November was exceptionally slow; after the great flight of 155 Rough-legs, 141 Bald Eagles, and 21 Golden Eagles on November 2nd, the average count was only 51 birds per day. Even though several large cold fronts moved through during the month, the predicted large eagle flight never occurred. A trickle of eagles, Rough-legs and goshawks continued through the end of the month.
On December 2nd-4th, a three day blizzard dumped about 30 inches of snow on Duluth, and on December 5th and 6th when the weather finally cleared I skied up to Hawk Ridge to see what might be flying. Since we had only got a few inches of snow previously, I figured this megastorm would motivate any remaining raptors to leave the northland. In two days of watching at the Ridge in brutally cold conditions, there were over 231 Bald Eagles, 2 Golden Eagles, 3 Red-tails, 10 Rough-legs, and 5 Northern Goshawks. Apparently these are the highest numbers of Bald Eagles counted in December.
The season ended with a total of 43,133 raptors seen, which is the tenth season in a row of below average numbers. Nevertheless, there were some fun highlights, and it was a still a great season to be at the Ridge. Here is a quick species by species summary of the fall 2013 raptor count:
· Turkey Vulture (1088): slightly below average numbers
· Osprey (277): continued below average numbers
· Bald Eagle (4466): continued above average numbers, peak of 342 on 19 October
· Northern Harrier (368): slightly below average
· Sharp-shinned Hawk (13,270): slightly below average, peak of 1090 on 2 October
· Cooper’s Hawk (120): slightly below average, peak of 17 on 2 October
· Northern Goshawk (159): well below average, and clear now that there will not be an invasion during this 10-year cycle (we were due for an invasion in 2012)
· Broad-winged Hawk (14,983): lowest season since 2001, peak of 7228 on 12 September; there were 5 dark morphs (the most I have counted in a season);
· Swainson’s Hawk (5): slightly below average number, but record late light adult on 6 November
· Red-tailed Hawk (6146): seventh year in a row of below average numbers, peak of 1135 on 21 October; total includes 1 light adult Harlan’s, 1 light adult Krider’s, 2 partial albinos, and 33 dark/rufous adult Westerns (less than usual)
· Rough-legged Hawk (518): average numbers, including excellent number of juveniles, and great flight of 155 on November 2nd (third highest count)
· Golden Eagle (136): continued above average numbers, peak of 21 on 2 November
· American Kestrel (1200): eleventh year in a row of below average counts, peak of 246 on 1 October
· Merlin (169): slightly below average, including 1 Richardson’s type on 2 November
· Peregrine Falcon (154): record season, including record day of 33 on 30 September (previous high count was 21 on 29 September 1997)
· Mississippi Kite (2): single birds on 27 August and 4 September; fourth year in a row this Casual species has been seen at the Ridge.
The raptor count may have been low, but the non-raptor flight was truly exceptional this season. The season total of 283,484 migrating non-raptors was the second highest count to date, which includes 176,466 counted from the Lester River shore site in the early morning, and 107,018 counted from the Hawk Ridge main overlook throughout the entire day. For the last four seasons, these two counts have been combined to yield a composite total of non-raptors. The abundance of birds this season was overwhelming at times, and we were witness to multiple mass migration events when the flow of birds was close to uncountable. Here is a quick species by species summary of some of the most significant non-raptors seen this fall:
· Greater White-fronted Goose (1): one on 5 September, rare for Duluth
· Ross’s Goose (6): average number, considered rare in Duluth
· Cackling Goose (20): exceptionally low season! (previous average is 854); where were all the Cackling Geese?
· Canada Goose (8244): above average number, peak 1106 on 15 September
· American White Pelican (362): above average number, peak of 156 on 3 September
· Double-crested Cormorant (781): best season to date by far, peak of 244 on 2 September
· Sandhill Crane (418): average season, peak of 169 on 6 October
· Upland Sandpiper (1): one on 5 September, rare for Duluth
· Red-necked Phalarope (56): single flock on 20 August, unusually high number for Duluth
· Eurasian Collared-Dove (1): one on 2 October, only second record for Duluth
· Common Nightahwk (43,011): best season to date, peak of 30,874 on 21 August (second highest state count)
· Red-headed Woodpecker (5): above average count, all 5 seen on 11 September (rare in Duluth)
· Black-backed Woodpecker (2): only 2 sightings, same as last year (unusually low numbers); previous average 2007-2011 was 54
· Eastern Kingbird (368): above average number, peak of 283 on 21 August was record high count for state
· Blue Jay (29,477): average count, peak of 5627 on 16 September was second highest count for state
· American Crow (11,120): average season, peak of 1607 on 19 October
· Common Raven (1127): above average count, peak of 107 on 19 October
· Cliff Swallow (2567): above average count, peak of 1028 on 19 August
· Boreal Chickadee (4): more than usual
· Eastern Bluebird (1,170): record season with record high count of 262 on 18 October
· Mountain Bluebird (2): both seen together on 26 October, rare in Duluth
· Gray-cheeked Thrush: record high count of 34 heard pre-dawn on 7 September
· Swainson’s Thrush (9): although only 9 identified during the day, a total of 77 catharus thrushes were seen flying over during the day (more than usual), and I made an estimate of at least 1229 flying over at night (probably many more), including 500+ on 12 September
· American Robin (47339): average total; peak of 4595 on 3 October
· American Pipit (1572): above average total; peak of 345 on 2 October
· Cedar Waxwing (41,608): record high season; peak of 6322 on 20 August, second highest state count
· Warblers (33,591): best season since I started counting in 2007, with a peak of 11,674 on 29 September (fourth highest state count)
· Lapland Longspur (180): below average count
· Snow Bunting (644): average count, peak of 201 on 26 October
· Rose-breasted Grosbeak (174): above average count, peak of 107 on 11 September was highest state count
· Red-winged Blackbird (3540): below average count, peak of 888 on 22 August
· Rusty Blackbird (18,688): above average count, peak of 5246 on 13 October was third highest count for state
· Common Grackle (2535): average count, peak of 695 on 16 October
· Pine Grosbeak (36): lowest count to date, previous average is 737!
· Purple Finch (1769): below average count, peak of 261 on 11 September
· Red Crossbill (18): lowest count to date, previous average is 776!
· White-winged Crossbill (none!): lowest count to date, previous average is 1322!
· Common Redpoll (none!): lowest count to date, previous average is 9526!
· Pine Siskin (66): lowest count to date, previous average is 4572!
· American Goldfinch (12,239): record season, peak of 3585 on 2 October was new state high count
· Evening Grosbeak (15): lowest count to date, previous average is 68
Count Director, Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory