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

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hawk Ridge Banding Report, September 1-15

Passerine Banding Report

Passerine banding happened 11 days during the period of Sept. 1-15. Traffic has been lighter during this time with 347 birds banded. We continued to catch an astounding array of warblers with 17 species represented, and a total of 35 species of birds banded overall for this stretch. Beyond the warblers there were 3 species of flycatchers, 3 vireo species, 2 species of wrens, 2 thrushes and 3 species of sparrows. Some interesting and more unusual visitors to the passerine banding station included a Scarlet Tanager, and a Savannah Sparrow. The flycatchers, an early season migrant, began to taper off during this period; the last of them may have been banded on the 15th of September. Later season migrants are starting to trickle in with the first Ruby-crowned Kinglet arriving on September 13th. Top three positions of numbers of birds banded still belong to American Redstarts at 82 for the season followed by Nashville Warblers and Tennessee Warblers with 48 and 42 respectively for the season. 9 birds were recaptured during this time period.

Passerine banding at the overlook is conducted on Sundays, as an educational aspect of teaching the importance of banding as a research tool. Many come out to view the banding program, especially families. Songbird banding at the overlook had a fairly slow first couple of Sundays in September. Winds were predominantly from the south for both sessions, so few birds were moving. A total of 13 birds were banded with 7 species represented. White-throated Sparrows hold the lead at 6 birds, but 2 Brown Creepers, a Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, American Redstart, Black-capped Chickadee, and Blue Jay were also banded. In addition to the new birds, 2 Black-capped Chickadees were recaptured. One was a bird banded the 8th of September in 2013. It was an after hatch year bird in 2013, so now at least 3 years old. The other chickadee was banded in the fall of 2014.
Margie Menzies and David Alexander
Hawk Ridge Passerine Banders-in-Charge

Black-throated Green Warbler by Andy Witchger

Raptor Banding Report

We were able to get some coverage at the stations during good hawk movements with David Alexander and Miranda Durbin covering Moose Valley and Paine Farm, and myself along with Reed Turner, Alan Moss and Ryan Steiner covering the main Hawk Ridge station, which resulted in  catching 915 raptors during the period. Certainly the highlights were another adult Bald Eagle captured at Moose Valley, two Peregrine Falcons, and the season's first Northern Goshawk. One of the Peregrine Falcons was a bird banded as a nestling along the north shore of Lake Superior near Sugar Loaf Cove. We had some help in the stations from volunteers who are in the process of learning and helping with banding.

Hatch-year male Peregrine Falcon by Alex Lamoreaux
The totals are as follows: Bald Eagle-1, Northern Harrier-14, Sharp-shinned Hawk-807, Cooper's Hawk-16, Northern Goshawk-1, Broad-winged Hawk-7, Red-tailed Hawk-12, American Kestrel-20, Merlin-35 and Peregrine Falcon-2.

Jenny Rieke with a hatch-year male Northern Harrier by Kate Nicoletti

We are excited to start another owl banding season as well with Ryan Steiner in charge of the nightly duties. He will be  assisted by this season's trainees Reed and Alan along a few volunteers.

Abbie Valine with Merlin, by Miranda Durbin
Miranda Durbin with adult Bald Eagle, by Hawk Ridge volunteer

Bruce Munson with hatch year female Cooper's Hawk by Karen Stubenvoll

Frank Nicoletti
Hawk Ridge Banding Director

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

New Public Program Offerings This Fall!

New Public Program Offerings This Fall!

By Margie Menzies, Public Program Director
Fall is in the air, and I'm excited to be in my fifth season at Hawk Ridge. I love spending my fall outside taking part in everything fall has to offer, including another wonderful year observing the migration season first hand. This year I have taken on the role of coordinating public programs for Hawk Ridge, and have been busy over the summer setting up all sorts of things to provide Hawk Ridge visitors more great opportunities to learn more about the birds.

Margie with hatch year Broad-winged Hawk (photo by Hawk Ridge staff)

Minnesota Birds Evening Speaker Series

Have you been following the travels of “Jack #53” the Satellite transmitter fitted adult male Golden Eagle banded at Hawk Ridge in fall of 2013, and want an update about Jack and other Golden Eagles with transmitters? What about those feisty, fascinating Black-capped Chickadees in your backyard or the Peregrine Falcons nesting along Lake Superior? If any or all these topics sound interesting to you, then you are in luck, we have started a new series of programs this fall at Hawk Ridge featuring our Minnesota Birds and what we have been learning about them.  The series is taking place at 7 pm on Saturday Evenings, Sept. 27th, and Oct. 10th, 17th & 24th at Hartley Nature Center, and will be free to Hawk Ridge and Hartley members with a suggested $5 donation from anyone else who would like to come. We started the series with Sparky Stensaas on Saturday September  5 then continued with Dr. Jerry Niemi on Saturday September 12, and had a great turnout for our first two events. See the Hawk Ridge website for the full schedule and much more information, and come join us to learn more about Minnesota birds!
Black-capped Chickadee (photo by Laura Erickson)

