Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lots of hawks

Like most raptors today, this Golden Eagle came in low and provided great looks to the three hawk watchers on the platform. Diversity was a little lower today compared to the last couple of days, but that was made up for by yet again higher numbers. Particularly Sharp-shinned Hawk put in a strong showing, with 1,641 for a day count. Most of them were seen in the second half of the morning, when strong southerly winds produced a strong flight. Other raptor counts included 12 Turkey Vultures, 17 Bald Eagles, 24 Northern Harriers, 1 juvenile Cooper's Hawk, 1 juvenile Northern Goshawk, 16 Broad-winged Hawks, 57 Red-tailed Hawks (including another intermediate 'rufous' morph, different individual from yesterday), 37 Rough-legged Hawks, that Golden Eagle, 31 American Kestrels, and 2 Merlins. The overall count reached 1,840 - the highest day count so far this season.

This last day of the month is a good moment to once again take stock of how the hawk season is progressing this year. With a month and a half behind us and only a month to go, let's review the numbers.

For Turkey Vulture, April 2009 was average, with 200. It's interesting to note that, unlike at most other hawk watches, there is no clear peak in the numbers. This species is almost at the northern edge of its range, and the birds counted at Whitefish Point may well be primarily summer residents flying past the hawk watch, not migrants.

April 2009, with 39, was low for Osprey, though not as low as April 2006 for example. Their migration continues into the first half of May.

Bald Eagle (205) had the best April of the last four years, as did Northern Harrier with 429.

Today's phenomenal flight of Sharp-shinned Hawks helped put April 2009 into second place of the last four years. Only last year's April count was better, by about 800 birds.

This April was easily the best April of the last four for Cooper's Hawk, with 38 counted. Recently, April counts have ranged between 10 and 26. This high count was helped tremendously by an unusually strong flight of 12 on the 24th. Most of those 12 birds were seen within a two-hour time frame: a bubble with Cooper's Hawks. This species is much more common downstate, but reaches the northern limit of its range here at Whitefish Point.

Of the last four years, only last year's April had a higher Northern Goshawk count than this year.

The buteos are interesting, because one of them had the best April of the last four years (Red-shouldered Hawk), while another had the worst April by far of the last four years (Broad-winged Hawk). Red-tailed Hawk had the second worst April of the last four, while Rough-legged Hawk had the second best April (last year was better).

Golden Eagle had the best April of the last four years, beating last year's April count by two eagles.

The falcons did poorly overall in April 2009. All three falcons - American Kestrel, Merlin and Peregrine Falcon - had the worst April of the last four years! For Merlin and Peregrine, the differences with other years are not as pronounced, but this year's count for American Kestrel is about half the normal count for that species...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Same diversity, three times as many birds

It was a very pleasant day at the hawk watch today, with the same fifteen species on the tally as yesterday, but in much higher numbers. Three times as many Sharp-shinned Hawks today as yesterday, and the vast majority of them zipping by low and close. Yesterday, many birds remained distant and were probably best viewed from the eastern side of the Point. Today, with SE winds, birds were right overhead, like this adult Broad-winged Hawk.

Still no 'big push' of broadwings but smaller 'kettles' were seen on the horizon and a few birds casually came in for better views. Total number of broadwings counted today was 60, similar to yesterday's count. Other counts included 15 Turkey Vultures, 3 Osprey, 2 Bald Eagles, 19 Northern Harriers, 1,324 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 4 Cooper's Hawks, 1 juvenile Northern Goshawk, 1 juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk, 41 Red-tailed Hawks, 30 Rough-legged Hawks, 1 Golden Eagle, 24 American Kestrels, 3 Merlins and 1 adult Peregrine Falcon.

With the snow on the ground melting quickly now, it was evidently a great day for 'big white birds' on the move, because the first hour of the count had a flyby Snowy Owl and Caspian Tern, while later in the morning I saw three American White Pelicans. After that, I sort of expected to see a Great Egret or at least a Glaucous Gull, but didn't...

Other sightings included 73 Yellow-rumped Warblers counted as flyover migrants; a Pine Warbler singing in the tree next to the platform; 3 seen and several heard Evening Grosbeaks; and 17 Common Loon flyovers.

Tomorrow morning should be great, for as long as the rain holds off...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Great variety

Today was the first day this season in which all the regular raptor species were observed as migrants. So that includes Osprey, Turkey Vulture, Northern Harrier, all three falcons, all three accipiters, both eagles, and four buteos - not bad!

