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Midterm Results – Half a Season Gone & Counting!

October 26, 2020
Swallow-tailed Kites are gorgeous, graceful masters of flight!

We couldn’t be happier with our amazing results through the first half of the season! The 2020 count began September 15th and will run through November 15th. It’s always a challenge with timing, when we begin earlier we catch more of the iconic Swallow-tailed Kites. These fascinating birds migrate through Florida by the thousands, but they begin their southward migration in mid-July. Even though it would be extremely interesting to monitor this poorly understood Swallow-tailed Kite migration, this would literally double the length & expense of our typical two-month count season! Unfortunately, it would be a rough stretch for counters as there would be little else migrating and it’s exceptionally hot, but still it is a goal of ours to one day add a Swallow-tailed Kite migration watch!

Adult light morph Short-tailed Hawk – photo Jeff Bouton

We have typically begun September 1 and have run through October for a full two months of counting. Unfortunately, we also acknowledge that Turkey Vultures, Short-tailed Hawks & Swainson’s Hawk migration peaks at the very end of October and these flights definitely run into November as well. So ending October 31 costs us views of some of these unique species as well. FKH is the only US hawkwatch to receive flights of Short-taileds and the only eastern watch with large flocks of Swainson’s Hawks passing (100+ in some years). With the uncertainties of COVID and changing health safety protocols, we wound up starting later (Sept 15) and will run through mid-November, which should allow us to capture most of the Vultures and late Buteos happily.

2019 was a tough season with East winds on almost every day and comparatively few birds detected. It was actually our lowest flight totals since 2010, which (perhaps not coincidentally) was a year dominated by east winds and lack of the cold fronts that promote the best migration over FKH. As you can see in the chart above, we had already surpassed the total 2019 count totals after just our first month of counting in 2020. More in total, more Bald Eagles, more Northern Harriers, more Ospreys, more Cooper’s Hawks, more Broad-winged Hawks and a lot more Peregrines! We already surpassed the average seasonal counts for 5 species and again had a month of counting left. So as stated at the top, we really could not have asked for a better start to the season.

The Peregrine Falcon number was fueled by a record TEN straight days with triple-digit PEFA flights passing the watch. On three other years (2014, 2015, 2016) we’d had 8 consecutive days with 100+ Peregrines, but never more. This string of ten days in a row pushed an amazing 2,430 Peregrine Falcons past us, and represents our new best streak!

Sadly, after one of our best starts to a season ever, the record-breaking Tropical Storm season has effectively squelched most of our flights. The Keys and southern FL peninsula have been blanketed by storm bands more often than not over the past 7 days, seriously reducing and impeding the raptor flight to and through the Keys, thanks to Hurricane Epsilon and soon to be H. Zeta!

In the 10 days since the 15th, only 1,410 total raptors have been tallied, with less than 400 over the past 6 days. In the interim we’re patiently waiting for the skies to clear and the winds to turn favorable to see what other treats the 2020 migration has in store for us.

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