Saturday, September 26, 2015

Raptor and non-raptor count summaries 18-26 September 2015

As I write this on September 26th, fog is still covering the Ridge, and has been for the better part of four days now. When the sun does finally come out, you can bet there will be loads of birds! The raptor flight has been excellent the last week, and we have now counted nearly 50,000 raptors for the season. The highlight came on Saturday of Hawk Weekend when an awesome flight of 16,815 Broad-winged Hawks kettled high over the Ridge. As many as three dark-morph Broad-wings were seen, one of which was low enough in the morning for many visitors to get a good look. Although this flight was probably the peak for Broad-wings this season, since they generally fly in a very narrow window in mid-September, the next week or two will likely bring the best diversity of raptors, with peak numbers of Sharp-shinned Hawks expected (usually the second-most common raptor). We have been getting healthy numbers of Peregrines as well, and expect them to peak at the end of this month, when day counts as high as 38 have been tallied.

Non-raptors have also been seen in huge numbers the last week, with over 255,000 already counted for the season, leading me to dub this the 2015 Songbird Super Flight. We had an overwhelming mass migration on September 22nd when a total of 20,762 non-raptors flew by the Ridge and the shore. As I wrote on the daily Hawkcount updates (, sunrise that day brought pandemonium as birds were flying everywhere, with a highly diverse flight of many different kinds of birds vaulting themselves through out counting airspace. No one person could possibly see all those birds, and it took an entire team of people to cover the flight just on the Ridge. My thanks to counters Alex Lamoreaux and Kaija Gahm, as well as volunteers Karen Stubenvoll, Reed Turner, and Jan and Larry Kraemer for their help with this exceptional flight. Highlights that day included 278 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (record high MN count), 278 Northern Flickers, 2595 Blue Jays mixing with 4532 American Robins (usually these two species take turns, with robins building in numbers well after the jays are mostly done, but on this date they flew together), a total of 9761 warblers including 1868 Yellow-rumped Warblers and 7294 unidentified warblers, and 1144 White-throated Sparrows. These bird blitzes are something to behold! And no doubt there will several more mass migration events in the next few weeks as the inevitable cold weather drives even more birds down the North Shore migration highway. I expect the next two weeks to be bring the peak flights of the season, the bulk of which will be made up of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Rusty Blackbirds, and American Robins, but many other species will be moving as well.

Blue Jay migrating down the shore with lunch, a bright red cherry!

This is the last thing a small bird sees before a diving Sharp-shinned Hawk grabs it in its talons! 

Northern Flicker in flight at Hawk Ridge. 
Adult male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in flight. On September 22nd, this sight was repeated 278 times, the highest number of sapsuckers that have ever been seen in one day in Minnesota, though no doubt many more were missed, since there were many other birds moving that day too. 

The highlight of the last week, and maybe the whole fall, was this juvenile Mississippi Kite seen flying directly over the Ridge on September 21st, where it put on quite a show of catching dragonflies for all to see. Although this species is semi-regular at Hawk Ridge (more records here than anywhere else in MN), with ten records in the last nine years, it is usually only seen for a few minutes, and is seldom photographed.
Karl Bardon
Count Director
Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory

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