Florida Keys Hawkwatch

All rights reserved © FL Keys Hawkwatch 2011

On this page you will be able to keep track of Florida Keys Hawkwatch raptor tallies as they count birds of prey over the beautiful FL Keys. Everyday Rafael and Jim dedicate time to counting the Raptors that pass through the FL Keys during migration. We hope you enjoy this new section of Badbirdz2.

Citizen Science Success by Rafael A. Gálvez

Florida Keys Hawkwatch 2011 could not have been possible without the untiring contributions of volunteers. The project managed to fulfill its monitoring duties by complementing the commitment of two full-time counters for the entire season, with the assistance of 32 registered part-time volunteers. Out of a serious dedication to the important tasks related to the monitoring of migratory birds of prey from our Curry Hammock observation site, a total of 1,700 accumulated hours were granted to the hawkwatch over 60 days by citizen scientists.

It should be noted that although monitoring tasks were shared by several individuals during any given day throughout the season, at least one of the two official counters – both during the great majority of the season – was present to ensure that the standardized monitoring methods used historically at the site were practiced. For a detailed description of this methodology, please refer to Lott (2006). Rain or shine, counters were there daily throughout the season except during a single day in mid-October, when torrential rain and flooding associated with a tropical system defied even our most persistent efforts. The best-quality binoculars and telescopes were provided by our official optics sponsor – Leica Sport Optics – and made accessible to volunteers, providing unparalleled opportunities for fulfilling standardized scanning routines for the detection and identification of migrating raptors.

Although the inclusion of a citizen science component as part of this project may seem unprecedented and inconsistent in light of count methods used historically at Curry Hammock, its value has been multifaceted, proving to be an important part of a model for the long-term sustainability of this hawkwatch. It has served prominently in raising awareness, deflecting costs associated with the hiring of additional field technicians, and in fulfilling a mission towards outreach, education and recreation towards the appreciation of birds of prey. It has also allowed our supporters to participate and interact with the project, generating a shared sense of responsibility about the project, rooting a regionally-based sense of “ownership” necessary for long-term support. More importantly, citizen scientists have formed part of a community that has engaged in enlivened discussions about raptor appreciation, identification, education and conservation throughout the season. It has been our hope that after engaging with the Florida Keys Hawkwatch – whether onsite or vicariously through the web – participants have retained an interest in raptors that will transmit to a growing commitment to raptor conservation.

Simply, we could not have asked for a better team of dedicated counters, committed to monitoring raptors according FKH protocols. Our deepest gratitude goes foremost to our registered citizen scientists: Rudy Brancel, Mary Butterfield, Kevin Calhoon, Charles Caudill, Colleen Caudill, Dave Cenker, Gabe Cenker, Jen Cenker, Dan Click, Lilly Ferguson, Darrell Hartman, Sue Hartman, Jeff Madsen, Larry McDaniel, Carey Parks, Ruth Parks, Eric Pineiro, Julie Reagan, Karen Riedle, Samantha Sardes, Gayle Sheets, David Simpson, Bob Stalnaker, Steve Tryon, Christine Vaskovic, Jenny Welch, and Tedor Whitman. However, there are several individuals without whom this season would not have been possible. Jeff Bouton has been an ardent ally of this project from the promotional stages of the 2011 season, through the day-t0-day grind at Curry Hammock, and much more. He supplied his wide-ranging expertise with friendliness, and took part in our renewed banding effort during this season; we look forward to continued collaborations with Jeff. Mark Hedden is that essential friend that serves as a beacon of reliability in the Florida Keys; from the moment he voiced a commitment, there was no doubt he would be an ardent supporter of the project – we could not be more grateful that Mark continues watching over FKH. Dennis Olle served as kingpin for two important supporting organizations of the hawkwatch, and came through without hesitation time and again – thank you Dennis. Angel and Mariel Abreu of Badbirdz Reloaded were excellent in helping promote our efforts via their blog throughout the season, and joined us onsite for an exploratory session. Kevan and Linda Sunderland supplied beautiful photos taken throughout the season, which helped illustrate this blog and other collateral – thank you. Most importantly, the tremendous task of preparing for this 2011 season would not have been possible without the moral and strategic support provided by Begoñe Cazalis. The hawkwatch is also grateful to the following individuals for their relentless support, great advice, and friendship: Frank Albergaria, Julie Brown, Jim Duquesnel, Pete Dunne, Jerry Lorenz and Pete Frezza of the Tavernier Science Center, Ernesto Ruelas Inzunza, Ken Troisi and the staff of rangers and volunteers at Curry Hammock State Park.

Above – The Last Counters Standing: Left to right, Jim Eager, Rafael Galvez, and Jeff Madsen. The three of us managed to cover the last week of monitoring and additional duties to wrap up the 2011 season.

There is not enough space here to mention the hundreds of friends and visitors that stopped by and took part in the hawkwatch; but we are deeply indebted to their enthusiasm and interest, and we hope they will return time and again. With enhanced efforts towards the promotion, visibility and accessibility to the project, there is little doubt that the hawkwatch received more visitor this season than ever. Folk from all corners of Florida stopped by to spend time hawkwatching with us, in addition to visitors from 31 states. International visitors hailed from Brazil, Germany, Spain, United Kingdom, Panama, Venezuela, Finland, Denmark, Australia, South Africa, and other locations.

We are proud of the coalition we have built with our 2011 hawkwatch partners, and our success this season is directly connected to their belief in the project; a big thank you to: Tropical Audubon Society, Space Coast Audubon Society, Florida Keys Audubon Society, Hawk Migration Association of North America, Florida Ornithological Society, Leica Sport Optics, William H. and Patricia M. Kleh, Carlton Fields – Attorneys at Law, and the Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival.

Season-to-date: 10-29-11 by Rafael A. Gálvez

Raptor Quiz Answers by Rafael A. Gálvez

We appreciate all the interest in the quiz and thanks to all who posted their answers.
As has been discussed during this quiz and in previous opportunities, it is often very difficult to identify a flying raptor from a single still image, particularly if that image was taken from an odd angle or if it is distant and blurry. Hawkwatchers rely on a combination of shape, form, and flight behavior to identify species. Most species do not have a single diagnostic feature that immediately helps us tell them apart from others. Instead, we must hone in on a number of different features, some of them structural, maybe even topographical, and certainly behavioral to make a correct identification. Practice, experience, patience – and humility – all help.

The answers below are how these birds were logged in our documentation forms as they were tallied at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch deck. These birds were observed at the hawkwatch from October 24 through October 26. The counters those days included Jim Eager, Tedor Whitman, Colleen and Charles Caudill, Steve Tryon, and I. Here we will look at each bird at a time:

1 – ML AD MALE. This bird went down on our data forms as an adult male Merlin.

Note the colorful undertail coverts, with plenty of visible orange/rust. Also, this is a rather pale bird below, with a golden wash to the underparts and relatively pale wings. The underwing coverts look relatively unmarked; these are typically much bolder and darker marked in adult females. The bold mustache is also a clue for a male Taiga (columbarius) bird.

2 – SS. This bird went down on our data forms as a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

It is all in the flight style for Sharpies vs Cooper’s, but that is not apparent from a single photo. Sharpies beat their wings faster and “whispier,” using mostly the outer wing and little force, whereas Cooper’s use more of the whole wing, and are more methodical, deeper and more powerful with their beats. As has been mentioned in the Facebook comments, and plenty of times before in previous quizzes, the square vs round tail for Sharpie vs Cooper’s simply does not work for very many birds. Note this bird’s small hands on a short wing, smallish head, and narrow waist. Cooper’s have noticeably longer “hands” and wings in general, bigger heads and a broader tail base. It is difficult to remember if we affixed any more detail to this particular bird because we saw many Sharpies this day. In reality, it went directly into the hourly counter along with many others. Although the photo is a small crop of a much larger picture that is 90% sky, with a bit of digital sharpening, we can make out hue differences in the underbody coloration. The upper breast, the lower-central belly and underwing coverts are rustier and lighter – almost appearing as bars compared to the darker streaked breast . But the pits and general chest area is decidedly streaked – heavily so – enough to raise the flag of an immature bird. I will add that this bird just “reads” on the large side, so I will agree with Kevin Karlson on immature female Sharpie.

3 – SW. This one went down as simply Swainson’s Hawk because of the large kettles of mixed SWHAs that passed by, and our pressed time.

Most of the birds in this kettle, like the one in this photo, were immatures, many exhibiting variable plumage. Some were substantially buffy, like this one, while others were nearly white or very rusty. What all immatures show is an incomplete “bib” and “helmet,” as in this bird, whose head markings manifest more like a combo of mustache, eye-strip and nape brace on an otherwise pale head. Regardless of age, all SWHA are long winged with narrow “hands.” Their wings fold angular, reminiscent of a Northern Harrier, and their tail may appear long or sharply cornered, as in this case.

4 – ST D Imm. This bird was entered in our data forms as an immature dark Short-tailed Hawk

One need not see much detail in the coloration or plumage of this bird to note it is a Short-tailed Hawk. The image to the right is the same bird from the back view, and silhouetted using a bit of digital manipulation. What remains is a silhouette of a broad-winged Buteo, with sharply upturned hands, particularly the primary feathers. Note also the bulging secondaries. This telltale wing GISS, combined with a methodical, slow manner of foraging and kiting typical of the species is all one usually needs to ID this bird, even at a distance. This is much like the bird posted on the quiz of October 18 (FB October 18 post link). Note also the extensively pale bases of the primary feathers, typical of all Short-tails, regardless of color or age. The fact that this bird lacks any sort of defined dark trailing edge of the wings and tail indicates it is immature. In the field, spotting on the underwing coverts and body were evident, again indicating immature.

5 – SW. Again, another of the many immature Swainson’s Hawks migrating through the area that day.

I will include Jeff Bouton’s comments on this bird, because they recap it nicely: “As Kevin (Karlson posted), subadult Swainson’s Hawk – the underwing has developed the more adult-like look with the darker flight feathers being more distinctly contrasting, the body plumage has moved to the white basal coloration devoid of streaking (as adult) yet it lacks the full dark hood and bib of full adult. This is a bird that would have been born in summer 2010, so is approaching 1.5 years old.”
I will add that this bird is also showing an impression of a darker terminal band at the tail and flight feathers, which hatch-year birds lack – another indication of a subadult. As in all Swainson’s Hawks, this bird shows very long pointed wings with a narrow hand and relatively smooth edges. Note also the “headlights” on the leading edge at the bend of the wing – light catching on the relief of the wing structure.

6 – NH, Imm. This bird went into our data forms as juvenile Northern Harrier.

As explained by others in the Facebook commentary, the long thin tail and long angular wings indicate a Northern Harrier. The photo on the right is the same bird, showing the typical gliding posture of the species. The middle rendition is of the photo on the right, with a fair amount of contrast manipulation, to bring the bird out of the shadowed light it was photographed with and denote additional details. As can be seen, the bird shows an unmarked underbody with rich buff/orange, as is typical of juvenile birds; this contrasts against a dark head. An adult female would typically show substantial barring throughout the underbody and underwing coverts. Also, the dark secondaries of juvenile birds are obvious on these photos.

7 – BW Ad. Adult Broad-winged Hawk.

This is certainly an adult Broad-wing. Despite the fact that the great majority of the birds of this species seen through the Florida Keys are immature birds, this archetypal adult was captured on camera by Steve. Again, as others have commented, this bird has the bold dark terminal band on the underwing, the boldly patterned tail, and the rich rusty barring across the chest against a dark head. All Broad-wings show “candle-flame” wings, which are relatively pointed at the tip, broad at the base, and broadest at the center, with no prominent bulges or angles.

8 – BW Juv. This bird went into our data forms on 10/24/11 as immature Broad-winged Hawk

From this angle, the wings might appear longer and more angularly cut than expected for this species, but the combination of broad wings and stocky body is readily visible, which allowed this bird to stand out from nearby Swainson’s Hawks; that species has a more slender body and noticeably longer wings. The overall pale plumage of typical immature birds is evident here, with little markings to the underbody and underwing coverts. Some birds, like this one, have a buff wash below, but their flight feathers are always nearly-white. Although this bird is missing the bold dark trailing edge of the wings that adults attain – see #7 – a dark outline is already evident. The pointed and dark finger tips combined with otherwise unmarked flight feathers help differentiate this bird from other contenders. A Short-tail would read as having dark and marked secondaries, and their bulge would stand out from this angle. A young Red-shoulder’s wing might look very similar, but they would appear square cut at the tips, with more visible splay at the outer primaries. In this photo, one can also see the classic streaking to the upper breast that many young Broad-wings have, although this can certainly be variable.

9 – SS. This bird went into the data forms as a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Please see the comments for bird #2 since for the most part, they apply to this bird as well. I will also include Jeff’s answer to this bird because it addressed vital points:
“Adult (male?) Sharp-shinned Hawk. You can detect the orangish barring on the breast (bars blend to a uniform orange wash at distance like this) and hint of grayish coloration on the upperwing typical of adult. Shows classic small head, squarish tail, but further we can see the hood and reduced light cheek typical of SSHA, Coops show more extensive light here that wrap and almost connect behind the head so this dark line connecting back and crown is often not seen.”

10 – CH, imm. This was an immature Cooper’s Hawk.

The long tail and rounded wings indicate an Accipiter. Note the long, rather straight wings on this bird, and the broad base of the tail; compare to the Sharp-shinned Hawk – bird #2. Cooper’s often glide with a hunched back, as in this bird, somewhat drooping the wings and keeping shoulders raised. Compared to Sharpies, their flapping is harder, deeper and more paced, often involving more of the wing. They will in turn soar with a slight dihedral that may be noticeable at a distance. As has been posted on this quiz thread, do not rely on the square vs. round tail for your ID.

11 – BW, Juv. This bird went into our log books as an immature Broad-winged Hawk.

This is much the way we experience Broad-wing Hawks at FKH. High flying immature birds right below the sun. I’ve added here another image of the same individual bird for a different look. Juvenile Broad-wings are highly variable, with some birds being nearly unmarked and very pale, or other much like bird #8, and some that are very streaked or buffy below. Over 90% of the Broad-wings seen at FKH are young birds. The shot on the left – the quiz shot – shows the bird on a full soar, betraying the expected pointed wing tip of the species. Even though the “fingers” – or the outer primaries – are fully splayed, these feathers show little gap between them. As a result, the wings have a rather “squarish” look, somewhat reminiscent of a Red-shouldered or Red-tailed Hawk. However, the wing retains its “candle-flame” form, with no abrupt bulges; considering the very little gap between the splayed fingers, the wings retain enough of a pointed appearance. Note also the near-white flight feathers of the species on nearly unmarked wings, except for the dark fingers and trailing edge of wings and tail.

12 – SW. Swainson’s Hawk

The center photo was the sole image included as #12 in the quiz. This bird was photographed within a loose kettle of 21 Swainson’s Hawks, and just like all other birds in the group it proved to be a SWHA. Photos “a” through “c” were taken within fractions of a second of bird # 12; “d” through “g” a few minutes later – they are all Swainson’s Hawks. Note the very long wings, forming a rather straight leading edge and an angular trailing edge, with an irregular bulge across the secondaries, typical of the species. Note also the long tail, that often looks sharply cornered when slightly fanned, as in “a”, or slender and flared-out towards the tip, as in “c”, “f” and #12, or even spatulate as in “d” and “e”. The impression of a Swainson’s Hawk can be unbelievably similar to that of a Northern Harrier. It is a dynamic Buteo that may at times also give the impression of a Short-tailed Hawk, as in “e”, or even like that of a Broad-wing. Like Northern Harriers, Swainson’s are buoyant flyers, making their differentiation all the more confusing; to make matters even more interesting, Swainson’s often exhibit white uppertail coverts that contrast their dark backs and tails. Look at bird marked with the asterisk (*): long tail, long wings, dark head and contrasting paler underbody – and then the field mark that most folks grip on – the white uppertail coverts. Northern Harrier? No, the asterisk bird is a Swainson’s Hawk. Note the dark flight feathers, which are also noticeable on “c”, “d”, “f”, and “g”.

13 – SW Imm. Swainson’s Hawk, immature.

At the left is the bird head-on/ventral view, and to the right the same individual dorsal. Please see the comments for birds # 3, 5 and 12 for more information.

14 – RS, juv. Red-shouldered Hawk, juvenile.

Here is bird #14 with an additional dorsal view photographed fractions of a second later. Even from the left head-on shot one can discern the squarish wing tips of the Red-shouldered Hawk. If you look carefully, even the telltale translucent crescents of the outer wing are visible on the left photo. Note the crooked bow of the Red-shoulder’s wings, another helpful hint for identifying the bird at a distance.

15 – BE, juv. Bald Eagle, immature.

