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...

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