Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Counting Vultures on Migration - Protocols, Methods, etc.

Migrating Turkey Vulture...or is it?

It's really exciting that fall migration is underway. As I'm sure most will agree, spending time at count sites is one of the great joys of the birding year. I'm helping count this year at a site that is new for me, Mohonk Preserve, in upstate New York. We won't see big numbers, but it's hawk watching. On most days, we have vultures in the sky. As most hawk watchers can attest, counting vultures can be a frustrating endeavor. This has been an issue for years and years. I haven't heard much discussion about it recently, so I'm curious how different sites handle counting these birds.  I know it is somewhat site-dependent, but might be productive to get some discussion going on this topic if there is enough of a discrepancy between sites in methodology.
What sort of vulture protocol do you have in place to ensure some consistency in data collection?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

"HMANA Get-together" Weekend in Cape May - October 14-16

Bald Eagle @ Cape May - Tom Reed
This fall, October 14-16, HMANA will be running the first in what we hope will be a series of low-cost, self-drive events around the country at Cape May, New Jersey. The idea is to pick one place each fall and spring to meet other HMANA members and raptor afficionados at for a weekend of raptor watching adventures. HMANA will provide participants with local expert leadership on the ground and a weekend long itinerary which you can keep to as much as you would like. There will be a reception with food and drinks and we will send you an electronic welcoming pack with loads of inside tips on the area with great ideas on where to stay, where to eat (if you want to say slip away for a romantic meal rather than stay with the group), places you’ll want to visit if you decide to extend your stay, maps and lots of other cool tidbits of information.

Juvenile Peregrine Falcon - Tom Reed
If you’ve ever been to a HMANA Conference, or on one of our longer tours, you will know that one of the best things about them is the opportunity to meet and make friends with people from across the country who love hawks just as much as you do. The idea of these weekend "Get-together" events is to provide members with the same sense of community and chances to make new friends and networking connections as these other events but at a lower cost and with a shorter time commitment.

Golden Eagle - Tom Reed
Of course picking Cape May, New Jersey to kick off the series was something of a no-brainer. The hawkwatch platform must be as close as it is possible to get to hallowed ground for your average hawkwatcher and the whole town is nothing short of a Mecca for most birders. There’s a reason that you will probably find more famous birders per square mile in Cape May than in any other part of the United States and that simple reason is the birds. Cape May is one of those places where migration can be truly magical and it’s probably also one of the only places where the phenomenon of migration has inspired a book about both the place and its characters.

Northern Goshawk - Tom Reed
For hawkwatching fans, Mid-October is a great time to visit the Cape as many falcons and accipiters reach the peak of their fall flight. It’s also a great time to potentially pick up some of those highly prized later migrants like Golden Eagle, Northern Goshawk and Rough-legged Hawk. Mid-October is also edging into vagrant season in Cape May when almost anything that migrates might show up including the possibility of an off course Swainson’s Hawk. I remember my anticipation being so high on my first visit to Cape May that I could barely sleep and the first night I found myself wandering the streets of Cape May at about 3:00am listening to the plaintive calls of migrant thrushes as I waited anxiously for dawn.

Swainson's Hawk @ Cape May - Tom Reed
Expert guidance for this trip will be provided by Tom Reed. Tom is not only a member of the HMANA board but also one of Cape May’s previous hawkwatchers. As well as currently working for Cape May Bird Observatory as their Migration Count Coordinator he is also one of the few employees of CMBO who grew up in the area, making him the perfect person to supply us with a great itinerary and lots of insider information. Tom also provided the incredible photographs that festoon this blog post. We do hope that you can join us for the fun. For more information and to book your place visit our website (here).