Now, this is one of the nicest shots taken by Steve this day. At this larger size, the photo should reveal it clearly as an eagle. With Jeff ‘s permission, I will use his post as part of the answer to the quiz because he says it all:
“Immature Bald Eagle by large head and bill, longish tail. One year old bird by uniform very dark upperparts, black bill and very broad secondary base (or secondary bulge). In year 2 & 3 will adopt a whitish belly and back; as they age, their more Red-tailed Hawk-like wing profile (broad secondary base) moves to a slim tapered wing. The bill will begin to lighten by year 3 as well, and in 4th year will approach the typical adult look, with an Osprey like head (white with dark eyestripe) mostly light bill, white tail with dark tip.”

16 – AK Female. American Kestrel, adult female.

The odd angle of this photograph – tail-on – combined with the hovering posture of this bird might have you taking second and third looks. This is behavior typical of Kestrels, as they forage and scan below for potential prey. The colorful rusty tail is immediately evident, and the wings contrast grayer. One might be tempted to judge the contrast between the tail color and the wings as that of an adult male, but note the lack of a broad black terminal band on the tail, which would be indicative of a male bird. Note also that if this were a male bird, the trailing edge of the wings would have visible white or whitish spotting. Adult female American Kestrels often show a grayish cast to their flight feathers; the impression of this is enhanced by the foreshortened angle.

Thanks for participating.
Red-tails into the Buteo Mix by Rafael A. Gálvez

It was a great day for Buteos at FKH; all 5 species were present including 2 Red-tailed Hawks! FKH typically averages roughly 1 Red-tail every 3 years, however today’s birds add up to 3 total for that species so far this season; this is a new seasonal high.

After a few days of reluctant migrants, particularly foraging Kestrels and Accipiters, it was great to have a day of “no-nonsense” migration, with few back-trackers or localized foragers. The Broad-wings however, seemed to have stalled. We’ve had the same kettle of about 160+ birds of that species lingering in the area for the last couple of days. Our total of 458 “southbound” birds today included:

Osprey – 6
Northern Harrier – 27
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 158
Cooper’s Hawk – 71
Short-tailed Hawk – 5
Red-shouldered Hawk – 11
Red-tailed Hawk – 2
Swainson’s Hawk – 31 (in a single kettle!)
American Kestrel – 112
Merlin – 12
Peregrine Falcon – 23

Other observed raptors exhibiting non-migratory behavior:
Broad-winged Hawk – a kettle of roughly 167 birds remained in the area throughout the day
Turkey Vulture

It was a nice quiet day this Tuesday, with few visitors and no other official counters. We had a visit late in the afternoon from Eric Pineiro, from Titusville, who is on his way to the Dry Tortugas. Eric will be helping us with the hawkwatch later this week.

We recently said our goodbyes to 2 great friends of the project – Colleen and Charles Caudill. They dedicated a tremendous amount of time to the hawkwatch and proved time and again to be fantastic counters. They shared with us excellent days of hawkwatching for nearly 2 weeks, as they camped at Curry Hammock. We will miss their attentiveness, their focus and positive spirit, the excellent conversations, and most of all their presence at the deck. We hope Charles and Colleen a great time in the Everglades – their next adventure – and a safe trip back home. They promised they will be back next year, and we are holding them to their word!

The photos from the composite above were taken by Steve Tryon, from Tampa, who joined the project for a few days. We are very grateful for Steve’s time and interest in the project, and for the treasure-trove of photos he took and shared with us. We hope him the best and that he will return to FKH in the future. Photo below, at the FKH deck, left to right: Jim Eager, Steve Tryon, Rafael Galvez.

If you think you can identify all or any of the birds featured in the composite above, please leave a comment on the FKH blog or FKH facebook page.

Peregrine Record Surpassed by Rafael A. Gálvez

By the end of today’s watch, 2,864 Peregrine Falcons made up our seasonal total for that species. The site’s all-time high of 2,858 birds (established 2003) has been surpassed. This is a new seasonal max for that species.

However, it was the Swainson’s Hawks that stole the show today. Our totals for today included:

Osprey – 6
Northern Harrier – 18
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 66
Cooper’s Hawk – 24
Red-shouldered Hawk – 1
Swainson’s Hawk – 22
American Kestrel – 47
Merlin – 2
Peregrine Falcon – 11

It is a great time for diversity at the hawkwatch, and a great opportunity to observe mixed flocks.

One of the day’s highlights was a slow-moving kettle of 21 Swainson’s Hawks. The photo below is a handheld shot of a portion of this kettle. It is interesting to note that every now and then, we get visitors at the hawkwatch that simply cannot believe that this species happens in the Keys. They will stare at our banners and seem unconvinced that this is a fact. Today was a day when we wished such folks were around. This photo was taken using a Leica V-Lux 30 digital camera – an awesome little machine!

Counters today included Tedor Whitman and his wife Margaritte, Steve Tryon, Jim Eager and Rafael Galvez.

Season-to-date totals as of 10-23-11. by Rafael A. Gálvez

10/21/11 – 10/22/11 by Rafael A. Gálvez

A combined total of 1,290 birds were tallied October 21 and 22, with 715 on Friday and 575 on Saturday.

Cooper’s Hawks had a great day today, Saturday, with the 3rd daily max for that species in 12 years, at a total of 124 birds. It was also a very nice day for diversity, with 13 raptor species seen – 11 migratory. We also had the daily max for Red-shouldered Hawks, with an impressive 15 birds seen migrating in high kettles with other species.

Friday was a good numbers day, with good flights of Sharpies, Kestrels and Northern Harriers.

A total of 575 for 10/22/11 included:

Osprey – 8
Northern Harrier – 34
Sharp-shinned hawk – 116
Cooper’s hawk – 124
Short-tailed Hawk – 5
Broad-winged hawk – 240
Red-shouldered Hawk – 15
Swainson’s Hawk – 4
American Kestrel – 17
Merlin – 2
Peregrine Falcon – 10
Non-migratory raptors included Bald Eagle and Turkey Vulture.

A total of 715 for 10/21/11 included:

Osprey – 5
Northern Harrier – 77
Sharp-shinned hawk – 321
Cooper’s hawk – 29
Broad-winged hawk – 127
Swainson’s Hawk – 3
American Kestrel – 140
Merlin – 3
Peregrine Falcon – 7
Unidentified raptor – 2

Counters today were Sue and Darrell Hartman, Colleen and Charles Caudill, Jim Eager and Rafael Galvez.

Best Flight of Raptors over South Florida!!! by Rafael A. Gálvez

3,423 migrating raptors were seen today at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch.
Never before in the 12-year history of full-season hawkwatches at Curry Hammock State Park – or to our knowledge anywhere else in the state of Florida – have more raptors been tallied in a single day (9 hours).

Additionally, we experienced the highest daily count for Sharp-shinned Hawks today than ever in the history of this project, with 1,525 – the previous single-day high for this species was 1,472 in 2008.

We also broke the daily high count for Northern Harriers at this site, with 238 – the previous high was 150 in 1999.

We also broke the daily high count for Short-tailed Hawks at this site with 7 – the previous high was 4 in 2007/2010.

Our numbers for Peregrines, Broad-wings (3rd highest for this site), Kestrels and Cooper’s Hawks were also excellent. Great diversity and numbers – Our total of 3,423 included:

Osprey – 28
Northern Harrier – 238 (new FKH daily high count)
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 1,525 ( new FKH daily high count)
Cooper’s Hawk – 71
Short-tailed Hawk – 7 (new FKH daily high count)
Broad-winged Hawk – 899 (3rd FKH daily count)
Red-shouldered Hawk – 2
Swainson’s Hawk – 10
American Kestrel – 368
Merlin – 8
Peregrine Falcon – 267

Non-migratory raptors:
2 young Bald Eagles in localized movement
Turkey Vultures – the first substantial flights for this species this fall, with a couple hundred estimated.

With the intense amount of rain over the past days pushing violently up the Keys into the mainland, birds were backed up north of this tropical system. This combined with a sudden shift to perfect tailwinds out of the NW, to make the “perfect storm” of raptors over the Florida Keys Hawkwatch.

I must commend the excellent eyes we had on deck today. Jim and I were joined by two excellent couples, Colleen and Charles Caudill – who have been with us now for nearly a week, and Sue and Darrell Hartman from Gainesville, who just joined the project and will remain with us for a few more days. We managed to run the watch like a well-oiled machine. Compared to some of the previous days of extreme distance hawkwatching, today’s birds were brought primarily overhead. Some necks might be sore tonight.

We are all very excited; the following days promise to bring more of the birds backed up by the storm. No doubt, it was a great day for raptors in the Florida Keys!