At least four Golden Eagles were present at the Point today, although with all that back and forth flying it was quite the challenge to sort out just how many eagles there really were. Four is a conservative number. (Had I applied the count protocol rigorously and left common sense out of the equation momentarily, I probably would have ended up with over 25 Golden Eagles, but that would have been widely off the mark.)

A number of species were represented by just one token member, such as Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Red-shouldered Hawk, Northern Goshawk and Cooper's Hawk.

Looking ahead, I think this variety and the fact that the flight was good right until the end of the count, is promising for tomorrow, when much better conditions are forecast. Maybe tomorrow's surge in temperatures and southerly winds will finally bring that wave of broadwings... Had 65 of them already today.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Some more broadwings

A few more Broad-winged Hawks today - nine in total - after the first one last Friday. The winds were good, but overall conditions weren't exactly great for hawk migration: another gray day with almost no sun and some light afternoon rain that eventually turned into an actual shower. The Broad-winged Hawk pictured above was high in a gray sky, so not exactly a photo contest winner there.

Again a good sharpie day, in fact twice as good as yesterday, with 813 counted. Other notable sightings included 42 Northern Harriers (still going strong), 1 Northern Goshawk, and 2 Golden Eagles. The total raptor count reached 948, the second best day so far.

This Red Fox walked past the platform a couple of times today. Also seen today were 1 Solitary Sandpiper and 1 Glaucous Gull flyover, possibly the same individual that was seen earlier on the beach between the harbor and the point.

It'll be interesting to see how the rest of the week is going to play out in terms of hawk migration. We're in peak period for many species now, and each day with reasonably good conditions should put at least a few hundred hawks on the tally. Broadwings are fickle creatures, and could show up on any warm front that we get... Weather-wise, Wednesday and Thursday look promising.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sharpies marching on

A gray and rather uneventful day on the hawk platform today, with sparse sightings here and there of the less numerous species such as Golden Eagle (1), Northern Goshawk (2), Red-shouldered Hawk (1) and Merlin (1), and despite it all a decent flight of Sharp-shinned Hawks. Overall count reached 462 today, the vast majority of them (409) being sharpies. The photo of the bird pictured above was taken today, a sharpie shrugging its shoulders as if to say "hey - we're here now..."

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Slow day

After yesterday's impressive hawk flight, I imagined there would be at least some movement under less than ideal conditions, between showers. That did happen early morning, but the flight petered out quickly and never really regained its strength in the afternoon, even though the weather wasn't that bad later on.

There were interesting birds around on Whitefish Point today, as the other WPBO blogs have already highlighted. One of them was this Short-eared Owl, pictured above.

Interesting I thought was the sighting of three Merlins in the first hour of the count, presumably yesterday's leftovers. Other raptors counted today included 3 Turkey Vultures, 1 Osprey, 2 Bald Eagles, 6 Northern Harriers, 13 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 4 Red-tailed Hawks, 4 Rough-legged Hawks, and 7 American Kestrels.

Excellent flight

Finally a day with southerly winds all day! Great to have that coincide with the first day of the annual 'Spring Fling' weekend, for this weather produced an excellent flight.

Sharp-shinned Hawks dominated the flight, with 1316 counted, effectively more than doubling the season count for that species. Northern Harrier (adult male pictured below) also did very well, with 99, as did Merlin, with 11. Falcons were well represented overall with an adult Peregrine Falcon and 54 American Kestrels. Cooper's Hawk did very well with 12, a record day count in recent memory. Seven of these 12 Cooper's Hawks came by in the afternoon between 1 and 2 PM.

Other raptors counted today included 22 Turkey Vultures, 1 Osprey, 6 Bald Eagles, 4 Northern Goshawks, 48 Red-tailed Hawks, 78 Rough-legged Hawks, and 4 Golden Eagles.

Oh - and a Broad-winged Hawk! Finally had one. There should be a lot more to follow soon...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

There's always tomorrow...

Hawk migration: it's all about the weather. Today was certainly an improvement over recent days, but ultimately a disappointment, as those promised southerly winds didn't happen until very near the end of today's count. So still no broadwings, and curiously also no Ospreys today. What did we get? Well, 5 Golden Eagles is nothing to sneeze at, and it was also nice to get three falcon species, including an adult and immature Peregrine Falcon, flying side by side.

From late morning onwards, Red-tailed Hawks made numerous failed attempts at crossing. For a while, it seemed as if there were huge numbers of redtails moving through, but I believe that to be an optical illusion, created by the same hundred or so redtails over and over again. I counted a maximum of 112 in the air at the same time.

