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September Finals

September 30, 2011

By Rafael A. Gálvez

With the winds continually changing direction over the last week and flight patterns varying on a daily basis, we hoped that today’s WNW winds might bring the birds closer to us. Flights maintained for the most part overhead throughout the day; quite high the first hours, yet by the afternoon  our hopes were satisfied by considerably lower migrants.

The skies today had up to 70% cloud cover, and were strewn about with an eclectic mixture of formations, particularly long cirrus streams, cumulus clouds and a number of distant cumulonimbus giants. They made for an interesting morning trying to find high fliers. By the afternoon, our necks got some rest as birds descended to lower trajectories.

Highlights included a trio of low flying Mississippi Kites at the very end of the day – just when we thought all the birds were done; and the noticeable increase of Sharpies and Kestrels. Peregrines continue to hold steady and Broad-wings keep moving in good numbers. A single late Swallow-tailed Kite was also seen today.

However, I must confess that harriers always rank near the top for me. A special moment was when we saw four young Northern Harriers migrating over the Atlantic southwestward. All were juveniles except one transitional male in second calendar-year plumage, which I’ve sketched above. I have seen this plumage before – especially in Europe – but not often in South Florida. For anyone that knows the Montagu’s Harrier – that is what you are reminded of. Today’s bird had many traits of a full adult male, but the head and upper chest retained much brown coloration. The body was pale, but rusty cockades streaked the flanks, axillaries and underwing coverts – truly a beautiful impression. Most interestingly perhaps, the black trailing edge of the wing, present in adult males, was incomplete, and the flight feathers were a mixture of juvenile and adult feathers. The sketch above is only meant to conjure the general idea of the bird, which we had on the scope for all-too-briefly. Look out for such birds – they are startling.

Our total of 422 birds included:

Osprey – 11
Mississippi Kite – 3
Swallow-tailed Kite – 1
Northern Harrier – 9
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 73
Cooper’s Hawk – 20
Broad-winged Hawk – 156
American Kestrel – 55
Merlin – 7
Peregrine Falcon – 87

Above is a snapshot of our totals to date for the year, and for the month of September 2011. A brief analysis of all Septembers featured in HawkCount gives us a general sense of how we have fared thus far this season. When looking over these numbers, one has to keep in mind that 2008 has still not been digitized, therefore missing from the comparison. Furthermore, a couple of columns are incorrectly labeled in the “Previous Sep Comparison” chart. For example, under SK, the number for Mississippi Kites is showing instead, and the number of Swallow-tailed Kites is showing under Swainson’s Hawk, of which we haven’t yet seen any. This is a minor error related to the online application, but that features correctly on our yearly totals. Regardless, we can see that we are well on our way to a worthy season, and that our total of 3048 is above the average of 2104. Let us hope we can keep it up!

Counters today were Jim Eager, Larry McDaniel and Rafael Galvez. Below, Larry counts Broad-wings as they stream by.

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