Drastic Weather = Raptors 19 + Songbird Saturation by Rafael A. Gálvez

Today’s hawkwatch was only a partial count, starting at 1:30pm and running until 4pm. It rained until early afternoon, at times very hard, with winds out of the SW and gusts up to 40 kph. The nearby city of Marathon closed public school this morning. Early lightning and thunder were very impressive.

By mid-day, the winds came nearly to a complete halt. As I write this (9:45pm), the winds have considerably increased, holding steady out of the NW at around 20 kph, with gusts up to 35 kph.

Only 19 birds of prey of 3 species were observed engaged in “southbound” flight including:

Osprey – 2
Merlin – 1
Peregrine Falcon – 16

Additionally, several American Kestrels were observed in localized non-migratory movement, in addition to Broad-winged Hawks and Short-tailed Hawks.

Song bird activity after the rain was much like the previous day; warblers and other passerines were evident in nearly every tree in the Middle Keys. Tennessee remained as the most common warbler, but there was no lack of American Redstarts, Black-throated Blues and Cape May Warblers. An increase of Worm-eating, Magnolia, and Black-and-white was also noticeable. Birds not seen yesterday but seen today included Scarlet and Summer Tanagers and Baltimore Oriole. Additionally, my first Whip-poor-will of the season and a Nighthawk sp. were seen.

The Overseas highway today was somewhat deserted once the storm let-up. The bodies of many Yellow-billed Cuckoos and warblers were strewn about. I managed to rescue 2 Black-throated Blue Warblers from flooded lots. One of the highlights of the current weather event and related migration activity has been the presence of more Bay-breasted Warbler than I can ever remember in South Florida before.
Falcon Flights – and Tons of Passerines! by Rafael A. Gálvez

We were thrilled that the rain finally took a break this day, and did not interfere with our monitoring efforts. However, all through the Middle Keys, flooded lots, fields and structures are evident as result of the tremendous amount of rainfall over the last days.

It might have not been rainy, but today’s strong winds out of the east with gusts up to 20+ km/h were not optimal migration conditions. As a result, it turned out to be primarily a falcon day.

Osprey – 7
Northern Harrier – 6
Cooper’s Hawk – 1
American Kestrel – 67
Merlin – 9
Peregrine Falcon – 67
Total – 155

Other raptors observed:
Sharp-shinned Hawks were seen in the vicinity, but were not exhibiting migratory behavior.
Short-tailed Hawks were seen just south of FKH, in Marathon.
Broad-winged Hawks were seen perched on wires and within the forest at Curry Hammock State Park, but were not engaged in migration.
Turkey Vultures were also in the vicinity.

After a few frustrating days of excellent migration reports north and south of us, and an incredibly wet afternoon watching crazy birds like Bay-breasted and Blackburnian Warblers alongside Rose-breasted Grosbeak while getting drenched in a flooded parking lot, the rain finally seized. According to some reports, no less than 11″ of rain fell yesterday in the Middle Keys. Like a child on Christmas morning, I awoke before sunrise to look out the window as the last droplets dissipated. I drove out to Crane Point Hammock in Marathon to encounter the type of passerine event I’d only dared hope for. The very first tree I looked at – a large Gumbo Limbo – was just “covered” with warblers, primarily Tennessee, but there was absolutely no lack of Black-throated Blue, Redstarts and many other species! Here is a summary of what I saw:

Eastern Wood-Pewee (2)
Eastern Kingbird (4)
Scissor-tailed Flycather (3)
Red-eyed Vireo (few)
White-eyed Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo (5)
Veery (1)
Swainson’s Thrush (20)
Gray-cheecked Thrush (5)
Gray Catbird (20)
Northern Parula (5)
Tennessee Warbler (50+)
Chestnut-sided Warbler (1)
Magnolia Warbler (5)
Cape May Warbler (10)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (50+)
Blackburnian Warbler (1)
Black-throated Green Warbler (1)
Prairie Warbler (10)
Palm Warbler (100′s)
Bay-breasted Warbler (3)
Yellow-throated Warbler (1)
Worm-eating Warbler (1)
Black-and-white Warbler (5)
American Redstart (50+)
Ovenbird (50+)
Northern Waterthrush (5)
Louisiana Waterthrush (2)
Common Yellowthroat (50+)
Summer Tanager (1)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (10)
Indigo Bunting (30)
Dickcissel (1)
Yellow-billed Cuckoo – countless – I was spooking them left and right as I walked through the hammock. On the drive back north towards the marine lab in the afternoon, I noticed about a dozen dead YBCU on the road, while a couple more dared cross my path in rushed flight.

The mangrove path through Crane Point was covered with Black-throated Blues, Redstarts, Ovenbirds and Yellowthroats on the ground – countless – daintily feeding on the flooded ground. The flats on the bay had a dozen Redstarts hopping and twirling over the tidal wrack, on a feeding frenzy for sand flees.

Unfortunately, I had to cut the birding short – I had a hawkwatch to attend. Let us hope tomorrow morning is a repeat – as of now (9:48pm) it is drizzling outside.
More Rain and Wind by Rafael A. Gálvez

Another rainy and windy day at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch. In many respects – including the weather, number of birds and species composition – Sunday was very similar to Saturday.

Osprey – 11
Northern Harrier – 13
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 7
American Kestrel – 46
Merlin – 29
Peregrine Falcon – 24
Unidentified raptor – 1
Total – 131

Rain Don’t Stop Kestrels! by Rafael A. Gálvez

It was a completely rainy day at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, with winds out of the NE and gusts up to 15 km/h. Contrasting the past few “hottest” days of the season, today was the chilliest and wettest, with the thermometer dropping to 25C (77F).

The species tallied today were precisely those we’d expect during stormy weather. However, Kestrels were by far the most common migrant – the rain did not seem to deter them much. Below are our totals:

Osprey – 4
Northern Harrier – 16
American Kestrel – 102
Merlin – 18
Peregrine Falcon – 26
Total – 166

Not surprisingly, Buteos and Accipiters were not observed. Other migrants included 5 Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Blue-winged Teal have also been on the move over the last few days, we saw over 100 today, yet yesterday we counted a strand of about 1,500 flying southeastward and offshore.

Angel Abreu of Badbirdz Reloaded sent me a text message in the morning telling me that the radar showed massive flights into Key West. According to some reports, Fort Zachary Taylor had a “fall out.” It would have been nice to have been there, but despite the temptations, we had a hawkwatch to run!

The 10,000 Milestone! by Rafael A. Gálvez

Just short of the noon hour today, we tallied our 10,000 bird of the season – a Sharp-shinned Hawk! This was quite fitting considering it was the Sharpie’s day to shine – the species best day yet this season with 350 individuals. By the end of the day, we had tallied 859 birds for the day, adding up to 10,660 migrant raptors for the season.

Kestrels are also finally moving through in good numbers; Broad-wings hold steady in the 3-digits; Harriers continue pushing through; and although Peregrines have dipped from stellar numbers just a few days back, 66 is nothing to complain about.

With winds out of the NE holding at an average of 6 km/h, migratory raptors moved through quickly along every possible flight path due SW. The heavy overcast sky was challenging, considering it made for little reference points and that the birds were flying at high altitudes. However, this also filtered the sun and heat, making very distant identification of the smaller raptors possible without the hindrance of heat distortion.

Osprey – 12
Northern Harrier – 36
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 350
Cooper’s Hawk – 17
Short-tailed Hawk – 4
Broad-winged Hawk – 165
American Kestrel – 202
Merlin – 7
Peregrine Falcon – 66
Total – 859

Below are the FKH 2011 season-to-date totals as featured in the observation deck:

After several days of great company at FKH, it has been sad to say our goodbyes to several individuals who contributed much to our project. Jack and Bobbie Hamilton stopped by for a few last hours of hawkwatching before heading back home to central Florida. Jim and Raquel Sease also spent their last afternoon at FKH after having shared countless hours with us on deck over the season; their patience and kindness will surely be missed, but they will return next year. And the Cenkers – Dave, Jen and Gabe – came by to say bye also. Most memorable will be Gabe – although 10 yrs old, many have commented over the last week at how inspirational it has been to see him so involved in the project and so enthusiastic about raptor migration. We have been very fortunate to have him and his family take part, and we are certain they will remain attuned to birds and migration into the future. We hope they return soon.

But just as old friends leave, new friends are made quickly while hawkwatching – it was a pleasure to spend time with Colleen and Charles Caudill, who were very keen on spotting birds. We look forward to having them join us over the following days.

Extreme Hawkwatching 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!

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
Total – 563

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 provide 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.

10/12/11 – Excellent day! by Rafael A. Gálvez

We had no internet last night at the lab, so here I post a condensed version of 10/12/11.
We had another excellent day at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch.

Osprey – 60
Northern Harrier – 78
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 150
Cooper’s Hawk – 24
Short-tailed Hawk -2
Broad-winged Hawk – 172
Red-shouldered Hawk – 1
Swainson’s Hawk – 2
American Kestrel – 121
Merlin – 15
Peregrine Falcon – 245
Total – 870

Other non-migratory raptor species:
Bald Eagle
Turkey Vulture

Eyes on the skies:
Mary Butterfield, Karen Riedle, Bob Stalnaker, Rafael Galvez, and Dave, Jen and Gabe Cenker. Visitors included Raquel and Jim Sease.

October Diversity – and certainly Peregrines! by Rafael A. Gálvez

We had an excellent day at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, with just the right weather for good flights, and just the right time of the year for excellent diversity. A total of 881 migratory raptors were tallied, of 10 species. With several counters at the site and plenty of enthusiasm to go around, we closed shop one hour later (5pm) because the birds just kept on coming through!

After two smashing days of Broad-winged Hawk flights, and breaking the site’s daily count high (yesterday with 1363), the species continued in healthy numbers: 236 for the day. Kestrels and Sharpies are finally starting to show in good numbers, with just below 100 for each. Although Red-shoulders did not show after a couple of days of movement, our “late” Buteos are showing up more and more. We had 4 Short-tails and 3 Swainson’s today! Despite all the diversity, it is undoubtedly the Peregrines that rule at this dojo, and today was no exception. They gave us the best looks, consistently throughout the day, aerial displays of speed and power, and the highest number compared to all other species, with a very nice high total of 301 birds – our second best this season after 393 on Oct 2.

It is worthy to note that, although our Peregrine numbers have remained healthy, we had somewhat of a dip about a week ago, coinciding with the bad weather. A few days back, our “sister” site at GTM, near Jacksonville Florida (the only other raptor count in the state) had their best counts for Peregrines with 323 on October 8 and 365 the following day. And here we get a spike in PEFA numbers! It is very likely that some of these are the birds sighted at GTM. Now if we get anywhere near 300 Peregrines tomorrow, maybe we are onto something.

Osprey – 64
Northern Harrier – 40
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 99
Cooper’s Hawk – 24
Short-tailed Hawk – 4
Broad-winged Hawk – 236
Swainson’s Hawk – 3
American Kestrel – 98
Merlin – 12
Peregrine Falcon – 301
Total – 881

Other (non-migratory) raptors species seen included:
Bald Eagle (4 individuals)
Turkey Vultures (much fewer numbers than expected by this time of the year, kettles of no more than 10 birds at any time).

We had a great group of observers at FKH today. The jovial bunch included Rudy Brancel, Bob Stalnaker, Mary Butterfield, Karen Riedle, and Gabe, Dave and Jen Cenker – and Rafael Galvez. We were visited by our regulars, Peter from Marathon and Raquel and Jim Sease. It has been great fun to have such a dynamic age range at the site, and everyone contributing to the project with such enthusiasm. Special mention must be given to Gabe – only 10 – who has quickly gotten the hang of hawkwatching and is on top of most of the birds, quickly advancing on his ID skill – the Cenkers will be joining us until the end of the week.

Broad-wing Count Topped at FKH! by Rafael A. Gálvez

After a wet and challenging week, the Broad-winged Hawk floodgates were lifted and the birds moved through in excellent numbers.

The highest day count of Broad-wings at FKH was broken today, with a total 1363 total, surpassing the record of 1255 (Oct 16 2010). Another 460 Broad-wings were seen yesterday, October 9.

With a complete switch of winds, primarily out of the south at no more than 5 km/h – and plenty of sun and heat – conditions were perfect for a big Broad-wing flight. We saw 759 between 11 and 12, and the following hours continued with great numbers.

Mississippi Kites continue to be present and Sharpies are on the increase. No shortage of Peregrines here with 70 yesterday and 82 today. One question remains, where are the Kestrels??

Osprey – 26
Mississippi Kite – 8
Northern Harrier – 23
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 48
Cooper’s Hawk – 11
Broad-winged Hawk – 1363
Red-shouldered Hawk – 1
American Kestrel – 9
Merlin – 3
Peregrine Falcon – 82
Total – 1574

Also seen, yet not exhibiting migratory behavior:

Bald Eagle
Short-tailed Hawk
Turkey Vulture

Despite the excellent numbers, flights were challenging today, mostly far inland nearing the bay, and often at the limit of binocular identification. Counters today included Bob Stalnaker, Lilli Ferguson, Jim Eager, Rafael Galvez, and Jennifer, Dave and Gabe Cenker. As always, Jim and Raquel Sease joined us.

Saturday October 8, 2011 by Rafael A. Gálvez

Despite the wet weather with crazy variable winds and gusts over 20 km/h, our greatly anticipated Sunday was excellent. Several visitors and volunteers cancelled, but we still had a great turnout!

Against the odds, the banding station was ready and running, and birds were trapped, banded, demonstrated and safely released. Never mind the muddy puddles, wet shoes and chilly winds – success was attained thanks to the efforts of Jeff Bouton, Rudy Brancel and Mark Hedden.

Meanwhile at the hawkwatch, Jim Eager and I kept our eyes over low and completely overcast skies. In the end we had 83 birds total for Saturday, with Peregrines, Ospreys and Kestrels being the prominent species. Not bad for a day most would have thought lost to bad weather. Our enthusiastic and “brave” visitors included Gary Pappas – a representative of Carlton Fields, one of the FKH 2011 sponsors, Nancy Stevens, Debbie and Victor Riveron, Jason Daly, Jay Horvath, Brenda Daly and Jose Camacho. Several additional visitors and park goers stopped by for brief looks, or took part in the demonstrations.

Friday October 7, 2011 by Rafael A. Gálvez

Peregrine Falcon photo taken by Jeff Bouton using a Leica D-Lux 30, digiscoped through an APO-Televid 65.

All ready go to – got all bases covered – and then there’s the crazy weather!

Today was a real challenge. With nearly 100% cloud cover all day, and variable wind speeds with gusts nearly 30 km/h from the NE, migration seemed at a standstill. During brief periods throughout the day we had drizzle, and a good rain during mid-day.

Osprey – 12
Northern Harrier – 22
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 2
Cooper’s Hawk – 1
Broad-winged Hawk – 1
American Kestrel – 7
Merlin – 5
Peregrine Falcon – 14
Total – 64

Counters included Jim Eager and Rafael Galvez. Visitors were Patty Fado, Raquel and Jim Sease, and Kevan and Linda Sunderland.

The photo above is of a Peregrine Falcon, perched across the field from the banding station, on the so-called Melin sticks. It is often that one can see a Merlin, Kestrel or Peregrine perched on this long-dead Buttonwood. The birds will often harass each other over a preferred perched during the evenings. Today, falcons occupied the sticks throughout the day. Birds seemed unwilling to migrate or feed. It would appear that many were not necessarily hungry, but simply restless and displeased with weather conditions. It was a struggle at the banding station, where Jeff and Rudy kept vigilant throughout the day, with some close misses, but mainly frustrated with the lack of workable bird activity. The same could be said for those of us at the count site. Our total of 5 Merlins, for example, only shows part of the picture. We had several moments when there might have been 4 Merlins in the sky at once, but again, the birds did not seem interested in migrating with these winds, so they just lingered and flew back and forth throughout the key, driving us insane!

Getting Busy! by Rafael A. Gálvez

Although it was not the very best of flights – migrating raptors continue to move “southward” over the Middle Keys, and we manage to keep an optimistic and upbeat attitude.

With much to do in preparation for an exciting weekend, I split my efforts, spending a bit of time at the hawkwatch alongside Jim and Larry – who were there the entire shift – and mostly helping Jeff Bouton set up the banding station.

Winds registered primarily out of the north, with a bit of an eastern component that has slowed migration enough to keep us tense and waiting for more. Although wind speeds averaged around 8 km/h, gusts registered up to 31 km/h!!!

Peregrines keep on holding up, with 32 birds today – not bad! Broad-wings finally showed up after missing in action for several days, though they still have much to promise. Merlins and Kestrels were certainly around – they just were not migrating! Maybe the winds were too much to put up with. And a nice surprise was the second Swainson’s Hawk of the season, which Larry managed to photograph at the last possible minute. With kites absent for several days now and the “late” Buteos showing up rather early, it feels like mid October around here.