Monday, August 15, 2016

Hawkcount as a resource

Hawkcount as a resource

One of HMANA’s most valuable assets is its online database Hawkcount(created by Jason Sodergren). As well as being a useful place for counts across the US and beyond to store their sightings, the data provides a number of useful functions for those that want to dip their toe into the world of hawkwatching. (Note you can click on all the images in this article and make them larger).
Hawkcount: Home Page
Finding recent daily count details

From the front page of Hawkcount you have a couple of options for drilling down into the data contained within. First up when counts are in progress you can see the daily results from the various counts on the front page and click through for more data. You can see from the screenshot that I took this early in August when just a few counts are online, but if the days count from Rockfish Gap is what you were after then you can click through straight from the Hawkcount home page. 
Hawkcount: Individual Count Daily Report
This will show you the day’s count and if you are lucky a forecast for the next days or next few days*. From there you can click on the “Site Profile” link to get into data related to migration timing and more seasonal related count data (more on those below).
Hawkcount: Count Map/Pulldown Page
Finding a count

First and foremost, Hawkcount can help you find a local hawkwatch to visit. Everyone’s heard of Cape May (where we are running this year’s HMANA Get-together), but how many of you can name the other nine currently functioning New Jersey based hawkwatches on Hawkcount? To find them click on the little map at the top of HMANA’s Hawkcount website and you will enter a page (photo above) where you can either use a pull down menu, click on a state to bring up a map of hawkwatches in that state or use the list of countries, states and provinces at the bottom of the page to find a hawkwatch near you. 

Hawkcount: State Counts
Note in the example for NY State (above) you can see on the list below the map whether they are a fall or spring hawkwatch, whether they are active (check when the last data was collected) and where they are located. If you click one of the sites you can then start getting a whole load more information. Be aware the counts only show in the map of the state you have clicked on, to see other counts in other states you need to go back and click on the other state you are interested in.

Hawkcount: Individual Counts - Site Profile
Individual Count Information – Site Profile

Once you’ve located a count that you might want to visit you can click through onto the individual count's page and start to find out a whole load more about them (see screenshot above). Most sites are going to give you a set of basic information about them including contact details for them including websites, directions to the site and information like the dates of their count season.
Hawkcount: Individual Counts - Migration Timing 
You can however start to drill down much further into the data. Given Braddock Bay as an example: If you were trying to say work out when it would be a good time to visit if you wanted to see a big flight of Turkey Vultures you can click the “Migration Timing” tab (see screenshot above). This would allow you to see general trends for migration timing in the bar chart but also see historically when the largest flights have occurred. Looking at that historical data, to see a big flight of TV’s at Braddock would see you visiting the first week of April into the early portion of the second week.

Individual Count Information – Latest Count Data

If you were targeting certain species, a good time to visit a watch for peak migration at a watch or even just wanting to see how often there was a counter on site that would be one way to approach things. The other way would be to look at their count data directly. From the counts "Site Profile" page you hit the “Latest Count Data” link (top right on the site profile page). 
Hawkcount: Individual Counts - Latest Count Data
From there you can change the month or year using the pulldown menu on the left (see above screenshot). If you go to May 2016 you can see that Braddock has someone out almost every day that month unless the weather precluded a counter being able to get out. Some other sites you will see are much less frequently manned. If you want to go to a site and have some company, make sure you find a site to visit with regular coverage.

If you scroll further down the page you can do some fun comparison work and compare previous seasons at a certain count. By clicking on the previous month comparison tab (which will show you that sites historical data by month, or that sites historical data by season). If you scroll all the way down, you can see the day by day reports (see screenshot below).
Hawkcount: Individual Counts - Season/Monthly Comparison
These are just a few ways that you can use Hawkcount to help you find a count, plan a visit to a count, keep up with recent days at your local watch and even get a forecast for upcoming count days. Sometimes I just enjoy some vicarious hawkwatching by scrolling through the recent reports! You can visit the website here.

* If you are lucky at the end of the information included in the day’s count there might be a “Forecast” for the next day or upcoming days. I must say that as a hawkwatcher I mildly loathed the forecast section for the following reasons: 1/ if you put in a bad forecast it means anyone who reads it probably won’t come down - guaranteeing you a lonely visitor free day 2/ If you put that it is likely to be good and it somehow turns out not to be then I worried that people would blame me for making them come all the way out to the watch 3/ who wants to jinx a potentially good day by touting it online beforehand?