Cool Sightings at the Grand Canyon

12 September 2016

Text and photos by Casey Weissburg

Greetings from the Grand Canyon HawkWatch crew!  Our second week of migration started out rough last weekend with powerful southerly winds maxing above 30 km/hour.  Unfavorable conditions persisted until Wednesday, when the winds finally shifted and we had our biggest day of the season so far, with 62 migrant raptors passing observation, and we were full of anticipation for a big push after our bad weather spell.  Little did we know how big of a push it would be!

Thursday, September 8th, had a promising start, with gorgeous clear skies and a good north wind.  Immediately in the first hour we had five raptors migrate by; in the second, we had 33!  The hours raced by and our count burgeoned as accipiters popped up out of the canyon and Red-tailed Hawks literally doubled their season total in what felt like a constant stream of activity.  By the end of the day we had counted an incredible 218 migrant raptors—the earliest high count in Yaki Point history.  The previous record was, coincidentally, also 218 birds, on September 12th… in 1999!

As if that wasn’t mind-blowing enough for us, Friday proved to be just as productive, with 206 birds counted.  Despite afternoon winds shifting in all directions, birds kept on pushing through.  Thursday and Friday together more than doubled our season total—from 289, to 713! It also brought us numerous exciting first-of-season migrants, as well as site rarities such as a stunning adult/immature pair of Ferruginous Hawks, a close encounter with a Prairie Falcon, and early adult Bald Eagles!

Needless to say, it was a great start for our first week of Interpretive Programs, and we were excited to see what Saturday would bring as Jerry Liguori joined us for a busy, fun, and visitor-filled weekend.  Although raptor movement slowed by comparison, it remained high, with 133 birds on Saturday and 82 on Sunday, bringing our season total just shy of one thousand at 938, by September 11th.  Visitors, both birders and otherwise, crowded the point for incredible views of raptors riding the wind up the canyon walls, or streaming off a distant thermal right over the observation point.

Birds and hawk talk abounded.  Peak season will be here before we know it, and there’s no telling what it will bring.  We hope to share it with you!

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