Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A poor March?

Hawk migration over Whitefish Point remained slow on this last day of March. A total of 9 birds was tallied, including this immature Northern Goshawk.

So how is the season progressing so far? Well, for a couple of species - Northern Goshawk and Golden Eagle - not so bad actually. Goshawks are somewhat irruptive migrants, western populations more so than eastern. Their numbers tend to fluctuate between years, and this year is shaping up to be a good year for them, with more than double the March total for last year, for example, and even three times the March total for 2007. With today's birds, both immatures, the March 2009 total comes to 15.

Golden Eagle - also seen today - reached 22 this March, one better than last year's March total, and double the number for March '06. March '07 was better, with 33. Best days for this species so far were March 18 and 30, both with 5 Golden Eagles.

For all other species, March 2009 was low.

Most abundant raptor this month was Bald Eagle, with 82. This is the first time in four years that the March total for this species stayed below 100 (although March 2001 was worse, with 59). Only 7 redtails for March 2009 is also decidedly low; in recent years March redtail counts have fluctuated between 41 ('08) and 368 ('07). Both species have long, protracted migration periods and their numbers will surely be augmented by counts in April and May.

For practically all other species, it is really too early in the season to say anything meaningful about the running migration count. With April about to start, daily numbers should be going up pretty quickly now!

Monday, March 30, 2009


Yesterday it snowed all day, and consequently no count was conducted.

Today, partly cloudy weather gave way to blue skies in the afternoon, with a fairly brisk NW wind blowing. Raptor migration remains slow at Whitefish Point, and today was limited to eagles only.

Still, five Golden Eagles wasn't bad - a tie with March 18 for daily high count for this species. (Last year, the daily total for Golden Eagles never reached higher than 4.) Despite the wind, all birds were quite high.

Also seen were two Bald Eagles: an adult and this 'sub-adult II' bird.

A single Snow Bunting flew over the point a couple of times, and around the lighthouse buildings was an Eastern Meadowlark.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Afternoon flight

Light winds and mostly sunny weather is what we got Saturday afternoon, and as expected, this resulted in some hawk movement over Whitefish Point. The only raptor seen during the morning was a Cooper's Hawk doing a courtship display flight. It will be interesting to see if a pair will establish a territory on Whitefish Point.

On the stroke of noon, the first migrating raptor of the day was a juvenile Golden Eagle, going high across the bay in a straight line. One of the last birds today was also a Golden Eagle, this time an adult, which did not succeed in crossing and may show up again sometime in the next few days. Other raptors counted as migrants included an adult male Northern Goshawk, an adult female Sharp-shinned Hawk, an adult Red-shouldered Hawk, two Red-tailed Hawks and six Bald Eagles. Almost all birds were high, as is common on light winds.

Both Red and White-winged Crossbills were again seen from the platform. The bird pictured above is a female White-winged Crossbill, photographed there today.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Snow today held things in check as far as raptor migration is concerned. Only five raptors were added to the count, including the first American Kestrel of the season. Interestingly, this species also showed up at several other (mostly northeastern) spring hawk watches today. Apparently, a first small wave of migrants is pushing through. Other sightings today included an adult male Northern Goshawk, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, two Bald Eagles and a Sandhill Crane.

Weather-wise, the next few days don't look particularly good for hawk migration. More snow is expected for Sunday, but for Saturday afternoon there are light winds and some breaks in the clouds forecast, which means there will probably be some birds.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

First modest hawk flight of the season

Light SSW winds today brought raptors to Whitefish Point, in decent numbers and variety. Bald Eagles ('sub-adult I' pictured above) dominated the flight, with a total of 25 counted, while Red-shouldered Hawk came in second with 5 - all adults - and Golden Eagle was third with three.

Other diurnal raptors counted as migrants today were one Northern Harrier, one Sharp-shinned Hawk, two adult Northern Goshawks (a male and female, seemingly traveling together), two Red-tailed Hawks and a Merlin. These birds, plus a distant, unidentified raptor, brought today's tally to 41.

In the first hour of the count, a single hoot from a Long-eared Owl was heard not far from the platform. This represents the earliest record (by just one day) for Whitefish Point. Also seen today was a Brown-headed Cowbird in a Red-winged Blackbird flock, and around the feeders today three Song Sparrows.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Things are picking up

It was cold and blustery out there today, with rippin' SE winds and a high of only 34°F. Still, some raptor migration was visible, with a couple of Northern Goshawks, a sub-adult Golden Eagle and a total of 7 Bald Eagles. Only the Bald Eagles were seen crossing the water.