Among them two dark morphs, possibly the same individuals that have been on Whitefish Point for nearly a week now. I've seen three different dark redtails this week. The one with the wing damage wasn't seen again today, so that bird has probably moved on.

Like the bird with the damaged secondary that I posted a photo of two days ago, this bird is an intermediate morph: not completely dark, but with a rufous breast, some rufous lining to the underwing coverts, and barred undertail coverts. It's a neat-looking bird.

Day total 'only' got to 345, with 16 Turkey Vultures, 4 Bald Eagles, 21 Northern Harriers, 120 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 1 Cooper's Hawk, 2 Northern Goshawks, 112 Red-tailed Hawks, 54 Rough-legged Hawks, 5 Golden Eagles, 7 American Kestrels, 1 Merlin and 2 Peregine Falcons.

An interesting sighting was an early Indigo Bunting flyover.

I thought that today was going to be one of two really big days. I even started an hour earlier, but soon found out that was quite unnecessary. Today, the flight didn't really get going until the afternoon. Tomorrow, though, should be very good, unless of course the weather again plays out quite different from the forecast.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

High winds, few birds

Today was the last day with unfavorable weather conditions for a hawk flight, and only 65 raptors were added to the count, including this ratty looking immature Bald Eagle. Others were seen hunting, like a juvenile Golden Eagle (same individual from yesterday), a couple of Rough-legged Hawks, four Bald Eagles, a Merlin and some scouring Turkey Vultures.

Best bird today was a second cycle Iceland Gull.

This weekend is Member's Weekend, or Spring Fling, and there will likely be a multitude of birders on the Point, and hopefully some good birds too. Weather-wise though, the two days before the weekend look very good for migration, the weekend itself unfortunately less so. If the forecasts are anything to go by, that is.

Thursday and especially Friday should see a major influx not only of raptors but all kinds of birds, including probably the first wave of Yellow-rumped Warblers, and possibly a few Pine or Palm Warblers. Maybe the first Chipping Sparrows, and a Vesper or Savannah Sparrow.

I still haven't seen any Broad-winged Hawks yet, but I would be very surprised indeed if that bird wasn't seen tomorrow. It's certainly due, and now with this system there really aren't any excuses anymore for not getting it. Swainson's Hawk seems a distinct possibility.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dark buteos

Today was really an excellent day for honing one's hawk identification skills, especially on the buteos. Think about it: it's the second half of April, so redtail and roughleg are regular sightings, redshoulder is still around, and two more buteos are now a possibility: Swainson's Hawk and broadwing. The latter, incidentally, is really a slam dunk guarantee when the next warm front pushes through, on Thurday. The way things are looking now, Thursday, Friday and Saturday should have south winds and higher temperatures, and that almost certainly means large numbers of broadwings. These birds are literally on our doorstep now. Braddock Bay, on Lake Ontario, for example had 2,600 today.

And Swainson's Hawk is a distinct possibility too, although obviously not in the same numbers.

I saw several dark morph buteos today, and not all of them were Rough-legged Hawks. Truth be told, lighting conditions were so poor that practically all raptors looked dark. Plumage details like belly bands, patagial bars, color of the remiges (never mind tail!) were invisible on all but the closest birds. That's why today was such a wonderful day for honing one's hawk ID skills.

Before I tell you which bird that is at the top of today's entry - and why it is that species and no other - let's do a little ID quiz, see if you can identify it. If you click on the photo, you might be able to make out that this is a dark morph buteo of some kind. As I said, lighting is poor but the body feathers and underwing coverts do seem a shade darker than the rest of the bird.

Here's another dark buteo for comparison, also photographed today:

I counted 105 raptors today, a modest number for this part of the season. Tomorrow might not be much better, but as I said, Thursday through Saturday (and hopefully Sunday) should see a significant increase in hawk numbers, as conditions change from unfavorable to quite favorable.

I hope you have worked out the ID challenge by now, because Swainson's Hawk is not on today's tally, so neither of these dark morphs is a dark morph Swainson's. (And they're not dark morph broadwings either.) What I did see today were 2 Turkey Vultures, 1 Bald Eagle, 3 Northern Harriers, 56 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 30 Red-tailed Hawks, 12 Rough-legged Hawks, and 1 Golden Eagle.

