Thursday, December 11, 2014

Hawk Ridge Banding Report: November 16-December 8 and Final Season Totals

Raptor Banding Report

This period saw many good days that were cold and blustery with northwest winds and produced a moderate number of raptors, but there was a notable lack of an eagle flight and dwindling numbers of Northern Goshawks. However, certainly the highlight of the period (and the season) came on 21st when a Snowy Owl was seen coming into the station and was captured. It had been migrating down the ridge low and was captured by last season's "unofficial" intern Rachel Harris. The owl was a very healthy hatch-year male that weigh 1735 grams. This is the first Snowy Owl ever captured at Hawk Ridge and represent the 25th species of raptors banded at Hawk Ridge in it's 43 years of operation (that includes 16 hawks and 9 owls)!

Rachel Harris and the first Snowy Owl ever banded for the project (David Alexander)

The season this year was extended into the first week of December. Several Rough-legged and Red-tailed Hawks and eagles were seen along with adult male Northern Goshawk, the only raptor captured during the week.

Last raptor banded this season, ASY male Northern Goshawk (Frank Nicoletti)

A total of 18 raptors were banded during this period  (November 16- December 8) and the month total of (75). The following are the results: Northern Harrier-0 (3 month), Sharp-shinned Hawk-0 (3), Northern Goshawk-10 (35), Red-tailed Hawk-2 (17), Rough-legged Hawk-5 (16) and one Snowy Owl. This however does not include the already reported numbers of owls banded in November as reported by Madison McConnell in the last banding blog.

The season started on 13 August and ended 8 December, 2014. It was a very successful season with 3,869 raptors (hawks and owls) captured and is above last season totals by nearly 700 raptors, but well below the 2011 and 2012 total by almost 1000 raptors each year. This season totals of diurnal raptors are as follows: Bald Eagle-9, Northern Harrier-41, Sharp-shinned Hawk-2,390, Cooper's Hawk-37, Northern Goshawk-105, Broad-winged Hawk-16, Red-shouldered Hawk-1, Red-tailed Hawk-110, Rough-legged Hawk-21, American Kestrel-31, Merlin-85, Peregrine Falcon-8, Prairie Falcon-1 and Snowy Owl-1. The owl numbers are as follow: Northern Saw-whet Owl-979 (includes 42 already banded) Long-eared Owl-32 (2 from Moose Valley) and 4 Barred Owls.

Update on Satellite Tracking

The adult male Golden Eagle "Jack #53"  is near the Missouri-Arkansas border.  He arrived on about Nov 29. This is very close to his wintering area of the past 2 winters. So far he has traveled 2200 miles from his breeding ground which he has spent the past two summers above Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories   He started his migration on the 18 October and was recorded near Duluth on the 14 November.

Tracking Jack is part of the Golden Eagle Tracking project of Audubon Minnesota & The National Eagle Center in cooperation with Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory & the Minnesota DNR Nongame Program.

# 53 Jack movement this fall 
The Turkey Vulture "Tommy" that was captured and fitted with a wing tag (#400) and satellite transmitter in early August,  started it's migration on 4 October and reached it's wintering ground on 27 October. Its been making local movements in southern Mexico near the Guatemala border.

Tracking this Turkey Vulture is part of the Turkey Vulture Migration Project of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in cooperation with Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory.

Turkey Vulture "Tommy" migration from Duluth to southern Mexico.

Turkey Vulture "Tommy" local movements southern Mexico.
A full banding summary will be included in the Hawk Ridge Newsletter with many of the important details. Please consider becoming a member of the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory to receive this and learn about the many other important activities that Hawk Ridge conducts during the year.

I would like to thank the staff and the many volunteers who made this season a great success.
Thank you and have a great Holiday Season!

Frank Nicoletti
Hawk Ridge Banding Director

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Count summary November 17-30th

Hawk Ridge count summary November 17-30th

The end of the season was quite slow, with numbers of most raptors and non-raptors trailing off to virtually zero the last few days. Sadly, there wasn’t any final push of eagles or Rough-legs, and the finches that had been so abundant tapered off the last week. In some years, migration continues well into December, but this year it seems most birds have already moved through. Of course, with very little snow on the ground, there are still Rough-legs to our north, and the chance that more will move through. The raptor count of 59,781 is about average for the last ten years, while the non-raptor count of 357540 is the highest count to date. I will post a more in-depth season summary, but for now would like to thank everyone who helped with the Hawk Ridge count, especially my able-bodied co-counter Steve Kolbe, and indefatigable volunteer counter Dave Carman.

Adult Bald Eagle gracing the Hawk Ridge sky. It easy to grow numb to these grand birds when you see tens of thousands over the years, but I think this photo shows just how gorgeous they can be. This fall's count of 5032 Bald Eagles is the second highest season count to date, but there was no sharp peak at the end of the season as there often is, and the numbers were just spread out throughout the season. For unknown reasons, this seems to be a recent developing pattern.
Common Raven stooping at the owl decoy at Hawk Ridge. This was one of 209 counted on November 20th, which was an amazing day for ravens, as gang after gang moved along the ridge, often stopping to heckle the owl. This count is not only the highest for Hawk Ridge, but also apparently the whole state. This culminates an exceptional season for ravens, with a grand total of 2337 counted for the season, which is the highest season to date by a wide margin. Why so many ravens this year? And where are they going?

Snowy Owl trapped at the main banding station on November 21st and released at the main overlook. Thank you Hawk Ridge banders!
Snowy Owl taking flight! This was the second Snowy Owl recorded at Hawk Ridge this fall, with another seen migrating over the Ridge on October 31st. 
Karl Bardon
Count Director
Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory

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.