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