Two buteo species then, redtail and roughleg. The top bird is a dark morph redtail. It is in fact the same individual I posted a photo of two days ago, identifiable by the abrasion in its right wing. But why is this a redtail, and not a roughleg? Look at length of the tail and at wing shape, and compare that to the same qualities in the second bird - you've guessed it, a roughleg. See how different that bird looks?

Note the relatively 'short hand' on the redtail versus the 'long hand' on the roughleg. Note the short, straight tail of the redtail versus the longer, slightly flared-out, more rounded tail of the roughleg. It would have been ideal if I had a shot of both birds in exactly the same position, for that would have shown a greater bulge on the trailing edge of the redtail's wing, compared to that of the roughleg. It's visible here too, but it's difficult to compare that feature on birds in slightly different postures.

Dark morph broadwing is relatively rare, and the shape of a broadwing is very different from either one of these birds, with its rather short, pointy wings and a thick neck, a stocky bird overall. Swainson's Hawk is perhaps closer in shape to Rough-legged Hawk, but its shape is somehow more curvy, with more fluid lines.

The dark morph redtail (technically an intermediate morph, see discussion here two days ago) was not alone today. There was also a pitch black adult dark morph redtail in the flock. With both these westerners around, and several light morph redtails that look suspiciously 'western-like', I think our chances for Swainson's Hawk are actually pretty good at the moment. It's also that time of year... I would not be surprised to get that bird before the end of the week.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rain (no count conducted)

Rain all day gives the hawk counter a day off, and Sharp-shinned Hawks a chance to grab something to eat around the bird feeders. I took this photo near the feeders behind the Owl's Roost this afternoon.

Before that, there was excitement on the tip of the point, but since that's really more Andy's turf and Chris and Nova's department (hint, hint), I'll let them tell that story.

Looks like tomorrow will have more bad weather in store. This is good, because what it means is that stuff will be backed up and the birding will be that much better for it, once it clears. Should be plenty of birds around on Members' Weekend (aka Spring Fling)...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sharpies take over

As Northern Harrier (31) and American Kestrel (only 8) took a back seat, Sharp-shinned Hawk took over with 270 counted today. Especially the first two hours of the count, they were zipping by constantly left and right, many of them very close, at eye level.

Other raptors counted today included 7 Turkey Vultures, 6 Ospreys, 6 Bald Eagles, 2 Cooper's Hawks, 72 Red-tailed Hawks, and 92 Rough-legged Hawks. Whitefish Point, incidentally, seems to be the only hawk watch reporting Rough-legged Hawks in any numbers right now. West Skyline (Duluth) for example has had only single-digit roughleg numbers recently, while other Great Lakes sites like Braddock Bay (Lake Ontario, near Rochester NY) and Derby Hill (eastern corner of Lake Ontario, also NY) haven't had big roughleg flights yet either. Of course Whitefish Point is known for being the premier spot in North America for witnessing Rough-legged Hawk migration.

Interestingly, another 'dark morph' Red-tailed Hawk was seen and photographed in the redtail flock today. Lighting condition were poor for most of the day, so the best photo I have is still not very good.

Hard to see in the photo but more apparent in the field was the barring on the undertail coverts, and the rufous cast to the chest and neck. Probably an 'intermediate' morph then, not a dark morph in the true sense of the word. Note the abrasion in the right wing, a feature not observed on the other bird two days ago.

And I'll throw this out as a teaser: I saw a redtail today whose upperside of the tail appeared to be red only on the distal part. The proximal half of the tail appeared to be white. Note that many redtails have light uppertail coverts, creating a whitish 'U' at the base of the tail. That's not what I saw. I saw partly white tail feathers. The bird was too far for me to reliably call it a Harlan's, but it was definitely a candidate. Had me scanning the redtail flock more thoroughly all afternoon... Hopefully this bird will show up again in the coming days.

Best bird today undoubtedly was a beautiful adult male Snowy Owl seen flying a couple of hundred yards out over Lake Superior along the north shore of Whitefish Point. Other birds of note included a second cycle Glaucous Gull, and a Greater Yellowlegs.

Note: Although we still have some snow on the ground here and there, the walkway up to the platform is now completely snow free.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Harriers and kestrels

Harriers and kestrels were practically the only raptors seen migrating in today's miserable weather. They're both well-known 'rain birds' that will sometimes show great flights in light rain, when other raptors take a day of rest. Almost half of today's 35 Northern Harriers was seen in the first hour of the count; by midday, their migration had slowed down and several could be seen hunting all afternoon. American Kestrel did almost as well as yesterday, with 24 for a day count. Other raptors on the tally included Turkey Vulture (4), Osprey (5), Sharp-shinned Hawk (3), Rough-legged Hawk (2), and Merlin (1).