Osprey – 12
Northern Harrier – 5
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 16
Cooper’s Hawk – 1
Broad-winged Hawk – 51
Swainson’s Hawk – 1
American Kestrel – 12
Peregrine Falcon – 32
Total – 130

Jeff really outdid himself today, and had much to show by the evening. We celebrated with the first of the season’s trapped birds, and took part in the banding process of a male hatch-year Merlin. This, however, was attained after long hours of scavenging through the coastal prairie habitat for natural material for posts and for the blind structure, the digging of various holes, and lots of ingenuous rigging.

On the Eve of 5000 by Rafael A. Gálvez

74 Peregrines; Ospreys and Northern Harriers holding steady; 135 migrating raptors total.

It was another moderate day of migration at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, but no one is complaining. Looking over previous years’ numbers for October, two concepts can be surmised:

The unpredictable fluctuation of flight peaks for every species from year to year
The inevitability of having several 2-digit count days during October
Fortunately for us, today was not one of those 2-digit counts. We’ve simply been having “withdrawals” from several days of excellent flights last week, and are still pumped and ready for big flights. The eastern component to the winds has not benefited us as of late, and we are still waiting for “better” representations from a number of species, including the Accipiters and the Kestrels.
Winds speeds averaged between 5 and 8 km/h with gusts up to 18 out of the NNE. Cloud cover varied from 40 to 70% with no precipitation. Flight heights/lateral distances were not as extreme as recent days. Peregrines continue to be our bread and butter.

Osprey – 18
Northern Harrier – 10
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 10
Cooper’s Hawk – 3
Broad-winged Hawk – 11
American Kestrel – 6
Merlin – 2
Peregrine Falcon – 74
Unidentifiable raptor – 1
Total – 135

Seasonal totals to date:

Osprey – 622
Mississippi Kite – 40
Swallow-tailed Kite – 18
Bald Eagle – 10
Northern Harrier – 176
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 415
Cooper’s Hawk – 227
Short-tailed Hawk – 3
Red-shouldered Hawk – 24
Broad-winged Hawk – 1358
Red-tailed Hawk – 1
Swainson’s Hawk – 1
American Kestrel – 337
Merlin – 297
Peregrine Falcon – 1450
Unknown Accipiter – 5
Unknown Buteo – 1
Unknown Falcon – 3
Unknown Raptor – 1
Total – 4991

Counters today were Jim Eager and Larry McDaniel.
Gusty Tuesday by Rafael A. Gálvez

Not everyday is the same at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch. After an excellent weekend of good numbers and diversity, we continue onto week of modest flights. Today’s numbers are the lowest in 7 days, and it would appear the weather is linked to this. With winds out of the NNE, speeds never dropping below 8km/h and persistent gusts up to 22km/h, migrating raptors struggled to keep on course. Cloud cover was low and never below 70%, with precipitation during the first and last hour of count. The flight patterns were inconsistent, with many birds flying very low, often changing direction or struggling to maintain a controlled trajectory.

Osprey – 42
Northern Harrier – 16
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 4
Cooper’s Hawk – 1
Broad-winged Hawk – 2
American Kestrel – 34
Merlin – 8
Peregrine Falcon – 60
Total – 167

A handful of Turkey Vultures were also in the vicinity.

Larry McDaniel and I started the day early, with a visit to Crane Point and their wonderful hammock and mangrove trails. We saw quite a number of birds, but diversity was moderate. Most of the usual warbler species were present – nothing surprising – including Worm-eating, Black-throated Blue and American Redstart. We heard a few flyover Swainson’s Thrushes and plenty of Palm Warblers. A highlight was a beautiful golden Summer Tanager near a blooming Dildo Cactus. Chuck-will’s Widow’s continue to be sighted regularly.

At the hawkwatch, additional sightings included Roseate Spoonbills, White-crowned Pigeons, Baltimore Orioles and Eastern Kingbirds.

We look forward to the rest of the week – optimistically!
Scattered Rain and Moderate Flights by Rafael A. Gálvez

Today’s count kicked off with some rain before mid-morning, and some more by noon. The wind varied drastically from 3 to 10 km/h, with gusts near 20, out of the northeast.

The flights were somewhat moderate yet steady and sporadic. It seemed that early in the day all the falcons were having a difficult time deciding which direction to fly towards. We had to constantly be following Merlins circle the perimeter of the park or watch Kestrels fly out towards the water and return back to shore.

Harriers had their best flight of the season to date; we are still waiting for increased numbers into the following weeks.

Ospreys remain low, but steady in the low double digits – we can only hope that they will keep coming and make up for a healthy season. They tend to peak rather early, but looking over the 12 years of full seasons at Curry Hammock, it is unpredictable.

Osprey – 18
Northern Harrier – 34
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 21
Cooper’s Hawk – 13
Broad-winged Hawk – 3
American Kestrel – 43
Merlin – 33
Peregrine Falcon – 89
Unidentified falcon – 2
Total – 256

Today’s counters included Tedor Whitman, Larry McDaniel, Jim Eager, Jenny Welch, Paul Cooper and Rafael Galvez.

With rain over the Marathon area into the early morning, it seemed a good opportunity for passerine migrants. Larry and I headed out a bit early to check the hammock on the bay side of Curry Hammock. We were soon joined by Paul Cooper. There were certainly some birds around, and had we the time we might have certainly rendered some surprises. We saw/heard the following species:
Northern Parula
Prairie Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
American Redstart
Yellow-throated Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Northern Waterthrush
Palm Warbler
Red-eyed Vireo
White-eyed Vireo
Indigo Bunting
Swainson’s Thrush
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Gray Catbird – first of the season at Curry Hammock

A highlight was a Whimbrel spotted by Tedor flying along the shoreline, observed from the FKH deck.
Peregrines Peregrines Peregrines Peregri… by Rafael A. Gálvez

With winds primarily out of the north, maintained at about 7 to 8 km/h throughout the day, migrating raptors had excellent conditions for swift flights over the Middle Keys. The buzz around had all the anticipation of a spectacular count. But as the first hours ticked by with little over 60 birds and hardly any cloud cover, we feared that the birds might be flying past us undetected despite our vigilance.

Before the second hour was over, we had back-to-back surprises. The first Short-tailed Hawk of the season – a dark bird – sped by on a mid-height glide, giving us all great looks (by the end of the day we would have 3 of this species -2 dark and 1 light). A few minutes later, amid increased flights of Northern Harriers and Sharp-shinned Hawks, we were stunned to have a juvenile Swainson’s Hawk pass by, again giving excellent looks and another first of the season! That hour would give us also the fourth of the day’s Mississippi Kites, but little in terms of falcons and Broad-wings.

By mid-day, our relatively low number of Peregrines was somewhat disheartening.

The tables soon turned as we started getting a steady “rain” of high gliding Peregrines – 68 from 12 to 1 – 77 from 1 to 2 – 160 from 2 to 3 and so forth, for a total of 393 PEFAs for the day!

Don’t be fooled. These were not birds passing by leisurely at comfortable heights, but bullet-speed gliders through blue skies, often at the limit of binocular vision. Every now and then, they would be joined by other species, such as Sharpies, Harriers or the rare Osprey, but there was no doubt it was a Peregrine show. Our dear friends Kevan and Linda Sunderland were there, hoping for low fliers to get some shots in; but even with their magnificent 800mm lens, few shots could be captured.

Osprey – 20
Mississippi Kite – 4
Northern Harrier – 25
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 70
Cooper’s Hawk – 44
Short-tailed Hawk – 3
Broad-winged Hawk – 76
Red-shouldered Hawk – 6
Swainson’s Hawk – 1
American Kestrel – 14
Merlin – 1
Peregrine Falcon – 393
Unidentifiable falcon – 1
Total – 658

Additionally, non-migratory raptors of the following species were seen:
Bald Eagle – 1 (adult)
Turkey Vulture – 10+
14 raptor species total

Let October Begin! by Rafael A. Gálvez

The month of October started with a good push of birds, which took advantage of winds out of the north/northwest this first day. Flight paths were primarily overhead, often at comfortable altitutes, giving us great looks at several species, and allowing our necks some rest.

Above is an excellent photo taken by Kevan Sunderland during last year’s season. Kevan and his wife Linda joined us today during the morning – he took some great photos of Accipiters and Broad-wings in flight.

Highlights included our 35th Mississippi Kite of the season – let them keep coming – and excellent numbers of Peregrines. Broad-wings, Sharpies and Kestrels continue increasing, as do Harriers in smaller numbers.

