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.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Hawk Ridge Banding Report 1-15 November, 2014

Passerine Banding Report

There was no formal passerine banding conducted during the period. However, two Northern Shrikes and a Pileated Woodpecker were banded on the 2 November at the Hawk Ridge station.

Northern Shrike at Hawk Ridge (Frank Nicoletti)

Owl Banding Report

Another fall owl banding season has flown by.  The last official night of banding was the night of November 9-10, ending just hours before the first snow began to fall from one of the biggest November snowstorms in history.  Eleven owls were captured on this final night of the season, with 9 saw-whets and 2 long-eareds.  This brings the November total to 56 saw-whets: 47 hatch year, 3 second year, 5 after second year, and 1 unknown age.  The biggest night for saw-whets in November was the first of the month with 16 birds.  November 2, 5, and 9 all tied for the second biggest night with 9 saw-whets each night. 

As the season progressed, the percentage of hatch year saw-whets grew at the expense of the overall adult percentages.  The table below shows the monthly percentages of each age class throughout the banding season from mid-September to mid-November. 
Percent of total







The final Northern Saw-whet Owl of the season. (Madison McConnell)
Throughout the fall season, a total of 937 saw-whets, 30 long-eared owls, and 4 barred owls were banded at the main owl blind on Hawk Ridge.  Data was also collected on a total of 42 foreign recapture saw-whets (ignore the number from the last post!) and 16 local recaptures.  These numbers are comparable to last year’s season totals, and about half of the season total in 2012.  Consistent with the saw-whet irruption “cycles”, this data shows several low years between each (approx.) fourth year boom. 
Two hatch-year Northern Saw-whet Owls (Madison McConnell) 
Of the 30 long-eared owls banded this season, 11 (37%) were HY, 0 (0%) SY, 13 (43%) ASY, 5 (17% AHY), and 1 (3%) unknown age.  After nearly two weeks of only capturing adult long-eareds, the sub-adult dry spell ended on the final night with the capture of the final long-eared of the season—a HY bird. 
The two last LEOWs of the season show the variation in the under-wing coloration in LEOWs.  With more research, this could be used to help determine sex in LEOWs. (Steve Kolbe)  
The long-eared push did not happen as anticipated this year, ending the season with about one third of last year’s total.  Because so little is known about their migration, it’s unclear what this means about the long-eared movement this fall.  It is possible that a late push could still occur after the station is closed. 

This fall’s owl banding season underscores the importance of long-term datasets—like those being collected at Hawk Ridge—that will be the key to better understanding owl migration and conservation.  It’s been a great fall with all the people and birds at Hawk Ridge!

Report by Madison McConnell, Owl Bander

Hawk Banding Report
The hawk banding will continue until the end of November mainly from just the Hawk Ridge station now that the two other banding sites have shut down for the season. Moose Valley was covered by Chris Neri and Nova Mackentley until the 11th.

A total of 54 hawks were banded during the period and include the following: Northern Harrier-3, Sharp-shinned Hawk-3, Northern Goshawk-26, Red-tailed Hawk-15, Rough-legged Hawk-11.
Second-year female Northern Harrier (Frank Nicoletti)
Second-year male Northern Harrier (Miranda Durbin)

Second-year female Northern Goshawk (Frank Nicoletti)

Hatch-year female Northern Goshawk (Kate Nicoletti)
Frank Nicoletti
Banding Director