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Extreme Hawkwatching

October 13, 2011

By Rafael A. Gálvez

It was a productive yet challenging day at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch. Although migrating raptors were certainly on the move, winds out of the southeast at a consistent 5 to 8 km/h pushed flight paths well towards the Bay, and at the limit of visibility from our vantage point. Additionally, our thermometer measured this as the hottest day since our September 15 start, and heat waves were discernible at short distances, making the shapes of far flying raptors all the more difficult.

It has certainly been “extreme” hawkwatching over the last 3 days, with about 90% of the birds pushing to a mile’s distance and at very high altitudes.  Considering how miserable we were a week ago as stormy weather took hold of the skies, we’ve been thrilled to have birds moving through, even if we’ve had to peel our eyes to a strain in order to spot them.

We’ve also had plenty of visitors over the last few days, and it is somewhat disheartening to see some of them a bit frustrated as they watch our team calling out bird after bird in the sky, when they look no different than passing gnats.

There is no doubt we are at the height of the season. It is great to finally have 3-digit numbers for Sharpies and Kestrels. We have tallied nearly 1000 Peregrines in the last week alone!

Today’s total of 563 birds included:

Osprey – 57
Northern Harrier – 43
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 177
Cooper’s Hawk – 3
Broad-winged Hawk – 23
American Kestrel – 121
Merlin – 19
Peregrine Falcon – 139
Unidentifiable raptor – 1

Other non-migratory raptors observed included:

Bald Eagle
Red-shouldered Hawk
Turkey Vulture

The deck at FKH today was PACKED! – and we love to see it that way. The “official” counting team was composed of 9 members, with Jim and I at the helm, covered by Rudy Brancel at rear, making sure no birds passed unnoticed. Mary Butterfield and Karen Riedle took their strategic position facing northward, looking out for overheads and nearbys. The energetic trio of the Cenkers – Dave with his careful method, Jen quick to find birds, and of course Gabe, the youngest of the bunch – were very involved in every aspect of the count; they even provided lunch for us all! Bob Stalnaker managed to stay with us yet another day, only to build his passion for raptors to a greater level.

Many visitors came by, including Jack and Bobbie Hamilton, who were keen on getting a good sighting of a Sharp-shinned Hawk for their life list. Despite our 177 for the day – nearly all at eye-blistering distances –  it wasn’t until the late afternoon when a few Sharpies finally flew close overhead to give them a satisfying look that had us all celebrating in applause. We were also visited by Cheryl Baker and Craig Kerns, Colleen and Charles Caudill, Mary Rihon and Rhea Sheffield from Washington State, and David C. Smith and Amber Crocetti from the Baltimore area. It was great to spend time looking at birds with them all.

We’ve had great fun having a broad spectrum of ages at the hawkwatch; at left is our youngest counter, Gabe Cenker (10), who quickly picked up the pace of the hawkwatch and was an avid participant during this last week’s count – at the right, we have the eyes of experience: Mary always watchful, particularly over those low birds no one else is watching; Karen at center, a great spotter, and Jim Sease at rightmost – he might be quiet but he knows his birds!

A busy day at FKH, the deck was full all day, and there was always a raptor in the sky to be seen – albeit rather distant.

Left; Karen Riedle and Gabe Cenker discuss the wind speed while using the trusty Skymate wind-meter. Right, the other 2 Cenkers – Dave and Jen – the hawkwatching family.

We will miss all who spent a number of days with us during this busy week and hope they will return soon. As for us who remain, there is still another month of counting left to do!

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 14, 2011 9:16 am

    Wow, I so wish I could have been there. I was especially hoping to meet young Gabe who created that cool Peregrine Falcon eyrie. A shame they didn’t get a strong North wind while there to push the birds right overhead. Weather, is the key to this hawkwatching for sure!

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