Overall avian diversity around Whitefish Point is definitely increasing, with notable sightings today of one Short-eared Owl flying out over the bay, first Greater Yellowlegs I've seen here, first Wilson's Snipes, and first Northern Shovelers. Other species, like Common Loon, Common Merganser, Evening Grosbeak are starting to show up in greater numbers than before.

A correction to yesterday's post: one of the readers of this blog was kind enough to correct me regarding the distribution of American White Pelican. This species does actually breed in Ontario, namely in the Lake of the Woods and Lake Nipigon areas. Thanks David for providing that information!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Afternoon birds

Across the years, bird migration follows fairly fixed patterns, and yet it remains an exciting and unpredictable phenomenon from day to day. For me as a hawk counter, sometimes the first hour of the count can serve as an indicator of things to come, of how the day will play out. Today, when I had a kestrel in the first hour, I suspected something was up with that species, and I anticipated a larger flight. Same thing with Northern Harrier (adult female pictured above), although that bird is less unusual for the first hour. Both species tend to migrate (late) afternoons, and late today when all other raptors had settled down in the area and some could be seen hunting here and there, these two species alone were still actively migrating. Both counts were up dramatically from recent days, although I suspect that neither one reached their peak flight today. For American Kestrel, which got to 26 today, that is almost certainly not the case, as peak flights in recent years have hovered around the 100 mark, with an impressive day count of 206 on the 11th of April in 2006. In 2007 and 2008, the peak flight for this species was later, on April 22 and 21 respectively.

Northern Harrier reached 62 today, with a fairly even distribution of birds throughout the day. Last year's peak flight was 55 on April 16, while April 20, 2007 had 80, and April 11, 2006 had 76.

I stayed an hour later today than usual, and was rewarded with an extra 11 kestrels and 9 harriers. The overall count for all species today reached 342.

Another Osprey was the second of the season, after yesterday's bird. Soon, there will be more of them.

Still no Broad-winged Hawks today, although I feel a little better now, having looked at Whitefish Point's historical data for this species. Based on reports from other sites - practically everyone else has had it by now - I thought it was getting late to Whitefish Point this year. But last year and in 2006, the first bird showed up on the 15th, while in 2007, the species wasn't recorded until the 22nd of April. So they should be here any moment now, but they aren't really as late yet as I initially thought. I have to remind myself, this is Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where spring just arrives a bit later...

A few more Rough-legged Hawks today (68) as that flight gets underway, although I believe it could have been better if those southwest or west winds that they promised us had materialized. Perhaps the weather gods in their wisdom decided to keep this in the can for next weekend, Spring Fling. A Golden Eagle, 3 Red-shouldered Hawks, 5 Northern Goshawks and 3 Cooper's Hawks were among today's highlights.

An interesting bird today was this rare dark morph Red-tailed Hawk. The photo is of poor quality, and rather heavily back-lit. Still, dark body feathers and dark underwing coverts plus a red tail can be made out. Here's another photo of that bird with a 'normal' redtail for comparison. (Click on the photo for a larger view.)

This so-called dark morph is a color variant of the Red-tailed Hawk that is found only in western populations, where it is uncommon. Most Red-tailed Hawks seen on migration at Whitefish Point belong to the so-called 'borealis' race that breeds in eastern Canada and eastern US. Occasionally, I see some birds here that look more like western 'calurus' redtails than eastern 'borealis' redtails, although well-known raptor specialist (and former Whitefish Point hawk counter) Jerry Liguori has demonstrated how difficult it is to separate the light morphs of those two subspecies in the field. In this particular case, with a dark morph, it is of course quite easy.

Yesterday's pelican was again seen today. It probably realized the error of its ways and made a U-turn when it reached Ontario, where the species doesn't breed. Also seen today were several Tree Swallows, and large numbers of Sandhill Cranes.

Note: it should be easier now to leave comments here, as the settings have been changed, and registration is no longer required. Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts on this year's raptor migration at Whitefish Point.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Warm spring day

Beautiful weather today made for enjoyable hawk watching. Birds were lower during the first two hours of the count, then on light winds got higher. The Rough-legged Hawk flight picked up considerably, with 62 for a day count, making it the second most numerous hawk today. I think we can expect more for tomorrow, when - if the weather forecast is to be believed - conditions will be even better than today.

