November has seemed to be a non-stop cold front, with unseasonably cold temperatures and NW winds virtually every day. Not surprisingly, raptor flights have been quite good, with decent numbers of Bald and Golden Eagles, Northern Goshawks, and especially high numbers of Rough-legged Hawks. The best day was on November 11th when 126 Rough-legs and 32 Golden Eagles were counted during the end of a snowstorm. This was certainly one of the better days I have seen at Hawk Ridge, and perhaps the fourth best day on record for these two species. This is already the third best Rough-leg season for Hawk Ridge- the best season since 1999. And so with almost two more weeks of counting, we are hoping for even more of these wonderful buteos. Although the season count for Bald Eagles is already very high (over 4800), I have been surprised that more eagles haven’t been seen during this long stretch of very cold temperatures and strong NW winds. Usually these conditions generate a “freeze-up” flight of Bald Eagles, but perhaps the persistent northwest winds have kept many of the lakes to our north open.
Finches have continued to dominate the non-raptor flight and have broken all expectations of what was even possible. We have now counted 106,147 finches this season, which is the most ever, including 51,322 Pine Siskins and 34,440 Common Redpolls. They just keep coming and coming, with flights of over 1000 every day for the last two weeks, including a peak of 8,435 Common Redpolls on November 9th. This is the second best flight of redpolls I have seen, and the third highest count for the state. But amazing as these numbers have been during the day, there is strong evidence that even more finches have been migrating at night. The USFWS Avian Radar Project had a radar unit stationed at Little Marais for most of the fall, and they reported very good nocturnal migration during the first third of November, which in my opinion could only be finches (there are not any other birds migrating in significant numbers at this time). Although I did not previously know finches migrate at night, many of us have recently heard siskins and redpolls at night and in pre-dawn. So if over 100,000 finches have been seen in the day, how many additional hundreds of thousands have come over at night?! The numbers must be staggering, and certainly underscore how little we actually know about migration.
Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory
|Second-year Northern Goshawk swooping around to have another go at the owl decoy. Note the mix of brown juvenile feathers with grayer adult feathers, which helps us age this bird.|
|Second-year Northern Goshawk coming down low against the trees- always nice to have something other than blue sky as the background in raptor photos!|
|One of over 51,000 Pine Siskins counted in flight this season, showing shorter tail, shorter neck, stubbier shape, and browner plumage than Common Redpoll (not to mention the yellow wing stripe and more streaked plumage)|