Season of the Swainson’s: Migration Update

12 October 2022

This migration season has been a bit slow to start, but we have finally reached a steady flow of migrants. Across the board, our crews have observed high numbers of Swainson’s Hawks this fall. We are only partway through the season, and there is still analysis to be done comparing trends from year over year, but these numbers highlight that a network of sites adds strength to our data. We want to give a huge thank you to our crew members for spending their days counting and banding birds, all in the name of conserving raptors and our shared environment. 

We asked our crew to send over updates on the fall season so far to give you a feel for what it is like to spend your days in the field. Keep reading to hear from our crews across the western United States. 

 

Chelan Ridge HawkWatch - Gary Palmer

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Photos By Amanda Hancock, Gary Palmer, and Skyler Bol. Pictured: Gary with Prarie Falcon, Dusky Grouse, and hoary marmot visitor.

The season is going great! We've had great luck with the less common Buteos, with some of the highest totals for the site of both Broad-winged and Swainson's Hawks. Plus, we saw just the second Red-shouldered Hawk in the history of the Chelan Ridge count! We've already passed 1,000 raptors for the season, putting us on a pace ahead of most of the last ten years. Aside from frequent wildfire smoke impeding the action, we've had very good weather and, overall, a great time up at obs. Our best non-raptor sighting so far is a hoary marmot who was making regular visits to obs. 

We've also been delighted to have visitors to the site, like former HWI staff Neil Paprocki. The North Central Washington Audubon group that visited last weekend only made it to obs for an hour or so, but they were wowed by one of the best hours of migration we've seen all season, with a near-constant stream of accipiters zooming close by and our biggest flock of Turkey Vultures. 

When we are not working, we are relaxing by the river, birding around the North Cascades, and making some BOMB family dinners. We spend most nights hanging out together in the yurt playing Euchre and Rummy. We also just got our hands on a copy of Wingspan that we're all eager to learn!

Bonney Butte HawkWatch - Karl Garrett

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Photos By Tim Baerwald, Karl Garrett, and Gillian Martin. Pictured: group photo of the crew, the new blind, and Irwin in front of Mt. Hood.

Migration has been a little slow so far, but things are starting to pick up. Recently, we have gotten a couple of days of 100+ counts. We are also super excited that our new banding blind is finally completed, thanks to funding from the Oregon Wildlife Foundation and Oregon Birding Association! Now that it is up and running, we trapped and banded our first bird of the season, a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Bonney Butte HawkWatch is also a great spot to see a solid amount of passerine migration, including some local rarities like a Pygmy Nuthatch and an Acorn Woodpecker. We also have a resident flock of Canada Jays that keep us company.

Last week we were visited by a retired college professor who went so far as to make us some really nice Bonney Butte pendant necklaces by hand! We want to pass along our thanks to him for the gifts. When we aren't counting, we spend time in our wall tent eating, chatting, and playing board games.

Commissary Ridge HawkWatch - James Petersen

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Photos By James Petersen. Pictured: Northern Harrier, Prairie Falcon, and Ferruginous Hawk

Fieldwork is going great! After a pretty slow start, migration has picked up quickly. Some of the highlights since late September has been the day we counted 357 migrating raptors, which included a stunning kettle of 150+ Swainson's Hawks. After that day, the sky has been filled with really nice accipiter flights. The weather has held out for the most part, aside from some rain and fog. it has been pretty mild weather for Commissary Ridge. That means you still have time to visit before the chill comes in!

The blind has been active, with over a hundred birds banded so far. Some highlights include a Prairie Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, and lots of accipiters. We have also seen plenty of wildlife outside of migrating raptors, such as multiple moose sightings, a day where a badger was seen at obs, elk on the far ridges, and a Pronghorn that visits every couple of days. We have also welcomed multiple HWI staff, bird enthusiasts,  friends, and family to the site. 

In our downtime, we play Palace (a card game), Wingspan, and hang out by the woodstove talking about birds.

Goshute Mountains HawkWatch- Will Britton

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Photos by Will Britton and Matt Dickey. Pictured: kettle of Swainson’s Hawks, Black Merlin, and an education program with a group of visitors.

This season has been great. A slow August and early September gave way to an amazing amount of birds since then. This great stretch has included two days of over 1,200 migrants. We have set new Goshutes day records for Broad-winged Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks, and Osprey and a new season record for Osprey. Notable captures in the blind have been a previously banded juvenile Northern Goshawk and a black subspecies Merlin

We have had visits from former HWI director Paul Parker as well as 15 students from the Salt Lake Center for Science Education and the Salt Lake-based “Birds and Wine” group. 

As far as wildlife sightings go, a very cute wood rat has been pilfering our apples. 

When we aren’t working, we have been having celebratory dance parties, playing Settlers of Catan, reading, and enjoying baked goods from our oven.  

Manzano Mountains HawkWatch - Taylor Barnes

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Photos by Taylor Barnes and Mike Rieman. Pictured: the view from obs and Maddie releasing a Cooper’s Hawk.

This season has been consistently warm up until recently, with October bringing lots of rain and many birds! On October 1st, we banded our 100th bird, a male Sharp-shinned Hawk and on observation that very same day, we counted over 500 Turkey Vultures! That was an all-time high for that species at this site which was extremely exciting for our crew. Despite counting so many Turkey Vultures, Swainson’s Hawks are our most counted bird so far this season. Along with banding many accipiters, we banded our very first falcon, which happened to be a female Merlin. It’s been a fantastic start to the season, and we’re excited for more to come! 

We’ve had some incredible visitors to the hawkwatch, including a school group, locals from Albuquerque, and visitors from as far as Taiwan. We appreciate the support and have loved the surprise snacks they have brought us! Some notable wildlife visitors include black bears, deer, bobcats, rattlesnakes, horny toads, and many Northern flickers. 

In our downtime after work, our crew has prioritized cooking high-quality meals for “family” dinners. This is the best time of day to unwind and discuss our favorite part of the count/banding.

Grand Canyon HawkWatch - Georgia Coleman

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Photos by Georgia Coleman. Pictured: the crew at sunset, soaring California Condor, and a Rocky Mountain Elk.

The Grand Canyon crew is having a blast! The beginning of the count was HOT, then cold and thunderstormy, and now we have perfect Goldilocks weather. Migration started out slow, but we are now well into the peak! It is so amazing watching raptors circle up from the canyon and fly right over our heads! One of our best days so far was 268 birds, with birds zooming right past us in frequent bursts. Some highlights are a dark-morph Broad-winged Hawk, getting good looks at a couple of Prairie Falcons, and an above-average number of Swainson's Hawks. When the flight is slow, we have local Peregrine Falcons, California Condors, and Zone-tailed Hawks around to keep us company. 

We have seen so much fun wildlife at the park, like a Gray Fox driving and several Grand Canyon Tarantulas. At obs, we have a friendly Common Raven who often stops by to sit with us, and sometimes Rock Wrens and Woodhouse's Scrub Jays make an appearance. We even had some Rocky Mountain Elk wander by one afternoon!

We are happy to have so many visitors from around the world visit—from England to France and Australia! Peter Collins of the Tubac Hawkwatch came by and counted with us one afternoon, and veteran Grand Canyon (Yaki Point) counter from 2004 and 2005, Ken Babcock, also joined us. We appreciate frequent visits from our park contact Brian Gatlin, who gives us great recommendations for places to bird in the park! 

In our downtime, we have been taking full advantage of living in such a beautiful park by going birding and hiking in the Canyon. We also have weekly team dinners and attend yoga on Wednesdays at the Grand Canyon Recreation center. The crew has a bit of a competitive streak, and many games of Bananagrams have been played to figure out who is the wordiest hawkwatcher.

Corpus Christi HawkWatch - Libby Even and Daniel Horton

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Photos by Daniel Horton. Pictured: perched Osprey, Dane and Libby counting, and “Lil’ Stinkah.”

The season was off to a bumpy start, with a few incredible days sandwiched between a slough of tiresome birdless days. We recently ended a month's worth of days registering between four to six-digit—yes, six—totals of migrating raptors. Our team is patiently waiting for the arrival of the next front from the north, a phenomenon seldom felt in South Texas.

We see Javelina and White-tailed deer daily. The crew has been treated to two Texas Indigo sightings, a bobcat, and occasional Armadillo encounters. Our non-raptor mascot is “Lil’ Stinkah,” an Inca Dove that we suspect was hand-reared by humans and released at our platform.

We were notably visited twice by Richard Crossley, author of The Crossley Guide. Bill Clark has been hawkwatching with us 3 days a week. We also spent time with Dr. Clint Boal, a raptor ecologist and professor at Texas Tech, who brought his raptor ecology class to the watch.

If we're not rolling the dice in a game of Farkle or indulging in some fine Southern hospitality, we're off birding the Birdiest City in America. Corpus is unique in its wealth of habitats and the wildlife that needs them, so it's never a bad idea to go out exploring.

Thank you again to our crew members! This role requires a ton of hard work, and we’re constantly looking for ways to better show our appreciation for all they do. This year, we raised every crew member’s per diem by 20% to better care for these individuals who do so much to care for the birds we all love. Would you consider a special gift this year to help us support our migration crew members? Click here to support our crew: https://hawkwatch.org/people


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This blog was written by Sammy Riccio, HWI's Donor Engagement Coordinator.
You can learn more about Sammy here.