Wednesday and Thursday could both be good days for hawk migration, depending on how the weather plays out. If most of the rain falls overnight and things start clearing up Wednesday around midday or earlier, this could set the stage for the first bigger flight of the season. Thursday the wind is supposed to turn SW, the best wind for a hawk flight at Whitefish Point. The way things look right now (Tuesday evening), Thursday has the better cards but Wednesday could hold a surprise.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Crossbills, redpolls, a shrike and two eagles

Here's one of the 20 or so White-winged Crossbills that were seen near the hawk platform today. The smaller flock of Red Crossbills was also still there.

Near the feeders around the Gift Shop today was this Northern Shrike. In the Common Redpoll flock at the feeders was a beautiful adult male Hoary.

Raptor numbers remain low: only two Golden Eagles today. A single adult showed up around 11:50 AM, cruising low in easterly direction. Seven minutes later, two adults were seen on the same trajectory. One of them briefly landed in a tall pine not far from the platform, but was almost immediately accosted and escorted out of the area by two American Crows. The counter assumed that one of these two eagles was the same individual seen minutes earlier, but there may have been three birds - who knows?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Slow days still

This Red Crossbill was in a group of 6 that hung around the hawk platform for most of the day.

Still not much in the way of hawk migration over Whitefish Point, with yesterday nada and today only slightly better with two Bald Eagles. In its second week now, the count currently stands at 56, while many other spring hawk sites have already had hundreds of birds.

Is this normal?

Well, yes actually. Numbers at Whitefish generally start picking up towards the last week or 10 days of March. Last year, for example, the running total on the 22nd of March was even less, 44 raptors. The last week of March generally brings the first wave of Bald Eagles, some Red-tailed Hawks, and smaller numbers of most other raptors, including Golden Eagles.

A warming trend towards the middle of the week and southerly winds on Thursday should turn things on, depending also on how much rain comes with it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hoary Redpoll

Light SSE winds triggered some hawk migration over Whitefish Point today, but it wasn't spectacular. It's probably still too early in the season for any large numbers. That said, three Northern Goshawks today is nothing to sneeze at; also seen today were 2 Bald Eagles (besides resident birds) and a 'brown' (i.e. adult female or immature) Merlin. Weather-wise, Saturday looks better.

Also seen and photographed from the hawk platform today this Hoary Redpoll. Classic Hoary, with all the field marks visible: small stubby bill; faint streaking on sides; unstreaked undertail coverts; pale frosty overall coloration; round, bull-necked appearance. This bird was in with approximately 50 other redpolls, most of them Common Redpoll. Some Commons in this flock are quite pale, and care is needed for separating the two species.

This Common Redpoll landed on the hawk platform.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

No raptors

That is, no raptors seen on migration today. Passerines, like this Red-breasted Nuthatch, were able to forage on the outer branches without having to worry about getting snatched away by a Sharp-shinned Hawk or a Merlin.

With fairly strong NNW winds blowing and a maximum temperature of 12°F (!), conditions were unfavorable for hawk migration today. Only a few resident Bald Eagles were seen.

But that's likely to change already tomorrow, when south winds and warmer weather is forecasted. Saturday looks good too, with SW winds in the forecast. I believe that's the ideal wind direction for Whitefish, so I expect to see some eagles of both species on migration, plus other raptors such as sharpshins, goshawks, redtails and redshoulders.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Eagle Fest

Today's raptor flight was dominated by Golden Eagles: at least five adults were seen at Whitefish Point today, while yesterday's sub-adult was also still there, at least in the morning.

During the first two hours of the count, the wind was blowing from the WSW. That's a favorable wind direction for raptor migration over Whitefish Point, and during this time, there was constant action. The first two Golden Eagles of the day made it across the bay on these tail winds on the first attempt, as did two Bald Eagles. Then, as the wind shifted slightly to W, eagle crossing attempts became futile, and for a while it was back and forth, back and forth, with great viewing opportunities of these beautiful raptors.

In the afternoon the already stiff wind picked up some more and turned further to NW, effectively shutting things down migration-wise.

The feeders at the Gift Shop still had one male Evening Grosbeak today, while two White-winged Crossbills were seen from the hawk platform in the morning.

The weather forecast for the next few days seems unfavorable for raptor migration. It's possible that the eagles will remain on the peninsula and will show up every once in a while. Another possibility is that they continue their journey northward some other way. With lots of snow still on the ground, conditions are great for photographing hawks and eagles from the Point, as they are all beautifully lit up from below.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Start of the season

The spring 2009 hawk watch season kicked off Sunday with just three raptors that were counted as migrants. As a warming trend set in, Monday was a little better with 13 raptors, and today - Tuesday - was better still, with 21 raptors representing 6 species. Best was a subadult Golden Eagle, an immature female Northern Goshawk, and adult male Gos, and thirteen Bald Eagles, all adults. Interesting non-raptors today included 3 Evening Grosbeaks, a Hoary Redpoll in the Common Redpoll flock at the feeders, 7 Bohemian Waxwings, and a female Eastern Bluebird.

This is one of the Common Redpolls at the feeders in back of the Gift Shop.