buteonine Hawk Sequence: Roadside Hawk, Harris’s Hawk, White-tailed Hawk, Gray Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Hawaiian Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk 

One of the other species we will see in Texas is involved in a small change as Crested Caracara comes out of its subfamily Caracarinae and moves into the family of true falcons: Falconinae.

Northern Harrier -  Rick Bacher
One of the proposed changes that was not accepted but might be of interest to raptor fans, hawkwatchers and maybe more specifically raptor banders was the proposal to split Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius) from Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus). There is currently one accepted record of the European subspecies from a wing found on the Aleutians in 1999, though Howell in his comments in Rare Birds of North America (Princeton University Press 2014) suggests that there are other promising reports out there including one from New Jersey in 2010. The book also has a good overview on separating the two subspecies: relatively easy with adult male Hen Harriers which are much cleaner grey and white and with six black primaries, much less so with females and juveniles. Juvenile Hen Harrier averages streakier than Northern and much less cinnamon/orange overall. You can read a good perspective on the ID challenge from Julian Hough on Birding Frontiers (details here) and read an account of the Cape May bird (link here). Getting extensive photos of interesting birds would be highly recommended!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Progress on HMANA's new home

by Will Weber

HMANA will find a permanent home in the Visitor Center of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge in southeast Michigan. Now under construction, the visitor center is expected to be completed in the spring of 2017.

The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge includes 48 miles of shoreline along the lower Detroit River and western Lake Erie. Nearly seven million people live within a 45-minute drive. The watershed supports a great diversity of wildlife and habitats which provide many world-class outdoor recreational opportunities. The count site of the Detroit River Hawk Watch is included in the refuge area and Holiday Beach Migration Observatory is within sight of the refuge.

For 44 years, beginning in 1946, automobile component manufacturing occurred on the gateway to North America’s only international wildlife refuge, a 44-acre tract of waterfront property in Trenton, Michigan. By 1990, automotive facilities were closed and the land had been remediated to industry standards, leaving an industrial brownfield behind to sit vacant for the next 12 years. In 2002, Wayne County purchased the land to become the gateway to the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. The property is now known as the Refuge Gateway. A master plan for the site, including a large visitor center, was then developed by Wayne County, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and many partners to serve as a blueprint for the cleanup and restoration work at the Refuge Gateway necessary to establish the site as an ecological buffer for Humbug Marsh, Michigan’s only “Wetland of International Importance.”

Since the adoption of the Refuge Gateway Master Plan in 2006, much work has been accomplished, including: capping of brownfield lands, daylighting Monguagon Creek and constructing a retention pond and emergent wetland to treat storm water prior to discharge to the Detroit River, a shoreline and riparian restoration, completion of all public access roads, and construction of two wildlife observation decks and an education shelter in Humbug Marsh. In 2011, the Refuge Gateway received $1.39 million in funding to complete all cleanup and restoration work in 2012. This “Extreme Makeover” of the Refuge Gateway landscape will restore over 41 acres of land for wildlife habitat and outdoor education and recreational experiences. At this time, HMANA is the only non-profit environmental organization invited to find a home in the visitor center. In part, this is a recognition of the importance of the annual raptor  passage over the refuge as an opportunity for public environmental education.