There was good stuff throughout the day, like the first Osprey of the season, three Golden Eagles, 14 Northern Harriers, 13 Bald Eagles, and an adult male Northern Goshawk, in addition to the 'usual', more abundant species like Sharp-shinned and Red-tailed Hawks. The total hawk count reached 270. Curiously absent - and now officially late - was Broad-winged Hawk. I searched through the redtail flock for them, but didn't find any. Maybe tomorrow...

Other birds seen from the platform today included a Boreal Chickadee, a Northern Shrike and a Glaucous Gull.

But the bird of the day undoubtedly was this American White Pelican! The bird flew directly over the platform. Not sure where this bird thought it was going, because it was heading ENE, while its nearest breeding grounds are to be found NW of here, in southern Manitoba and North Dakota.

Looking at historic data, I believe this sighting represent the earliest record by 5 days for this species for Whitefish Point.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sharpie flight starting

At Whitefish Point in spring, by far the most numerous raptor counted on migration is the Sharp-shinned Hawk. Six or more out of every ten hawks counted here is a sharpie. The sharpie flight has just begun, with decent numbers in the last three days, very little before that. Today's count for Sharp-shinned Hawk was 68, the highest so far this season. Soon, we will get (much) higher day counts than that.

The Rough-legged Hawk flight rebounded after yesterday's 'low' 8 birds. Today, 27 were seen, most of them in the afternoon.

The overall count for all species reached 151, with 12 Turkey Vultures, 6 Bald Eagles, 3 Northern Harriers, 1 Cooper's Hawk, 2 Red-shouldered Hawks, 27 Red-tailed Hawks, 3 American Kestrels, a Merlin, and a buteo that was too far to reliably identify beyond genus.

A third red-shoulder, an unusually pale individual, was recognized from days before and not added to the count. Here's a photo of that individual from yesterday:

The bird is practically unmarked on the chest and belly, quite unusual for this species. It's probably a bird in its second year - adult wing shape - and I'm guessing it was lightly marked to begin with. Now in spring its plumage is faded even further. Today was the third consecutive day for me to see this individual at Whitefish Point...

Singing everywhere on the point today were Eastern Phoebes, and Compton's Tortoiseshells were out and about, definite signs of spring!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Déjà vu?

After yesterday's curious scarcity of eagles, both eagle species were back in more or less full force today. Three Golden Eagles and 18 Bald Eagles were added to the count.

Mmm, three goldens... Didn't we see three goldens on several days recently? Repeat offenders maybe? Well, at least one of them was new, based on observed molt: P8 was missing in both wings. At hawk watches where birds stream through unimpeded, the hawk counter doesn't really need to concern himself with such minutiae. At peninsular sites, where birds mill around, it can be useful to keep track of plumage details on individual birds - whenever possible of course. As for the other two goldens... they were juveniles with varying amounts of white in the wings (like the bird pictured above). Similar-looking individuals were here a couple of days ago, but their plumage to me was not distinctive enough to recognize them in the field. I suspect that they have been at the Point before, but I can't be sure of that. Thus, I count them.

Only 8 Rough-legged Hawks for today was disappointing. Sandhill Crane on the other hand did well with 365 birds counted today. At the feeders, a Field Sparrow was found mixed in with some American Tree Sparrows. Field Sparrow is a fairly unusual bird around here, at the northern limit of its range.

Monday, April 13, 2009

More roughlegs and sharpies

Readers of this blog may have thought that yesterday's entry was written by Nostradamus himself, for it contained so many predictions for today. Some of those came true, some didn't.

We did get more Rough-legged Hawks than yesterday, for a total of 38. A normal figure for this time of year. We did not get more hawks overall, compared to yesterday. That probably had to do with the fact that SE winds were measured only on Whitefish Point today. The rest of the Upper Peninsula had east winds, and as local birder wisdom has it, "east is least" for spring migrants.

The three Golden Eagles were not seen again, and after yesterday's 26 Bald Eagles, it seems odd that today had only one. Something was apparently holding eagles down.

The total count for today was 182, with Sharp-shinned Hawk as most numerous species. I saw as many sharpies today as I've seen all season right up 'till yesterday. Obviously there are a lot more to come, and this is only the beginning.

Despite fairly low winds, most birds were not all that high today. Towards the end of the day, several low-flying Red-tailed Hawks set down in nearby Jack Pines, including the one pictured above in the pine right next to the platform!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

First rough-legged push

Sunny skies, light winds... birds were getting up there. This immature Golden Eagle was one of three goldens that was around all day, attempting to cross numerous times. Two of the three have been here at least three days now, and chances are we'll see them again tomorrow.