It was interesting to watch many of the Peregrines migrating far along the Atlantic – often hardly visible from deck – yet following a southwest trajectory. Many of the birds appeared to trend slightly towards the shore as they moved along, but this was by no means the general rule. Broad-wings were also seen moving on a southwest trajectory, often farther offshore than one would expect. It would seem the thermal activity was being carried offshore by the winds, along with the birds.

Osprey – 13
Mississippi Kite – 1
Northern Harrier – 9
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 116
Cooper’s Hawk – 34
Broad-winged Hawk -351
Red-shouldered Hawk – 3
American Kestrel – 77
Merlin – 6
Peregrine Falcon – 115
Unidentified Accipiter – 1
Total – 727

Our season-to-date totals are:

Osprey – 524
Mississippi Kite – 36
Swallow-tailed Kite – 18
Bald Eagle – 10
Northern Harrier – 91
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 310
Cooper’s Hawk – 166
Red-shouldered Hawk – 18
Broad-winged Hawk – 1266
Red-tailed Hawk – 1
American Kestrel – 240
Merlin – 253
Peregrine Falcon – 834
Unknown Accipiter – 5
Unknown Buteo – 1
Unknown Raptor – 2
Total: 3775

September Finals by Rafael A. Gálvez

All rights reserved © 2011 Rafael A. Gálvez

All rights reserved © 2011 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.

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
Total – 422

Raptor count totals for the month of September 2011

High Overhead Flights by Rafael A. Gálvez

Another neck-breaking day at FKH. The NNE winds brought the birds directly over us. Judging from the cirrus clouds overhead and their streaming formations along the same direction, high altitude tail-winds were pushing harder than at the surface level, keeping migrants satisfied at high elevations. Birds were often seen streaming in and out of cumulus clouds at high velocities, or kettling within them and barely visible. It was a hard-working day but it certainly paid off.

Osprey – 24
Mississippi Kite – 3
Northern Harrier – 4
Bald Eagle – 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 49
Cooper’s Hawk – 21
Broad-winged Hawk -249
Red-shouldered Hawk – 3
American Kestrel – 59
Merlin – 4
Peregrine Falcon – 79
Total – 496

Diversity and Numbers by Rafael A. Gálvez

An excellent day at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch! With 13 species of raptors and a total of 691 birds – no one is complaining, except perhaps our necks.

Today’s NW winds were sure a contrast from the ESE winds of previous days, bringing the migrants directly overhead. Most of the birds were flying quite high, and with up to 80% cloud cover, we had to work hard to catch birds as they cloud-hopped.

Highlights included a high number of Peregrines and Broad-wings and an abrupt influx of Accipiters. A Red-tailed Hawk immature cruised southward – apparently the 4th recorded for the species in the 12 years of this count.

Osprey – 36
Mississippi Kite – 2
Swallow-tailed Kite – 1
Northern Harrier – 18
Bald Eagle – 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 40
Cooper’s Hawk – 46
Broad-winged Hawk – 346
Red-shouldered Hawk – 9
Red-tailed Hawk – 1
American Kestrel – 21
Merlin – 4
Peregrine Falcon – 163
Unidentified raptor – 2
Total – 691
Big Push After Storm by Rafael A. Gálvez

Ospreys were on the move, and there was no cessation of Merlins and Peregrines. Kestrels and Harriers are finally showing up, and we are just beginning to see what Broad-wings can do. Kites continued moving through in low numbers. Swallows didn’t hold back, and passerines exhibited a mini-fallout on Curry Hammock’s Thatch Palm Forest Trail.

Osprey – 95
Mississippi Kite – 2
Swallow-tailed Kite – 3
Northern Harrier – 17
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 3
Cooper’s Hawk – 5
Broad-winged Hawk – 50
American Kestrel – 21
Merlin – 36
Peregrine Falcon – 75
Unidentifiable Accipiter – 2
Total – 310

Today we saw nothing like yesterdays stormy weather. It rained the night through until 7:15 am, at which point I arrived to Curry Hammock’s Thatch Palm Forest, on the gulf side. At first hike, the hammock seemed quiet, but birds were soon evident. Sightings include:
Black-throated Blue
Hooded (at least 4)

Cape May
Swainson’s Warblers
Northern Waterthrush
Red-eyed Vireo
White-eyed Vireo
Veery (various)
Swainson’s Thrush (various)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Dickcissel (at least 2)


One of the most interesting details was watching a male Hooded Warbler catch a small Brown Anole, of about an inch in length, and swallow it whole. I have never seen such behavior before.

Southerly Winds and Migrating… Nighthawks? by Rafael A. Gálvez

It was a calm and focused day at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch. Once again, Ospreys, Merlins and Peregrines took most of our attention, with a wash of several other species – raptor and non-raptor – to keep the day interesting.

Osprey – 53 (our best yet this season)
Swallow-tailed Kite – 2
Northern Harrier – 5
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 5 (they are starting to show up – finally)
Cooper’s Hawk – 1
Broad-winged Hawk – 9
American Kestrel – 1 (our 3rd AK this season!)
Merlin – 17
Peregrine Falcon – 41
Unknown Accipiter – 1 (too distant, too fast)
Total – 135

With winds averaging at about 5km/h out of the south, flights were primarily inland and at times quite distant, pushed against the Bay following the southwestward curve of the Keys.

A highlight of the day was seeing several large flocks of nighthawks, presumably Commons flying out directly towards the ocean, ESE. Although not truly hawks nor part of our research, it was fascinating to watch this typically nocturnal species engaged in migration and in large numbers. First a few were sighted, then 3 flocks of about 30 each were seen, and at about midday, a kettle of about 100 gathered briefly and moved on. Judging from the determined and unswerving flight style they maintained, it would not be surprising to learn that these birds flew clear across Florida Bay from somewhere on the southwest mainland. Their destination? Would love to know.

As I write, night is falling and a nasty thunderstorm is brewing over us. I took a quick stroll outside and noticed a couple of hundred nighthawks flying low and south in more typically erratic flight!

Visitors, Counters and Birds by Rafael A. Gálvez

The Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival came to Curry Hammock State Park today. The day-use area on the north side of the park was occupied by booths and stands from several organizations and vendors, and the hawkwatch was filled with visitors and hawkwatchers throughout the day. Above left, FKH counters focused on tracking movement at high altitudes. Although not in the 3-digit day-counts we hope to get soon, today’s 48 Ospreys were our best for the season yet. From left to right, Mariel Abreu, Angel Abreu, Samantha Sardes, Christine Vaskovis, and Jim Eager managed to tally 11 Ospreys from 11 to noon, mostly high overhead. Above right, Rudy Brancel focused on sharing Marlena the Merlin with visitors. Adults and children enjoyed the very cooperative rehabilitated female falcon, and browsed through FKH interpretive displays.

Osprey – 48
Mississippi Kite – 4
Swallow-tailed Kite – 4
Northern Harrier – 9
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 1
Cooper’s Hawk – 4
Broad-winged Hawk – 8
Merlin – 14
Peregrine Falcon – 75
Total – 167

Left: counters at the FL Keys Hawkwatch - Right: Kenn and Kim Kaufmann visit the station

Above right, Kenn and Kim Kaufman visited the hawkwatch during the last hours, just as the falcon flights began picking up again. It was a great pleasure to have them at the site. We hope they are having a great time at the Keys and that they will visit the hawkwatch again soon.

On the left FKH counters and on the right Rudy with Merlina teaching the kids that visited from the festival.

Into the afternoon, several observers kept eyes on migration while visitors continued moving through. In the above photo, in the center with the black cap and shirt is Mark Hedden, long-time contributor to the Florida Keys Hawkwatch. Soon we were also graced by Jeff Bouton and David Simpson. During the last 3 hours, 38 Peregrines were tallied. The flights of swallows were excellent into the evening with thousands swarming throughout in mixed flocks that included Purple Martin, Barn, Cliff, Cave, N. Rough-winged, and Bank Swallows.

We look forward to more days like this, surrounded by new and old friends, and no lack of migrating birds.

Visitors, Counters and Birds by Rafael A. Gálvez

With a total of 217 birds of 9 species, we finally got a feel for what the season may hold. We had several excellent eyes on the skies today. The counters throughout the day included Jim Eager, Jeff Bouton, Rudy Brancel, Samantha Sardes, Christine Vaskovis, Rafael Galvez, and many visitors.

