Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Raptor and non-raptor count summary October 16-28, 2015

Well I know y’all have been waiting anxiously to find out if we reached our goal of counting half a million birds this season, so I figured I better write a new blog just to give an update. Our totals are now 73,099 raptors and 420,615 non-raptors, so we only need 6286 birds to fly by before the end of November to hit our magic mark. With the current redpoll invasion gathering force, I feel pretty sure this will happen soon. Other than finches, most non-raptors have moved south already- but we are getting a good variety of finches, with all the "winter finch" species represented in at least small numbers. The variety of raptors moving through is also decreasing, with most early season species (like Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Cooper's Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, and American Kestrel) pretty much gone for the season. But we have had great flights of the later season species, including 15 Northern Goshawks on October 16th, 898 Red-tailed Hawks, 146 Bald Eagles, and 21 Golden Eagles on October 17th, and 61 Rough-legged Hawks on October 25th. This is the peak time of year for all of these later species, so hopes are high for an awesome flight as soon as the rain clears out this Thursday and Friday, October 29-30th.

Female Mountain Bluebird in flight over the main overlook at Hawk Ridge on October  24th, only the second one I have seen from Hawk Ridge. Alex Lamoreaux, Steve Kolbe, Kaija Gahm, Anna Fasoli and I watched in astonishment as this bird flew in from the lake and came directly over our heads! How is that for lucky timing?

Flock of Common Redpolls in flight at Hawk Ridge. Redpolls are the most common non-raptor now, with thousands already moving south, including 1867 on October 26th, our best day so far this season. We are hoping there will be a large flight of redpolls in the next few weeks that will push us over our goal of counting half a million birds. Although redpolls typically come south in large numbers every other year, this will be the second year in a row of big numbers. In 2013 we had zero redpolls counted, while in 2014 we counted 38,440 redpolls, including a peak of 8,435 on 9 November 2014.

Townsend's Solitaire in flight over Hawk Ridge on October 5th, our first of the season. Obviously not a great photo, but it shows what birds often look like when they fly by, allowing us to key in on fields marks like this bird's long tail, gray plumage, and striking buffy wing-bar. There have been three other solitaires seen in the area, including one each from the Main banding station, the Moose Valley banding station, and from Summit Ledges.

A partial albino Red-tailed Hawk at Hawk Ridge on October 22nd. We see about five partial albino Red-tailed Hawks each season, all with varying amount of white in the plumage, but this bird is the favorite one I have seen so far because of the dramatic contrast between the red tail and the white upper side.

Yet another poor photo, but again, this is how most of the birds we see actually look. This is a light morph adult Harlan's Hawk, one of about four already seen this season. Although most people think of Harlan's Hawk as chiefly a dark morph subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk, they also occur in a light morph, and I have realized the last few years that we actually get more light morph Harlan's at Hawk Ridge than dark morphs, even though light morphs are apparently only a small percentage of the population. The challenge is picking them out, especially when they are flying high overhead! This bird shows the clean white base plumage with no rufous tones typical of light morph Harlan's- also note the thick dark patagial bars, distinct blob-like belly band markings without much additional fine cross barring, dense marbling and barring in the flight feathers (rather than distinct well spaced barring as in other subspecies), and some marbling barely visible in the tail feathers.
Here is another light morph Harlan's this season at Hawk Ridge, on October 25th, in direct comparison to a typical Eastern Red-tailed Hawk, showing the clean white base plumage with no rufous tones, extensive white mottling in the head, distinct blob-like belly band, barring in the outer primaries, and longitudinal dark streaks in the tail. For a sample of the variation in light morph Harlan's, feel free to visit my gallery of Red-tails seen in Manitoba in spring (

This little cutie pie came to our bird seed at Hawk Ridge for several days, a partial albino Dark-eyed Junco.
Karl Bardon
Count Director
Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory

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