We'll probably see some Rough-legged Hawks also, quite possibly even higher numbers than today, but most if not all of those birds will be new individuals. Unlike Golden Eagles and Red-tailed Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks don't fear the water as much, and will continue beyond the Point. Recently, roughlegs started trickling through in very small numbers; today's total of 29 represents a first bigger push. The majority of these birds passed through in the afternoon, which bodes well for Easter Monday, I should think.

Weather-wise, tomorrow will be an improvement over today, so I'm willing to bet that today's total of 212 hawks will be surpassed tomorrow.

Other sightings today included a first-of-season Common Loon (flyby last hour); 174 Sandhill Cranes, a Double-crested Cormorant, a Northern Shrike, and a Pileated Woodpecker.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sunny skies

Saturday started out calm, but eventually a light morning breeze out of the north developed into a moderate NW wind in the afternoon. These mildly unfavorable conditions translated into a moderate showing of birds, with nine species of raptor on the count sheet, mostly of the same make and model as in previous days. Two of those birds were actually recognized as yesterday's leftovers, and consequently not added to the count: a sub-adult and a juvenile Golden Eagle. (Just how many of the 53 birds that did make it to the tally today were here already yesterday is anyone's guess... A well-known debate at peninsular count sites.)

The nice thing about wind is that it brings the birds lower, like with this juvenile Bald Eagle.

Also seen today an adult Glaucous Gull, a Bohemian Waxwing, a Red Crossbill, and 33 Sandhill Cranes.

Sunday and particularly Monday still look promising, with a return to a warming trend...

Friday, April 10, 2009

High flight

Sunny weather and light winds allow soaring hawks to get way up in the sky, like this sub-adult Golden Eagle did today. Still, Canada was too far off for this bird, because it tried to cross twice but came back both times. Later in the afternoon, a juvenile Golden Eagle was seen mixed in with the redtails.

That redtail flock grew to 68 individuals. None of them crossed. The total count today got to 114 - the best day of the season so far - and included 5 Turkey Vultures, 12 Bald Eagles, 3 Northern Harriers, 10 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 2 Northern Goshawks, 3 Red-shouldered Hawks, 6 Rough-legged Hawks, an American Kestrel, 2 Merlins and the aforementioned redtails and Golden Eagles.

In the tree next to the hawk platform was this adult male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Sandhill Cranes continued to migrate in smaller numbers today compared to yesterday. Their daily total got to 45.

Sunny skies and light to moderate north winds are in the forecast for Saturday, which may produce a similar hawk flight. Sunday suddenly looks interesting, with - hey - higher temperatures and - wait, that can't be right - south winds...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Trending upwards

After high winds these past few days, we seem to be entering a relatively calm period with light winds, mostly from northerly directions. Although not great for hawk migration, it is certainly an improvement over what we had, and this is borne out by the totals.

Today's count got to 54, a normal count for this part of the season. Almost half that number were Red-tailed Hawks, and for a good part of the day, all these redtails were on the wing simultaneously. Today's two Rough-legged Hawks did not mill around, but came up to the point and crossed, never to be seen again. Also today a few Turkey Vultures sauntering; note the adult bird pictured above molting its sixth primary in each wing.

Small groups of Sandhill Cranes were seen migrating across the point throughout the day; their total got to 142.

I expect to be getting higher numbers of hawks over the next few days, but a lot of them will likely be dots in the sky. Birds tend to go high on light winds...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

About that gos...

Last week, I posted a link to my other blog where I discussed a lightly marked Goshawk. It looked kinda like a gos in coop's clothing - the unmarked undertail coverts and the lightly streaked body are unusual for Goshawk and really more suggestive of a Cooper's Hawk. However, everything else clearly pointed in the way of Goshawk. I guess I tried to make it more of an ID challenge than it really was. All reactions I got agreed with that Northern Goshawk ID.

Here she is again - for it is indeed a she - with her mate! Our lightly marked immature gos appears to have hooked up with an adult male. I actually saw both birds flying more or less together last week, but not quite as a close as we see them here. In the top photo, the male appears to be leading his lady.

Here is another - vague, distant - shot of our two lovebirds, now with the male chasing the female, while she turns her head to make sure she is indeed being pursued.

As expected, hawk migration today remained fairly slow around here. It was a little warmer than yesterday, but still quite windy. Sixteen migrants showed up, including two Golden Eagles, a Northern Harrier, the third Turkey Vulture of the season, also the third roughleg of the season, an adult Cooper's Hawk, and a Merlin.

