Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hawk Ridge count summary 2-16 November 2014

Hawk Ridge count summaries 2-16 November 2014

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.

Karl Bardon
Count Director
Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory

Adult male Rough-legged Hawk swooping by the owl decoy at Hawk Ridge. Note the almost complete lack of a belly band (limited to just some barring on the flanks) and the dark head and breast, almost mimicking the pattern of a Swainson's Hawk. Adult male Rough-legs can usually be distinguished from females by a less solidly colored belly band with at least some barring or spotting, and multiple tail bands. Males are also usually grayer in plumage and more compact in shape than females. Happily, this bird does not have a patagial streak. This blog is dedicated to Jo Fritz, who loves Rough-legged Hawks! (and who better get here soon!)

Second-year Northern Goshawk swooping by the owl decoy at Hawk Ridge. Probably the best Gos photo I  have taken at Hawk Ridge!These are elusive birds indeed! Although very adult-like from below, SY birds can usually be more easily distinguished from adults by looking at the upperside (next photo)

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)
One of over 34,000 Common Redpoll counted in flight the last few weeks, showing longer tail, longer neck, fatter body and whiter plumage than Pine Siskin (not to mention the red cap, black throat, and red breast!). Every time one of these little guys flies over, I ask him if its going to be a hard winter, but they don't seem to know. No doubt these phenomenal numbers are a clear indication of the very long, very hard winter ahead. I am looking forward to it!

Male Common Redpoll showing off its red breast. Amazing numbers of these colorful, hardy little birds have been coming through Duluth, so hopefully some will show up at your feeder! They especially love expensive things like  thistle and sunflower chips, but will also eat ordinary old cheap black oil sunflower seeds. Yea, I know, the cyclic arrival of these birds to our area really has nothing to do with the severity of the winter, but is instead a result of wild food crops (such as birch seeds) to our north. Last winter we had one of the worst winters on record, and nary a redpoll was to be seen.

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