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Peregrine Days 2020 Recap

October 19, 2020
Juvenile Peregrine Falcon

There was no official “Peregrine Days” celebration nor did we hold our annual “Hawk Mania” event this year. However, even though Covid-19 may have disrupted nearly every aspect of human life in 2020, this human pandemic wouldn’t stop Peregrine Falcons from migrating. This fact provided a very welcome distraction for the FKH team and the happy visitors we’ve seen at the watch so far this fall!

As many of you may know, October 10th is statistically the best day for total Peregrine detections at FKH (even though weather patterns may cause days on either side to be better) and is the reason we’ve dubbed this date, “The Day of the Peregrines” or “Dia de los Peregrinos” – our own private holiday. The long weekend that surrounds this period is typically our “Peregrine Days Celebration”.

October 10th, 2020 opened with light East winds turning south with raptor numbers growing throughout the day – 23 Peregrines by 11:00 AM, 134 by 2:00 PM, and 240 by 4:00 PM. The south winds had the birds streaming by toward the distant bay side of the Key all day, but by evening there was a great falcon flight with birds passing lower and closer which kept us on the watch until 6:45 PM (our longest count day of the season). This evening flight was predominantly American Kestrels providing our first triple-digit flight of these beautiful little falcons at 174. But this was “The Day of the Peregrines” after all, and we celebrated with high-fives finishing with a whopping 312 Peregrines for the day (a top 20 daily count at FKH)! However, we all knew that the falcons were flying well into the evening and the weather for 10/11 was predicted to be the same. In our guts we all knew and thought “tomorrow could be even better”.

As we’d hoped, 10/11/2020 kicked off with a bang and almost 250 raptors passed in the first two hours including 39 Peregrines, but as we moved into the 11:00 hour it became apparent this was far more than JUST a big Peregrine flight. We had great diversity from the beginning with 7 early Mississippi Kites, a late juvenile Swallow-tailed Kite, promising early Accipiter numbers and exceptional Broad-winged Hawk counts (by FKH standards). Oh yes, and there were Peregrines, loads of Peregrines in mixed species kettles of raptors.

Juvenile Broad-winged Hawk digiscoped at Curry Hammock Park – Peregrine Days 2020

By noon the kettling had ceased and the birds were now simply streaming by without circling, almost as if someone had turned on a massive raptor faucet. Wings partially-tucked, the birds raced over 20 birds abreast in this constant stream for over 4 hours. Broad-wingeds, Peregrines, Sharp-shinneds, American Kestrels, Cooper’s Hawks, Harriers and Ospreys all blending into a mass of streaming raptors over the middle Keys. The flight peaked late in the day with 900 raptors tallied in the single hour between 3:00 & 4:00 PM: 591 Broad-wingeds, 91 Sharpies & 151 Peregrine Falcons! We wrapped up this mind-numbing day (our best of the season & one of the best in recent memory) at 6:30 PM under NW winds. The remarkable daily total reached 3,486 total raptors of 13 species including a new FKH daily record of 1,970 Broad-wingeds and our fourth best, all-time daily Peregrine flight of 557!

See full details on the daily report posted on HawkCount.org!

White-crowned Pigeons juvenile & adult digiscoped by Jeff Bouton, Kowa Sporting Optics

We started 10/12/2020 not knowing what to expect, the winds were more favorable but it seemed highly unlikely we’d see a repeat of the astounding flight experienced on the 11th. Abundant migrants passerines including Redstarts, Black-throated Blue, Palm, Prairie & Cape May Warblers, Waterthrushes, & Ovenbirds mixed with the resident Florida specialties like White-crowned Pigeons carpeting the tropical vegetation in Curry Hammock State Park, as we made our way to the hawkwatch. The Northwest winds brought the birds directly over the watch at closer range; a pleasant break from the past two days with distant raptors streaming over the bay side of the Key.

By 10:30 we’d already tallied over 500 raptors with nearly 80 Peregrines when counter Luis Gles spotted an unexpected treat. “BAHAMA SWALLOW, BAHAMA SWALLOW!!!…” he called. There were only 4 people on the watch at that point, but all present thoroughly enjoyed their first views of these incredibly rare tropical visitors! Three of these birds lazily looped above the hawk watch platform for a few minutes before slowly drifting out of sight to the south.

Bahama Swallow images by FKH counter Mariah Hryniewich 10/12/20

These three represented the first documented Bahama Swallow records in the continental US since 2014 when FKH staff found another small group from the watch. Luis was quick to report this sighting rarities, and by day’s end, 16 people were fortunate enough to see these rare and lovely visitors that continued to pass sporadically, well into the evening. The spectacular flight of raptors was impressive once again, soaring to another high daily total of 2,136 total birds with another 521 Peregrine Falcons!

The chart below summarizes the amazing three day total of raptors tallied by FKH through the “Peregrine Days” celebration window.

A total of 6,422 total raptors highlighted by almost 2,400 Broad-winged Hawks, just under 1,400 Peregrine Falcons, 1,081 Sharpies and 732 Kestrels as raptor highlights with the 3 rare Caribbean stray, Bahama Swallows as icing on a very birdy cake!

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