2024 Spring Migration Update

Spring migration is flying by—literally! We are about halfway through the Gunsight Mountain HawkWatch count and three-quarters through the Tubac HawkWatch count. Our incredible crew members are here to update you on the count, wildlife encounters, generous visitors, and after-work adventures! 

Our crew could not do this work without the support of generous donors like you! If you want to support spring migration, consider making a gift to support our Tubac HawkWatch or Gunsight HawkWatch to ensure we keep counting raptors for years to come!

Harrison DuBois and Bob Baez – Tubac HawkWatch, AZ

We’re having a grand time down at the Tubac HawkWatch. The sun is shining, the wildflowers are blooming, and the raptors are flying. Already, we’ve passed the Tubac HawkWatch’s record for total migrant raptors—counting 4,000 migrants for the first time in the site’s 12-year history. We’ve also broken records for several individual species: Red-tailed Hawks, Zone-tailed Hawks, Osprey, Turkey Vultures, and Cooper’s Hawks.

One standout day was March 16, when the peak of the Common Black Hawk migration serendipitously coincided with the annual Tubac HawkWatch Celebration. Over 200 visitors had the chance to see some of the 97 Common Black Hawks that traveled through the Santa Cruz Valley. Another awesome day was March 26, when we had more Zone-tailed hawks than were ever recorded in a single day at the site: 31! We quipped that it was a challenge to sort through all the Zone-tailed Hawks to find a well-camouflaged Turkey Vulture in their midst. That’s a pretty sweet problem to have! We’ve also been lucky to count Gray Hawks, Crested Caracara, and Short-tailed Hawks, all of which are seen at few other hawkwatches in the US. 

When we aren’t seeing migrant raptors overhead, there is still plenty of wildlife around. A few favorites are the resident male Vermillion Flycatcher (who is the cutest little red puffball of a bird I’ve ever seen!), a few Anna’s and Broad-billed Hummingbirds who visit our feeders, the occasional Javelinas who tromp through the park, and the White-faced Ibis who migrate overhead! There is also a local dark morph Short-tailed Hawk who we saw for 20 consecutive days. It’s a pretty unique raptor for Arizona, so visitors have come from as far as Los Angeles specifically to see it!

We’ve had tons of helpful visitors in Tubac. That is mostly thanks to Peter Collins, who founded the Tubac HawkWatch and garnered a passionate community of volunteers to keep it running. There are many visitors from the local community who take the time to watch hawks with us every week. They are so knowledgeable and generous, spotting birds and even bringing us snacks! Dutch brings us a fresh batch of his famous scones multiple times a week! 

Every year, a crew of dedicated visitors from the Corpus Christi HawkWatch and the nearby city of Sierra Vista rents an enclave of “casitas” for a few weeks in Tubac. We loved meeting them and really appreciated their help. They’ve volunteered at the Tubac HawkWatch for several years and are experts. They helped us hone our identification skills for some of the tricky southwest raptor species, and they also made sure we were well-fed. We had some lovely dinners at the “casitas” a few nights, always punctuated by “splodge,” the Tubac HawkWatch standard dessert of strawberries, whipped cream, and merengue, prepared by Stuart and Suzanne from the Corpus Christi HawkWatch! 

In our time off, I have been searching for the best Mexican food in the area, and Bob has been hunting for the perfect swiveling office chair. Swivel chair #1 was comfortable but didn’t recline, so Bob gave it to me; swivel chair #2 was heinously squeaky and quickly abandoned; and swivel chair #3 just might be the Goldilocks chair! We’ll sing the praises of our swivel chairs to any visitor who listens. We’ve never been so comfortable, and our sky-scanning has never been so seamlessly smooth. A Herman Miller sponsorship might be in the pipeline. 

This is the first season that the Tubac HawkWatch will run through April, so we have no idea what to expect, but we can’t wait to see who decides to fly overhead in the next few weeks!

Sam Darmstadt and Andrew Newcomb – Gunsight HawkWatch, AK

The Gunsight Mountain HawkWatch is a breathtaking part of the planet and we feel extremely lucky that we get to be here. The scenery is fantastic, and we spend many of our days with our jaws dropped in amazement at the snow-covered mountains and extensive boreal forest. It can be very cold and snowy, but we have also had many sunny and warm days. When the weather takes a turn for the worse, we can always scurry away to get hot chocolate at the nearby Eureka Roadhouse.

As of April 7th, we have counted a total of 587 migrating raptors, 500 of which were Golden Eagles. Generally, counts have been lower than average this time of year for Golden Eagles, Rough-legged Hawks, American Goshawks, and Red-tailed Hawks. Merlins have been pulling their weight, though. We had our first two arrivals on March 20th and another on April 6th. There is only one previous Merlin recorded at the count site before today’s date and none in March. The average first arrival date for them is April 13th!

We have also been enjoying the other birds at the count site. We see lots of Common Ravens, a few Canada Jays, Boreal Chickadees, and one Black-capped Chickadee. There is a pair of Black-billed Magpies that live across the street that we have named Pierre and Margarette. There have been a couple of times that a Northern Shrike has made an appearance, and it even sang for us once. At the start of the season, we had high numbers of White-winged Crossbills and Common Redpolls, as well as a few Pine Grosbeaks and a single Hoary Redpoll. The resident raptors in the area include Bald and Golden Eagles and an American Goshawk. There is also a celebrity pair of Northern Hawk Owls that we have named Cletus and Darlene.

We have also taken delight in the human visitors to the site, who have been supportive and friendly! One local visitor brought us moose stew for lunch, and another took some very impressive black-and-white shots of Sam in action. And we had our first international visitors—from the Yukon!

While not hawkwatching, we have enjoyed birding along the Glenn Highway and at Nelchina Lodge. On the drive to and from the count, we often see Snow Buntings on the side of the road, Northern Hawk Owls perched on the tops of trees, and, at one point, a male Spruce Grouse displaying. Notable bird sightings at the lodge include Bald Eagle, Rough-legged Hawk, Merlin, Red Crossbill (a rare sighting by Andrew), American Three-toed Woodpecker, a very early Varied Thrush singing one morning, Boreal and Great Horned Owls singing at night, and a local pair of Spruce Grouse named Thomas and Sally. We have seen lots of moose while driving and while scoping the mountainsides from the count site. We have seen a Snowshoe Hare while driving and at the lodge and have spotted Dall’s Sheep a couple of times while looking (unsuccessfully) for ptarmigan on cliffs. Our top mammal sighting so far has been Bigly, the lodge dog! We also keep ourselves occupied “cheffing it up” in our outdoor kitchen, listening to country music during our commute, predicting what birds we’ll see next, and trying to read each other’s minds.

This blog was written by Sammy Riccio, our Communications Manager, as well as the 2024 spring migration crew members. You can learn more about Sammy here.

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