And just like that, we are two-thirds of the way into the 2021 fall hawk watching season. This year marks our 35th anniversary of migration monitoring as HawkWatch International, and this season undoubtedly feels special. Our crews continue to diligently keep their eyes to the skies, counting each and every migrating raptor they spot, all the while engaging site visitors. This year, we sent a film team to each of our sites to capture the work that goes into the science, the stories of our crew, the magic of migration, and the landscapes we work in. Be sure to grab your tickets to our virtual gala on November 3rd to see the grand unveiling of this film!
What have the crews across the HWI Migration Network seen while keeping their eyes to the skies? Here are some broad strokes on the season so far...
The Grand Canyon crew enjoys regular visits from the local California Condors. Some days the Condors fly close enough that the crew can hear them and read their wing tags without binoculars. The crew has also had a lot of visitors—some come to watch the migration, some to see specific birds, and some just come wandering through by accident. Visitors are not just limited to people, either! The crew has seen several tarantulas doing their own migration right next to the count site. To date, we’ve counted 2007 migrating raptors taking in the Grand Canyon as they head south for the winter.
As of writing, the Chelan Ridge count for the season is 941 migrating raptors of 16 different species. Late September has proven to be fruitful for the Chelan crew, with the sighting of a dark morph Broad-winged Hawk. More recently, they caught sight of their first Rough-legged Hawk of the season! The team has shared their raptor knowledge and excitement with visitor groups from Whitman College, Washington State University, the Methow Conservancy, and North Cascades Institute so far this season.
The Bonney Butte 2021 count is 2,661 birds as of mid-October, just about 8% shy of the 10-year average season total. The team has seen a lot of Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Merlins, as well as a record 32 Peregrine Falcons so far. A highlight so far has been banding the 5th ever Broad-winged Hawk on September 14th. Recently, the Pacific Northwest moisture kicked in and the crew is seeing more weather days due to rain and snow.
Apparently, this season is sponsored by the Broad-winged Hawks. So far, the crew has counted a record 61 Broad-winged Hawks at Commissary Ridge! The team also has seen a record 777 Cooper’s Hawks migrate by. A mild September made camp life quite comfortable and allowed for more visitors than this site usually sees, notably welcoming HawkWatch International founder Steve Hoffman for a couple of days. So far October brings a return to the wind and cold that Wyoming is famous for, and the count sits at 3,536 migrating raptors.
The Goshutes count as of this writing is 7,062 migrants, just under 50% of the 10-year site average-so there are likely more birds to come! So far this season’s trapping efforts led to two recaptures for the Goshutes crew: a second-year Sharp-shinned Hawk banded at Lucky Peak in 2020 and a six-year-old Sharp-shinned Hawk banded at Goshutes October 3, 2015 as a hatch-year bird. The luck in the blind hasn’t stopped there! The crew also captured and banded two adult male Northern Harriers and two adult Peregrine Falcons.
The count at the Manzano’s currently sits at 3,987 birds and the biggest single-day count was 450 migrant raptors (including 323 Swainson’s Hawks!). October brings more Golden Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Red-tailed Hawks, and adult Accipiters. Notable captures include a hatch-year Golden Eagle, Northern Goshawk, Peregrine Falcon, and some huge juvenile Red-tailed Hawks. One big day in September they saw 13 Broad-winged Hawks, a single-day record for the site! The crew is excited to see what the chill air brings next!
Last but not least, as of this writing, the count at Corpus Christi sits at 593,433 birds this season, which exceeds the 10-year average of 508,460 migrants. The busiest day so far yielded 71,780 birds, made up mostly of Broad-winged Hawks! Perhaps the most interesting and unusual visitor in recent days was a melanistic female Ruby-throated Hummingbird. As she zipped up to the feeders, one of the counters noticed that she was gray all over, with dark slate wings but lacking the characteristic iridescent greens on her back and wings.