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

Hawk Banding Report, September 16-30 and monthly totals.

Hawk banding report, September 16-30, 2015 and monthly totals.

Raptor banding totals for the period and monthly ( ) are as follows: Bald Eagle-0 (1), Northern Harrier-13 (27), Sharp-shinned Hawk-552 (1359), Cooper's Hawk-6 (22), Northern Goshawk-6 (7), Broad-winged Hawk-5 (12), Red-tailed Hawk-15 (27), American Kestrel-9 (29), Merlin-19 (54), Peregrine Falcon-8 (10).

Frank Nicoletti, Banding Director

Adult (ASY) male Peregrine Falcon (by Alex Lamoreaux)

Adult (ASY) male Peregrine Falcon (by Alex Lamoreaux)
Adult Broad-winged Hawk (by Alex Lamoreaux)
Adult Broad-winged Hawk (by Alex Lamoreaux)

Sharp-shinned Hawks (by Miranda Durbin)

Merlin (by Miranda Durbin)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Owl Banding report & Passerine Banding report, Sept 15-30

PASSERINE BANDING by Margie Menzies & David Alexander

Sept. 15-30, 2015
Overlook banding
23 birds were banded on Sept. 19th and 26th. 9 different species were recorded including 7 Black-capped Chickadees, 1 Western Palm Warbler, 1 Fox Sparrow, 1 Magnolia Warbler, 2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, 1 Tennessee Warbler, 1 Downy Woodpecker, 8 White-throated Sparrows, and 1 Swainson’s Thrush. 6 Black-capped Chickadees were recaptured.

Month summary for the overlook
37 birds total were banded on 4 days for a total of 13 species. September was a fairly quiet month for
banding at the overlook. 8 Black-capped Chickadees were recaptured with 2 birds banded in 2013,
several in 2014, and a few recaptures from birds banded this fall in 2015.

Passerine Banding Station
During Sept. 16-30, we banded 10 days at the passerine banding station, for a total of 218 birds Banded representing 27 species, and 5 recaptures. Later season birds were captured such as Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, Myrtle Warblers (Yellow-rumped Wablers in your bird guide), Fox Sparrows, and just the beginning of the Slate-colored Junco Season (Dark-eyed Junco in your bird guide.) The first Sharp-shinned Hawk caught in the passerine nets for 2015, occurred during this period- usually this happens fairly frequently through the season, but not this year. On Sept. 27, we hosted a visiting group of banders from the Twin Cities area. This was an interesting day of sharing and re-establishing a network of banders in Minnesota which was once an active group, but had become inactive in recent times. The hope is that we will continue to communicate and meet occasionally to keep each other informed on projects and issues in banding as well as establish the potential for collaboration among Minnesota banders.

Month Summary for the Passerine Banding Station
For the Month of September 2015, we banded 565 birds on 21 days, with 14 recaptured birds. 46
species of birds were banded in Sept. 21 species of warblers, 7 species of sparrows, 4 species of
thrushes, 3 species of woodpeckers, 3 species of flycatchers, and 3 types of vireos. Highlights included a Scarlet Tanager, Black-billed Cuckoo, Brown Creepers, Golden-winged Warblers, Northern Parulas, Black-throated Green Warblers, Blackpoll and Blackburnian Warblers, Fox, Swamp and Lincoln’s Sparrows.

OWL BANDING (Sept 15-30) by Ryan Steiner
The 2015 owl banding season has started out well.  Throughout September the Northern Saw-whet Owl migration has been ramping up from the single bird caught on September 15 to consecutive nights in the fifties and sixties as we move into October.  Around half of the saw-whets coming through have been hatch year birds, or birds that fledged from their nest this summer.  Two year old birds make up most of the rest of the flight, with a few older adults in the mix just to keep things interesting.  The highlight of the Northern Saw-whet Owl migration came on September 22 when interns Alan Moss and Reed Turner came out to help for a few hours.  We were delighted when we found a fluffy saw-whet in the net on the second check, the first Northern Saw-whet Owl that Alan had ever seen.  Over the next hour we caught a few more birds, and just as the guys were planning on leaving, the floodgates opened and owls began to fill the nets.  Foregoing a night of sleep Reed and Alan helped all night and in the end we were all exhausted but happy, having caught 116 Northern Saw-whet Owls over the course of the night! It was quite the introduction for both of the interns, but especially for Alan who went from having never seen a Northern Saw-whet Owl to having seen more than most people will in a lifetime over the course of one night!