Evening Owl Programs

Most visitors to Hawk Ridge are aware of the daytime movement of birds, but many are unaware that our efforts to learn more about birds continue on through the night! Evening Owl Programs will shine a light onto the mysterious nature of the nocturnal migrants flying over Hawk Ridge on Oct. 3rd and of course on Oct. 31, Owl-o-ween! Participants will learn about the research methods being used to study owl activity in the area as well as how to identify many of the species that can be observed in Northern Minnesota by sight and sound. This year the programs will be held at 8 pm at the Hawk Ridge Overlook classroom area weather permitting or at Hartley Nature Center if the weather turns sour. Cost is $5.00 per person and there is a limit of 60 tickets per event. Tickets are available through the Hawk Ridge website, or for purchase at the Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve main overlook merchandise trailer or by calling (218) 428-6209 between 9am-4pm. Laura Erickson will be presenting our October 31st program!
Northern Saw-whet Owl (photo by Karen Stubenvoll)

Private Owl Programs

Speaking of Owls, are you interested in a smaller group owl experience? This year we are offering just a few private owl programs which can be scheduled in advance for group sizes of up to 8. Depending on the night, the program will last roughly 1.5 to 2 hours and could involve  watching the banding of owls captured, their release back to the wild, and certainly the opportunity to learn much more about the owls found in our area as well as those migrating through. This experience is dependent on weather and available staff. Contact Margie Menzies, to learn more and arrange this unique opportunity.
Barred Owl (photo by Hawk Ridge staff)

When the Large Birds Soar (2-day workshop)

There are just a few spots left and still time to register for the 2-day "When the Large Birds Soar" (Oct. 10 and 11) workshop session. Explore why Hawk Ridge is such an exceptional place to see fall bird migrations, experience first-hand some of the research efforts at the Ridge, including the raptor, passerine, and owl banding stations, follow daily trends to see how the 2015 season is stacking up. This a great opportunity for close up views of a wide variety of bird species! More information available on the Hawk Ridge website:
Adult Red-tailed Hawk (photo by Chris Neri)

Advanced Hawkwatching Workshops
 Join Dave Carman on Oct. 17 for Advanced Hawkwatching in the afternoon, or Family Hawkwatching in the morning. Go to our public program calendar at for details.
Rough-legged Hawk (photo by Chris Neri)

Morning Bird Hikes at Hawk Ridge

Saturday and Wednesday mornings through September and October, our naturalist Clinton Nienhaus will be leading 8:00 am bird hikes at Hawk Ridge. Bring your binoculars, wear good walking shoes and meet Clinton at the overlook to explore the amazing trails and ecosystems contained within the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory. Every day of the fall migration provides a unique glimpse into the stories of the birds, their migratory journeys, and their interactions with critical habitat on route to their winter homes. No need to sign up in advance, just show up ready to go. Suggested donation $5.00. Morning bird hikes are weather dependent, and may be cancelled due to rain.
Clinton is ready for a hike! (photo by Karen Stubenvoll)

Weekend Public Programs at Hawk Ridge

Weekends at the Overlook have a number of opportunities to learn more about birds, migration, and hawk watching. Look for morning and afternoon programming options on Saturday and Sunday. No need to register in advance for these programs. Sunday mornings, stop by to see what sorts of songbirds are being banded at the Overlook. More information available on the bulletin board at the overlook. Stop in to see what’s happening, or look at the Hawk Ridge calendar online at in advance to see what’s on the schedule.
Blue Jay (photo by Katie Rymer)
More events coming soon...!!

Keep your eyes and ears peeled for more information on other opportunities still being developed like the kid's mini-Race for the Birds event coming in October, special events on Owl-o-ween, October 31st, or guided hikes to Summit Ledges to explore the connection between geology and bird migration, and a less viewed outstanding overlook for amazing looks at migrating birds.  Look for more details soon!
Hawk Ridge Vista (photo by Karen Stubenvoll)

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Working with Schools from Pittsburgh to Belize to Duluth!

Hello and Happy Hawk Weekend! My name is Amy Feinstein and I am thrilled to be joining Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory as School Program Director for the 2015 fall migration season. School is back in session, classes are starting to make their way up to the Ridge to learn about hawks and falcons and eagles, and I’m ready to help inspire them to care for birds as much as I do. At the same time, I get the opportunity do learning of my own and see more hawks than I've ever seen before.

I've loved birds ever since I got a pet cockatiel when I was nine years old, but I was actually a music major in college (I played the cello at the University of Pittsburgh). As soon as I graduated, I decided to explore my love for birds, and I spent a summer interning with the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, where I had the opportunity to feed and care for raptors, even though I couldn’t handle them yet. Luckily for me, I got a job that same summer working as a Zoo Camp counselor at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. I ended up staying there for 7 years, working my way up from camp counselor to teaching overnight programs to becoming a year-round Education Specialist. And it wasn’t too long before I was handling Great Horned Owls, Screech Owls, and American Kestrels (as well as macaws, ducks, porcupines, tarantulas, and boa constrictors!).