So far this season, numbers disappoint, but let me ask you this: at which other spring hawk watch do Golden Eagles outnumber Turkey Vultures ten to one?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

More snow

This Sandhill Crane decided that snow or no snow - today was the time to migrate across Whitefish Point. Most other migrants were wiser than that, and stayed put. A Merlin was seen hunting Snow Buntings on the beach, and a Bald Eagle cruised low over the harbor. No other raptors were seen, and I'm guessing a good many of them didn't even leave their perch today.

Looking at the rest of the week, the weather forecast offers little to cling to. After Wednesday, a ridge of high pressure will develop, with drier air and sunnier conditions for the UP, but still no south winds, and no substantial warming trend. Consequently, strong hawk migration is not to be expected, although we are now entering that part of the season in which most days should see at least some hawk movement.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Redtails and falcons

Eighteen hawks counted today is not much, but hey - still fifteen better than yesterday! Throughout the day, redtails kept coming up to the point, only to turn around for another try. On north winds (or later, northwest) there is just no way that they will cross the 17 mile gap across Whitefish Bay to Ontario.

Falcons on the other hand will cross the bay on any wind, no problem. Two Merlins were seen doing this today, and a Peregrine Falcon was first spotted perched on a snag before it took off and went on its way too.

At the time of writing, not many hawk watches have yet posted their totals for today on, but it's interesting that several count sites that already have, also reported both falcons.

Interesting non-raptor sightings today included both waxwing species, both crossbills, both redpolls of course, and three small groups of Sandhill Cranes, for a total of 11 cranes.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Cold & blustery

What little hawk action there was today at Whitefish Point was mostly provided by locally staging birds, such as two Northern Goshawks (immature female pictured above) and a Merlin. These birds flew past the platform a couple of times, before returning to the woods southwest. A Bald Eagle, a Red-tailed Hawk and a Sharp-shinned Hawk were the only birds deemed worthy to be added to the count.

The weather forecast for Sunday - and indeed for the rest of the week - does not look favorable for hawk migration. South (or, ideally, southwest) winds is what we need, but north winds is what we apparently will be getting for a while.

Friday, April 3, 2009


Snow today, heavy at times, kept a lid on hawk migration over Whitefish Point. Only a couple of presumed resident Bald Eagles were seen. Both birds landed in the dunes, where earlier several Ravens also had stooped down, probably on a carcass.

A few days ago, I posted a photo here of an immature accipiter, which I called a Northern Goshawk. Well, as some of my readers may have wondered, if that was a gos, it certainly was an unusual one. For anyone interested in hawk identification, a fairly detailed discussion of that bird, with additional photos in support of the ID, can be found on my other blog. I still think it's a gos, but I'm interested in hearing other people's opinions of this bird.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Triple digits!

Yes, triple digits, but only barely: 100 birds. Still, easily the best day so far, with good SW winds in the morning to get things going. Towards midday, winds diminished and birds were able to get to stratospheric heights; even light NE winds in the afternoon did not shut things down. For a while, it really was Bald Eagle Expressway up there, with regularly several eagles in line moving through.

Variety was even higher than yesterday, with 11 species of raptor seen today, including the first Peregrine Falcon of the season. Highest counts were for Bald Eagle (38), Red-tailed Hawk (33) and Red-shouldered Hawk (14).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Nice variety

Today's south winds brought a nice variety of raptors to Whitefish Point, with both eagles, all three accipiters, and the first roughleg of the season. Even though the numbers remained relatively modest (28), there was hawk action going on pretty much all day, as many hawks kept coming up to the point, only to turn around in fear of all that icy water. Most of these birds were low and quite a few were right on deck at the hawk platform, such as the adult Red-shouldered Hawk pictured above.

One of the Red-tailed Hawks today was a so-called partial albino: a bird with some white flight feathers.

This is unusual, though not very rare in redtails. Here's a (distant) view of its upperside, showing those white feathers more prominently. (Click on the image for a bigger view.)

Also seen today were 2 American Black Ducks (fos) and a Great Blue Heron (fos). The Eastern Meadowlark continues around the lighthouse.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is partly cloudy, highs in the lower 40s, and southwest winds 5 to 15 mph. These are pretty much ideal conditions, folks! If you've been thinking about coming up to the hawk watch one of these days, then Thursday is definitely the day to pick. Friday it's back to north winds and more snow, and more of the same on the weekend...