Northern Saw-whet Owl by Ryan Steiner

            Although the saw-whet flight is ramping up, the Long-eared Owl migration has yet to reach us, but that does not mean there have been no bigger owls!  Another highlight thus far has been two Barred Owls.  Seeming massive after banding so many of the tiny saw-whets, these owls added a little extra excitement to two of the slower nights!

Barred Owl by Alex Lamoreaux
            As of the end of September we have banded 405 Northern Saw-whet Owls and 2 Barred Owls.  In addition, we have captured 18 previously banded saw-whets at the station which will hopefully further our knowledge on the migration routes of these adorable little owls.

Barred Owl, upperside view, by Alex Lamoreaux

Friday, October 16, 2015

Raptor and non-raptor count summary October 6-15, 2015

We have now counted over 400,000 non-raptors and 68,000 raptors, so it seems likely that our goal of
half a million birds will be reached sometime in the next few weeks. This is by far the best non-raptor count ever, and it will likely be the best raptor count since 2004. These great totals are due in large part to the excellent counting skills of Alex Lamoreaux and Kaija Gahm, who have been a great team on the Ridge this year. I would also like to thank the help of our many experienced volunteers, including Steve Kolbe, Dave Carman, Jan and Larry Kraemer, Kathleen MacAulay, Joe Beck, Scott Moorhouse, Don Kienholz, Reed Turner, Russ Edmonds, and Karen Stubenvoll.

Needless to say, large flights of birds have been seen the last ten days. We had several days in excess of 20,000 non-raptors on October 6th and 13th, but it seems that almost every day recently has been busy. This is the busiest time of year for volume of non-raptors, and they certainly haven't disappointed us! Blistering flights of mixed non-raptors have included flocks of hundreds of American Robins and Rusty Blackbirds, which are often mixed with Purple Finches and other assorted species. Often in the air at the same time are American Crows, Common Ravens, Horned Larks, Eastern Bluebirds, American Pipits, various sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Lapland Longspurs,  The number of warblers has dropped off sharply and even the Yellow-rumps seem to be mostly done. Replacing them are the first Northern Shrikes, Bohemian Waxwings, Snow Buntings, Pine Grosbeaks, and Common Redpolls. It appears we are going to have another large finch flight this season, made up mostly of Purple Finches, Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls.

The raptor flights have also been busy, especially with Red-tailed Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks, but we are still getting at least a few individuals of most raptor species. Red-tails have finally begun to outnumber Sharpies, with counts of 658, 714, and 792 Red-tails the last three days October 13-15th. These flights have including a high proportion of dark/rufous type Western birds, including 13 on the 13th, and the first Harlan's Hawk of the season (a light morph adult) was seen on October 14th. Golden Eagles, Northern Goshawks, and Rough-legged Hawks have all started moving in good numbers, including 12 goshawks on October 14th and 6 Goldens on both October 13th and 14th. All of the goshawks seen have been juveniles, so it seems this was a good production year for them, but it clearly will not be an invasion year (since "invasions" are mostly adults, and typically peaked in mid-October). During the next few weeks we will see the peak of the Red-tailed Hawk migration, which s my favorite time of year, so come join us!

American Robin in flight showing off its rufous breast. We have counted 84,311 of these sturdy fliers, which is our second best season so far, including flights of over 10,000 on October 6th and 13th.

A flock of American Robins and Rusty Blackbirds flying out over the lake, a typical scene recently, which gives a sense of what the bird really look like when we count them!

Dark-eyed Junco in flight, a very common sight recently! We have counted 5277 juncos so far, our best season ever, including 1593 on October 7th and 1224 on October 13th. Many juncos have been seen flying overhead throughout the day, which is unusual for Hawk Ridge.

Yellow-rumped Warbler in flight on overcast day, a typical view of these abundant little "jello-butts". This has been an amazing season for warblers, with 75,114 counted, including 10,866 Yellow-rumps. This is by far the best season ever for warblers, since our average in the last nine years for total number of warblers is about 21,000 and for Yellow-rumps that average is about 2600.

Hermit Thrush on the road at dawn, a frequent sight as I drive to work before sunrise. Although a common breeding bird to our north, for whatever reason very few Hermit Thrushes are seen in morning flight (unlike Swainson's Thrushes, which have been found to be a relatively common feature of the morning flight the last few years).