Izzy the cockatiel, the bird who inspired it all. 

By that time I knew that environmental education was the right path for me, so I completed a Master’s in Zoology (with a focus on Conservation Education) at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, while still working at the Zoo. That degree gave me the opportunity to travel and see birds and other animals all over the world, including Baja California, the Peruvian Amazon, and even Mongolia.

My first experience with mist nets, in Peru. I was very happy before they all became a tangled mess.

Last year I put that degree and travel experience to good use by volunteering with Ya’axché Conservation Trust in Punta Gorda, Belize, for 7 months. I worked as an environmental educator, helping students and farmers better understand the value of sustainable agriculture and prepare for the effects of climate change. I also wrote an Education Strategy for the organization, helping to focus the education department for the next 3 years. I didn’t mind at all that there was some great birding to be done while I was down there, as well…

All this experience has been a perfect lead-in to my time here at Hawk Ridge, where I have the opportunity to share my enthusiasm for birds and the environment with as many people as possible, as well as hone my own raptor identification skills. I am so excited to be part of this team of wonderful people and hope to meet you all this season up at the Ridge!

Amy Feinstein
School Program Director
Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Raptor and non-raptor count summaries September 5-17th

The last two weeks have been busy at Hawk Ridge, despite a long period of warm temperatures and south winds. The birds don't seem to mind heading into the wind, even the warblers. For example, the last two days have had excellent warbler flights of 1500-2,000 each day despite the strong SW winds. Warblers have been the highlight of the non-raptor flights recently, with excellent diversity still available before the flight shifts over to mostly Yellow-rumps. On September 9th we identified 22 species of warblers, which is especially impressive since most of these were identified in flight! The season total for warblers is now over 44,000, certainly our best season ever- but the amazing part is that this doesn't even include the push of Yellow-rumps which comes in late September and early October (and is always the bulk of the warbler total). It is pretty much guaranteed we will see some additional very large warbler flights in the next few weeks. Over 210,000 non-raptors have already been counted this season, and the flight is starting to shift from early season neotropical migrants over to late season shorter-distance migrants. For example, the last week brought first arrivals of American Pipit, Lapland Longspur, Eastern Bluebird, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, White-crowned Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Harris' Sparrow, and Rusty Blackbird.

Raptor flights have also been good despite all the southerly winds, with healthy numbers of mostly juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawks zipping through every day. Ospreys, Bald Eagles, Northern Harriers, Cooper's Hawks, American Kestrels, and Merlins have all been moving in good numbers as well, with an especially good falcon flight, including a peak of 159 kestrels and 41 Merlins on September 9th. We had a nice early push of Broad-wings September 7-12th totaling about 10,000 birds, and the highlight of the last few weeks was a five day stretch when we saw Swainson's Hawks every day. No doubt there is another push of Broad-wings to come, hopefully this coming weekend during the annual Hawk Weekend!

Beautiful beautiful blue! Blue Jay against an impossibly blue sky. One of the highlights of the last  two weeks has been the incredible numbers of Blue Jays migrating through, including a record high count of 10,812 on September 11th (a total I didn't think was possible when I started counting here in 2007). Another big day came on September 15th when a total of 7967 Blue Jays were counted riding a nice NE tail wind down the shore. Although east winds are generally not as productive as west winds for migration, for whatever reason it does seem to motivate corvids to fly. The season total for Blue Jays is now 44,000, which is the second best season ever so far, but no doubt there are many more Blue Jays still planning to be clicked.

juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk racing over Hawk Ridge in an attempt to make sure it gets counted by our team! A total of 6501 Sharpies (also called shawshanks or shark-skins by some) have been counted this fall already, which seems like a healthy number for mid-September. A total of 899 were counted on September 11th when this photo was taken.

Adult Peregrine Falcon attacking Blue Jay! Although these two birds were fairly distant and I had to crop the photo, it was awesome to watch, and somewhat surprising that the Peregrine actually missed the Blue Jay. This was the day we counted over 10,000 Blue Jays, so there were plenty of them for the Peregrine to miss!

Osprey directly over the hawk watch platform. A total of 143 Osprey have been counted this season, including 21 on September 13th.
Female American Kestrel attacking the owl decoy. A total of 627 kestrels have been counted.

Flock of American White Pelicans over Hawk Ridge. A total of 211 pelicans have been counted from the hawk watch, including 71 on September 12th 
Merlin stooping directly downward at the owl decoy in evening light, one of my favorite raptor photos of the fall so far.  This has been an excellent season for Merlins.

Karl Bardon
Count Director
Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory