Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Count summary August 15-24, 2016

Hawk Ride Bird Observatory began yet another counting season on August 15th. Although I am the only official counter on duty until September 1st, I have had lots of help and input from fellow counters Steve Kolbe and Alex Lamoreaux, as well as a few wonderful volunteers. This is my tenth season counting birds for HRBO, and one of the things that keeps me going is that every year is different as we discover new things about bird migration through Duluth. Migration has started out on the slow side, with what seems to be an endless stretch of beautiful warm summer days. But Common Nighthawk migration has been in full swing, and a nice wave of warblers and other neotropical migrants occurred ahead of the season's first cold front on August 19th. Here are some of the first week's highlights with photos I have taken- enjoy!

Adult Bald Eagle flying over Hawk Ridge with a sucker (identified by Larry Kraemer). This is likely a local eagle, heading toward the nest near Ordean school. Raptor migration has been relatively slow so far this August, with only 232 birds counted through August 23rd, but highlights have been two juvenile Peregrine Falcons on August 23rd and three juvenile Northern Goshawks during the period.
Northern Parula, probably a hatch-year bird, and most likely a confusing fall warbler for many. Note the clean-cut wing-bars, greenish back, white eye-arcs, and hint of gray band between the breast and throat. Warbler migration has been slow some days and excellent other days, with an excellent flight during a rain at sunrise on August 19th (1100 warblers) and a smaller flight during overcast skies and NW winds on August 20th (320 warblers)- both days were dominated by Tennessee and Nashville Warblers as well as the first push of American Redstarts, but 24 species of warblers have already been identified migrating along the shore this fall.
Common Nighthawk migrating in front of the rising moon on August 14th. This has been a great season for nighthawk so far, with about 30,000 counted through August 24th. Most of these have been counted in the evening from the Lester River condo by Steve Kolbe, but some others have occurred during the morning and afternoon from both the shore and the Ridge, including a combined one day count of 12,763 on August 19th.
juvenile Baird's Sandpiper standing on a rock along the shoreline of Lake Superior. Although we do not see a lot of shorebirds during the migration counting at Hawk Ridge, this is the peak season for them, and we do occasionally see individuals and small flocks flying by. The interesting thing is that for most species (especially the ones that prefer muddy habitats, like this Baird's), we only see juveniles migrating through, indicating that the birds quickly learn not to return to this rocky habitat during succeeding migrations.
Olive-sided Flycatcher in flight during the early morning. Note the dark flanks separated by a white center stripe forming an "unbuttoned vest." We only count a few Olive-sideds each season, so they are always a treat to see, and this is the first one I have been able to capture in flight.

Apparent Alder Flycatcher in flight. As I mentioned, every season seems to bring something new that I've never seen before, and this year is no exception. On August 17th I was amazed to watch a morning flight of empidonax flycatchers moving through the trees and even flying overhead on occasion. Although we see a few empids each season, sometimes as many as a dozen in a day, there were more than ten times that many on the 17th, and I had never noticed more than a couple in active morning flight migration before. Among 178 empids counted on August 17th, I felt the majority were Least Flycatchers (110) with a minority of Alder Flycatchers (8) and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers (6), but identifying these little guys is probably one of the major challenges in birding. Many of the empids were photographed flying by or seen perched briefly in the trees, and throughout the morning I only heard Leasts calling.
Here's one of the Yellow-bellied Flycatchers in flight on August 17th. Note the yellowish wash to the underside, especially the yellow throat
We will try to keep everyone updated about the migration as the season progresses- we are hoping for a great fall! Feel free to come join us or stop by to ask what we've been seeing.

Karl Bardon
Count Director
Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory