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Quality Over Quantity

October 29, 2018

Juvenile Swainson’s Hawk. Photo by Alex Lamoreaux.

The cold fronts of the past week did not produce the big numbers of raptors we were hoping for, but they provided us with some excellent views of these majestic predators. The north winds associated with cold fronts push the birds towards the southern edge of the Keys, or from our perspective, directly overhead. This has been a very welcoming flight line after weeks of distant birds flying by on the other side of the island. We have gotten stellar views of almost every species of raptor, not to mention some pretty good pictures. Luckily, the north winds are supposed to continue to the end of the season, so we have three more days for the big numbers to show up. Even if they don’t, we will certainly continue to enjoy the amazing views!

Juvenile Broad-winged Hawk. Photo by Alex Lamoreaux.

Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk. Photo by Alex Lamoreaux.

Merlin. Photo by Alex Lamoreaux.

Peregrine Falcon. Photo by Alex Lamoreaux.

Mississippi Kite. Photo by Luis Gles.

Chimney Swift. Photo by Alex Lamoreaux.

Northern Waterthrush. Photo by Alex Lamoreaux.

Magnolia Warbler. Photo by Alex Lamoreaux.

Florida Box Turtle (L), and Black-throated Blue Warbler (R). Photos by Alex Lamoreaux.

Snail Kites: Plural!!

October 22, 2018

The first Snail Kite gliding away. Photo by Chris Payne.

We were optimistic heading into Sunday because there were light north winds for the first time all season. We expected to see a lot of accipiters and Broad-winged Hawks but the thought of a Snail Kite never crossed our minds. As it turned out, we didn’t see one… we saw two! Both of the birds were juveniles and were headed south with the wind at their backs. The first one came directly overhead around 1:00, and the second was slightly bayside around 4:30. Snail Kites are largely considered to be non-migratory raptors. They are restricted in the U.S. from central Florida to the Everglades, so to have two in one day is completely unprecedented in the Keys. In fact, there had been only two others recorded in the 20 year history of FKH prior to today– one each in 2007 and 2016. There is no doubt we got to witness something special today; who knows what we might see tomorrow?

The first Snail Kite coming in, holding its wings in an M-shape similar to an Osprey. Photo by Luis Gles.

New Merlin Records!

October 18, 2018

On Sunday (10/14/18), we set the single-day record for Merlins with 110. Only three days later, we broke the seasonal max record! We had exactly 900 Merlins heading into Wednesday and needed only nine to top the previous season high of 908 from 2014. The record-breaking bird came through at 11:24 am (10/17/18) and, like many others of its species, was gone in a matter of seconds. With two weeks remaining in the season, we should continue to add on to the new record. The goal now is to get to 1,000!

Merlin #909 going by in a blur (L) and another taking a break on a snag (R). Photos by Chris Payne (L) and Luis Gles (R).

While it has undoubtedly been a good year for Merlins, a portion of the high count can be attributed to improved visibility as a result of Hurricane Irma. Merlins are low-flying migrants that like to hunt through the treetops as they fly south. Prior to 2017, the trees to the northwest of the Hawkwatch platform were getting very tall and obstructing the view. As a result, many Merlins could have easily snuck by undetected. Hopefully the upcoming years will continue to produce high counts of this feisty falcon.

Luis Gles updating the Merlin numbers to include this year’s records.

Latest Data HawkCount

500 Peregrines – The 5th Highest Flight!

October 18, 2018

Chris Payne (L) and Luis Gles (R) after the record-breaking PEFA flight.

From October 9th through the 14th, 3-digit Peregrine Falcon flights were recorded at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch. The crown of that spectacular stretch was October 13, when a total of 500 Peregrines were counted from the Curry Hammock deck at FKH. That was the 5th highest count of Peregrines ever recorded in the world. While this hawkwatch has established several records, this is spectacular since FKH also holds record for the top four flights ever recorded for the species. No other count has tallied over 364 Peregrines in a single day. Congratulations to Chris and Luis for monitoring the skies during that memorable 10-hour count day!

October 14, 2018

To celebrate “Bird Like a Girl Day” on October 14 – co-hosted by the Phoebes birding group, our own hawkwatcher, Lindsey Duval wrote a great blog entry explaining the benefits of raptor monitoring. Please click on the image below to link to the blog entry, posted on the Phoebes website. Enjoy!

October 11th: 1,292 Raptors!

October 13, 2018

A small portion of a Broad-winged Hawk kettle. Photo by Chris Payne.

The big day we’ve been waiting for finally came! We had our first 4-digit raptor day of the season with a total of 1,292 migrants flying past Curry Hammock on Thursday. Ironically, we went into the day with modest expectations knowing that Hurricane Michael made landfall the previous day to our north. It quickly became evident that we were in for a big day when the first three hours (typically the slowest part of the day) produced 150 birds. It only got better from there: we logged our first 100+ bird hour of the season during the 12:00 hour, then did it three more times over the next five hours. The most remarkable part of the flight though, came at the end of the day. From 4:00 to 6:00, we logged an incredible 701 raptors! A large portion of these were Broad-winged Hawks, including a single kettle of more than 300 individuals.

Juvenile Broad-winged Hawk (L) and Adult Peregrine Falcon (R). Photos by Chris Payne.

When it was all said and done, we set the season high for six different species. We had 24 Turkey Vultures, 204 Osprey, 119 Sharp-shinned Hawks (more than quintupling our previous season total), 20 Cooper’s Hawks, 646 Broad-winged Hawks, and 181 Peregrine Falcons! Rounding out the count was one Bald Eagle, 23 Northern Harriers, 53 American Kestrels, 16 Merlins, and one Mississippi Kite (putting us one closer to the season record).  Today was one of those days where it was difficult to not just sit back in awe and take in one of nature’s greatest spectacles: migration.

Celebrate PEREGRINE DAYS – Oct. 11-14

October 5, 2018

More Peregrine Falcons fly over the Florida Keys than anywhere else in the world. Peregrines are the fastest animals on the planet, reaching speeds over 200 mph on a stooping dive. They are beautiful predators that were once nearly lost to extinction due to pesticides. The Florida Keys Hawkwatch is record holder for the site to document the highest number of Peregrines in a season (4,559 – fall of 2015) and in a single day (1,506 on Oct. 10, 2015.


Do you want to witness the flight of Peregrine Falcons and learn more about their migration? Join us:

  • Thursday, October 11th   |   “Birds n’ Brews”  Raptor Weekend kickoff event. Get a crash course in raptor identification, plus learn the history of raptor migration through South Florida, all the while enjoying some Brooklyn Brews. 7 – 9 PM, Leica Store Miami, Coral Gables. Learn more.

  • Friday, October 12th   |   “Día de Los Peregrinos”  In English and Spanish; all ages. Dawn your best hawk costume and witness the flight of numerous Peregrine Falcons. 10 AM – 5 PM, Florida Keys Hawkwatch, Curry Hammock State Park, Marathon. Learn more.

  • Friday, October 12th   |   Hawk Mania Keynote Presentation – A curated conversation about migrating birds of prey between Rafael Galvez, Jeff Bouton, and Mark Hedden entitled, “Hawk Migration in the Keys: What We Know, How We Know It, And What We’re Still Trying To Figure Out”. 6:30 – 7:30 PM, Key West Garden Club, Key West. Learn more.

  • Saturday, October 13th   |   Hawk Mania  All day hawkwatch in Key West, plus a scheduled songbird walk, butterfly walk and hawk ID program for kids. 9 AM – 3 PM, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, Key West. Learn more.

  • Sunday, October 14h   |   Bird Like a Girl Day – Phoebes Birding, South Florida’s only women’s birding group, present the first official women’s day at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch. Learn about migration all the while getting to know other female birders. 9:30 AM – 4:00 PM,  Florida Keys Hawkwatch, Curry Hammock State Park, Marathon. Learn more.

A series of events co-hosted by some of South Florida’s prominent birding and conservation organizations including: Florida Keys Hawkwatch, Florida Keys Audubon Society, Tropical Audubon Society, Leica Store Miami and Phoebes Birding.