Osprey – 45
Mississippi Kite – 12
Swallow-tailed Kite – 1
Northern Harrier – 5
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 3
Cooper’s Hawk – 9
Broad-winged Hawk – 28
Merlin – 25
Peregrine Falcon – 89
Total – 217

Although passerine migration seems to have slowed a bit, new species were present. The first Palm Warblers are being heard, several Black-throated Blues we seen moving through, Worm-eating and Cape May on the move, and several Bobolinks in the morning. The swallow flights picked up big time, and we had thousands moving throughout the day with Purple Martin, Barn, Cliff, N. Rough-winged, and Bank Swallows present. Caves are still missing in action.

Mississippi Kites, Ospreys, and Plenty of Peregrines by Rafael A. Gálvez

The afternoon was rather slow with wind speeds of about 4km/h out of the ESE. It was also our hottest and muggiest day yet. The heat did quite a number on some distant birds.

Osprey – 43
Cooper’s Hawk – 2
Broad-winged Hawk – 3
Merlin – 13
Peregrine Falcon – 10
Total – 71

This was a best day to date for Osprey migration, with a total of 43 birds moving in even-paced flows throughout the day. However, the morning once again belonged to the Merlins, with 9 during the first hour and a total of 13 for the day. Peregrines were close behind with only 10 birds.

The winds certainly diminished compared to the last couple of days. And although it rained briefly in the morning, we saw little precipitation. At one point, 4 Merlins were perched on Buttonwoods along the south side of the campgrounds and visible from the bathhouse. It was almost as if they were disappointed with the lack of adverse winds.
about an hour ago

Here is a photo of one of those birds – taken handheld by Jim with the Leica V-Lux 30. I think it is excellent for handheld at 75 yards!

Click on image for larger size

Another Merlin Morning by Rafael A. Gálvez

Although only 6 species of raptors were seen, the total of 68 birds was not all that bad. However, most birds went through by the first couple of hours of watch, making the afternoon rather dull. Especially considering it was a morning of 22 Merlins during the first hour!! No complaints here. The birds were again flying low, this time mostly along the interior, towards the S-SE. Again, the feisty little falcons seemed to prefer wet and blustery weather, grinding against gusts up to 27 km/h.

As much as I’m captivated by Merlin flights, one particular moment ranked as my day’s favorite. We watched an adult male Northern Harrier casually fly directly into these 17mph winds and rain, and out into the ocean eastward. It was just breathtaking.

Another of the day’s highlights was a pair of adult Mississippi Kites, buoyantly flapping towards the southwest.

Passerines were missing in action today. We will continue monitoring their migration through radar via Badbirdz. Check out the very nice post by the NatureIsAwesome duo on birding forecast for the coming weekend.

Osprey – 12
Northern Harrier – 6
Broad-winged Hawk – 1
Merlin – 30
Peregrine Falcon – 17
Mississippi Kite – 2
Total – 68

Merlins and Bluster by Rafael A. Gálvez

The promised blustery weather finally arrived, and changes in raptor migration were certainly noticeable. Peregrines, Merlins and Ospreys moved through in good numbers, and Broad-wings finally gave a noteworthy push.

The raptors:
Osprey – 28
Mississippi Kite – 2
Northern Harrier – 3
Bald Eagle – 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 1
Cooper’s Hawk – 3
Broad-winged Hawk – 30
Merlin – 32
Peregrine – 24
Total – 124

East Winds – Migration Continues by Rafael A. Gálvez

Ospreys, Peregrines, Merlins, and a spurt of Harriers captured our attention today.

Weather forecasts had predicted rain and strong winds out of the east, but we did not get much rain other than a mild shower the first 20 minutes, and winds were not in the blustery strengths anticipated. However, winds maintained at an average of 7km/h (4.3mph) out of the east, pushing flights far inland and at considerable heights. The totals for today are as follows:

The raptors:
Osprey – 24
Swallow-tailed Kite – 3
Northern Harrier – 4
Bald Eagle – 2
Broad-winged Hawk – 1
Merlin – 10
Peregrine Falcon – 24
Unidentified Buteo – 1
Total – 69

Push after the Storm by Rafael A. Gálvez

A thunderstorm kicked off the morning at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, with rain until 11am and nearly 100% low cloud-cover until 1pm. By noon, only 6 raptors had been tallied moving southbound. Soon after the storm, birds started moving down; we counted 22 birds from 12 to 1, half of which were Ospreys. That hour also brought us the first Northern Harrier of the season!

All in all, we had our most productive day as of yet, but we had to work hard for it. Peregrines and Merlins are certainly on the up. Nearly all the birds continued along an inland trajectory at high altitudes. Our total of 60 raptors – once again 9 species – was composed of the following:

The raptors:
Osprey – 23
Swallow-tailed Kite – 1
Northern Harrier – 1
Bald Eagle – 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 3
Cooper’s Hawk – 5
Broad-winged Hawk – 4
Merlin – 6
Peregrine – 16
Total – 60

The passerines:
Prior to the morning’s thunderstorm, Indigo Buntings could be heard around, and many Bobolinks were on the move. A Baltimore Oriole perched nearby and Eastern Kingbirds continued pushing southward.
After the storm, we had a mini-fallout of Northern Waterthrushes and Ovenbirds. These were everywhere. Other warblers included Black-throated Blue, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Black-and-white and numerous Prairies.

Ospreys and Northeast Winds by Rafael A. Gálvez

Migration continued today at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch with 9 raptor species tallied for a total of 56 birds.
Sharp-shinned Hawks took our attention the first half of the day, with 10 birds before 1pm, for a total of 12 for the day. However, Ospreys continued on a steady flow for a total of 24 birds, with 13 on the last 2 hours. A nice spurt of Merlins gave the day added excitement.

The raptors:

Osprey – 24
Mississippi Kite – 1
Bald Eagle – 2 (1 adult, 1 immature)
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 12
Cooper’s Hawk – 1
Broad-winged Hawk – 6
Red-shouldered Hawk – 1
Merlin – 5
Peregrine – 4
Total – 56

The passerines:
Other sightings included Anhingas, White Crowned Pigeons, Black-throated Blue Warbler (1), Bank Swallows, Indigo Bunting (heard), and a quiet nighthawk moving southwest. Out by the beach, Linda Sunderland photographed a Piping Plover.

Flying High by Rafael A. Gálvez

Although we had nearly the same species as yesterday, we had to work a lot harder for less birds. We did not see a Swallow-tailed Kite, but had the season’s first Sharpies. Nearly all the raptors observed today were migrating at high altitudes, and towards the end of the day they neared the limit of identification using binoculars. Winds were out of the east-northeast, averaging below 5km/h, with gusts up to 15.9km/h. The high flights combined with very low cloud cover (0% the last 2 hours) made for a challenging day. Our totals are as follows:

The raptors:
Osprey – 2
Mississippi Kite – 3
Sharp-shinned Hawk -3
Cooper’s Hawk – 4
Broad-winged Hawk – 5
Red-shouldered Hawk – 2
American Kestrel – 1
Merlin – 1
Peregrine Falcon – 5
Total – 26

A quick stroll through the Thatch Palm forest on the bay-side at Curry Hammock prior to the hawkwatch resulted in few passerines – N. Parula, Prairie Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat – Bobolink flyovers, but not much else. A Chuck-will’s Widow was spooked from a nearby branch. Swallow flights were sparse and also quite high, and well mixed, with less Purple Martins and Barn Swallows, and more Banks and N. Rough-wings.

A nice surprise was a close flyby of a White-rumped Sandpiper.

First Day Excitement! by Rafael A. Gálvez

The first day of monitoring at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch was no disappointment. With 9 species of raptors and several migrant passerines, this was an excellent first day.

Our total of 46 birds might not be turning many heads, but considering that the first week of monitoring at Curry Hammock can be on the slow side, we had no complaints. The summary of our observations is as follows:

The raptors:
Osprey – 6
Mississippi Kite – 1 (subadult)
Swallow-tailed Kite – 1
Cooper’s Hawk – 10 (mixed)
Broad-winged Hawk – 19 (only 4 adults)
Red-shouldered Hawk – 2
American Kestrel – 1 (female)
Merlin – 1
Peregrine Falcon – 5 (adults)
Total – 46

The Passerines:
Last night and this early morning, Parulas and Prairie Warblers could be heard in flight. As we arrived to Curry Hammock, a pair of Swainson’s Thrushes and Bobolinks were overhead. Several birds were seen and heard throughout the day; highlights include:
Northern Parula
Prairie Warbler (all over the place)
Chestnut-sided Warbler (first-year female – nice!)
Northern Waterthrush
Black-and-white Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Summer Tanager
Swainson’s Thrush
Purple Martin
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Bank Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Baltimore Oriole
and others.

Also in the area we saw movement of Blue-winged Teal (about 50), several large flocks of White Ibis, and White-crowned Pigeons


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