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FKH Season in Review: 2018

July 15, 2019

The 2018 season was very successful as the numbers go, and even more memorable. We tallied a total of 19,067 raptors, the sixth highest total in the count’s history. Highlights included observing an impressive 18 species of raptors, setting records for both Merlins and Snail Kites, and getting to witness an incredible migration of 500 Peregrine Falcons in a single day! The Florida Keys Hawkwatch is truly one of the most unique and remarkable hawkwatches in the country, and one that I, personally, was honored to be a part of in 2018.

Vultures

We recorded a total of 3,210 Turkey Vultures this season, but they were just beginning to show up in big numbers in the count’s final week. Many more are sure to go through in the month of November. It may come as a surprise to many that we only recorded a single Black Vulture this season, but they are actually quite difficult to find from the Hawkwatch. They do not like to cross water, so they become more and more scarce the farther you go down the Keys. In fact, BVs have only been recorded in four prior seasons, so this was a very good find indeed.

Osprey by Rafael Galvez

Ospreys, Eagles, & Harriers

It was a fantastic year for Ospreys as we came up just short of 3,000 with 2,992. This was the second highest total ever behind only 2014, and the 1,392 in October were the most ever for the month. Bald Eagles were right at the season average of 20. This is a species that does not really go any farther south than the Keys, so migrant numbers are fairly low. The season total of 748 Northern Harriers was the fourth highest at FKH, and only about 100 behind the record. We cracked triple digits for them on October 13th with 110, a good number for any hawkwatch.

Swallow-tailed Kite by Kevan Sunderland

Kites

It was an outstanding year for all three kite species that we observed. After September we thought we might break the record for Mississippi Kites, but only 14 went through in October to give us 116 in total: 12 shy of the record. The bulk of the Swallow-tailed Kites also came through in September and finished with a total of 162, the third highest total for a season. Arguably the most impressive part of the season was the four Snail Kites that we saw heading south. This is a species that is largely thought to be non-migratory and really has no business being in the Keys. Before this season there had only been two other Snail Kites recorded in the history of the count, so we clearly got to witness an unprecedented and potentially once-in-a-lifetime event in 2018. White-tailed Kite is the only species of raptor that has been seen from the hawkwatch that we did not have this year.

Accipiters

Unfortunately, the accipiters never really showed up this year. We had the lowest Sharp-shinned Hawk total ever with only 596, well below the previous low. This does not mean that Sharpies are in dire straits, only that their migration was late this year. Most of the northern hawkwatches were reporting large numbers of this species during our last week of the count; they just couldn’t quite make it here in time. Cooper’s Hawks fared a little better, but were still below average with a total of 371. It is likely that more of them will also come through in November, as this is a species that has been trending upwards nationally in recent years.

Swainson’s Hawk by Ted Keyel

Buteos

Buteos are the most diverse group of raptors in North America and at FKH, with five different species being recorded this year. Broad-winged Hawks are the most famous at hawkwatches due to the large migratory groups, called kettles, they form. At our site, they can be difficult to count because their aversion to water often causes them to backtrack after they reach Key West. We had a solid year for S-bound Broad-wings with 4,453, a little above the season average. The most we had in a single day for them was 1,515… unfortunately heading north. This would have been a daily record had they been flying in the right direction. Red-shouldered Hawks, like Bald Eagles, don’t really go beyond the Keys in migration so we typically see them in small density. This year we had only 8, which is about a third of the average. Short-tailed Hawks are a Florida specialty that don’t truly migrate, but seem to disperse in the fall. This year we had a total of 49 S-bound, the fourth most in a season here. Swainson’s Hawks have a different story. They are a highly migratory western species that can be seen in very large numbers in Central America in the fall. However a small population winters in the Everglades, therefore they are a regular visitor to the Keys in migration. This year we had 25, well below the average but once again, a species that will probably pick up in November. Red-tailed Hawks are similar to Black Vultures in that they are very common on the mainland, but rare in the Keys. We had only one this year.

Merlin by Rafael Galvez

Falcons

Falcons are the pride and joy of the Florida Keys Hawkwatch. For two of the three species, 2018 was a very successful year. American Kestrels were the exception however with a total of only 1,489 for the season. This came in as the fourth lowest total in the count’s history on the same year that some very impressive numbers were reported in the north. We were getting some good flights of kestrels right up until the end of the season though, so it could be that there are still more to come in November. The Merlin migration, on the other hand, was extraordinary this year. We broke the daily record with 110 on October 14th, and the season total with 1,042. The improved view as a result of Hurricane Irma’s passage in 2017 likely played a part in these numbers, but I think it’s safe to say that it was just a great year for Merlins. Finally we get to FKH’s most famous migrant: the Peregrine Falcon. We once again lived up to the title of the Peregrine Falcon Capital of the World with a final tally of 3,588, the fifth highest in the count’s history. This was capped by a total of exactly 500 passing by on October 13th, the fifth highest single day ever recorded. This is a spectacle that very few people have ever witnessed and most hawkwatches can only dream of. Hopefully there is an even better day next year!

Thanks to everybody who helped make Florida Keys Hawkwatch 2018 such a successful season, we’ll see you again in 2019!

 

 

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.