Merlin harassing the owl decoy at Hawk Ridge. We have had excellent Merlin flights this season, and are now getting many adult males. The season total is already at 354, which is only a few birds away from the best season ever in 1997 when 362 Merlins were seen.
Alex Lamoreaux counting birds in front of a rainbow and fall colors on Thursday. Not a bad place to work, eh? Not shown is the howling northwest wind! 

Karl Bardon
Count Director
Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory

Monday, October 5, 2015

Raptor and non-raptor count summaries September 27th- October 5th 2015

In the last blog updated through September 26th, I mentioned that once the fog cleared, we would have a good flight, and that was certainly the case, since on September 27th we had another massive non-raptor migration that included a total of 37,051 birds, which ranks about the fifth largest flight I have seen here. There were multiple groups of birds migrating at the same time in large numbers, and using different flight lines, so it was impossible for one observer to focus on everything at the same time. Highlights of the day included 437 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (new state high count), 733 Golden-crowned Kinglets (new state high count), 125 Ruby-crowned Kinglets (highest fall count), and 28,227 American Robins (fourth highest count). There was a similar echo flight of the same species on September 28th, totaling 6670 birds, but non-raptor flights have been much slower since that time, primarily because the five day stretch from September 30th- October 4th was predominantly east winds. The afternoons on many of these days were particularly brutal, with sustained east winds in excess of 30 mph! Fortunately this pattern of easterly winds was broken on October 5th, and it looks like tomorrow (October 6th) will be our first west winds in many days. The non-raptor total is now over 310,000 birds, which is already the second best season ever, with no doubt many additional birds still to come.

We have now counted nearly 60,000 raptors, which is above the recent average. The last push of Broad-wings on September 28-29th put us at 40,758 for the season, which is the best Broad-wing flight I have seen here in nine years of counting. We also have had good Peregrine flights the last week, including a peak count of 17 on September 27th, and the total so far for the season is 135, which is the second best season ever. Although Northern Goshawks were generally absent during the beginning of the season, we have seen small numbers recently, including 6 on September 29th. The first Golden Eagle came by on October 1st, and no doubt the first Rough-leg will be seen any day now, probably tomorrow. Numbers of Red-tailed Hawks are increasing, so the next few weeks should be an exciting time at the Ridge!

Golden-crowned Kinglet in flight. The mass migration on September 28th included a shocking number of kinglets, more than I thought was possible in one day, and many more than any previous count. The totals for the day included 733 Golden-crowned Kinglets, 125 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and 585 unidentified kinglets, for a total of 1443 kinglets! These little guys move through so quickly, it is difficult to identify a high proportion of them. I was amazed last year when we counted 1089 kinglets for the entire season, including a new high count of 262 Golden-crowned Kinglets on 7 October 2014, but the flight on 28 September 2015 was more than the entire season last year! 

A Golden-crowned Kinglet pausing briefly during its migration, showing off its golden crown in the morning sun. Migrating kinglets often stop so briefly in the trees there isn't time to get binoculars on them, but luckily the Golden-crowed Kinglets call frequently as they move through the treetops, and on September 28th their piercing trebled notes were nearly continuous for over five hours! 

Ruby-crowned Kinglet in flight on September 28th when a total of 125 were counted, which is the highest fall count and second highest count overall for Minnesota. Some of the migrating kinglets have been spotted high overhead, which is kind of amazing since they are usually seen low through the tree tops, and don't seem like very strong fliers.

Immature Yellow-bellied Sapsucker flipping nearly upside down as it migrates by, perhaps to show off its yellow belly! On September 28th we counted 437 migrating sapsuckers, though most of them were right side up. There were an amazing number of sapsuckers in the air that day, including loose flocks of up to seven birds, and they continued moving throughout the day. As with the kinglets, this is more than I thought were possible in one day. A week previously, on September 22nd, we had counted 278 sapsuckers, which was a new high count at the time, This compares to the previous high count of 135 at Park Point by several observers on 23 September 2009, and 98 counted at Hawk Ridge/Lester River on 28 September 2014.

Adult male Sharp-shinned Hawk migrating by Hawk Ridge. The majority of sharpies passing by the Ridge are now adults. Nearly 13,000 Sharpies have been counted this season, which is above average.

Adult male American Kestrel in morning light. Only 1100 American Kestrels have been counted this season, which is well below average.
Karl Bardon
Count Director
Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory