A Snowy Spring: Gunsight HawkWatch Mid-season Update

We are halfway through our spring migration count at Gunsight Mountain HawkWatch! Our counters, Arthur and Cory, sent over an update for you on how this season’s count is coming along—and spoiler alert—the snow never stops! Despite the challenging weather, our counters report some surprises that keep hawkwatching interesting.

We are amidst an Alaskan winter that refuses to quit. We have seen an unseasonable amount of snow, with a migration seemingly staggered by ongoing winter storms both here and in other parts of the flyway. As of this report, daytime temperatures in much of the Mat-Su still haven’t risen above freezing. 

Our first days afield at Gunsight proved sparse, as stalled low-pressure systems and a series of coastal storms threatened to prolong winter inland and further delay the arrival of our beloved Golden Eagle. Indeed, we did not see our first real push of eagles until the 10th day of counting (19 March), and the onset of our migration “peak” for the species arrived just a week later on 25 March (86 eagles), with 26 March seeing an even brisker tally (128 eagles). 

It seems particularly noticeable this year in the relatively early arrival of subadults and even 2nd cycle juveniles before a large percentage of adults had even come through—something I do not recall seeing to such a degree in my past two springs here. One particularly exciting eagle spotting was on 24 March, when we observed an adult Golden Eagle with a GPS backpack migrating through the Chugach corridor ~16:29 AKDT. Additionally, several pairs of Golden Eagles have established breeding territories along the Synclines again (4 April). We saw our first real day of snowmelt at the site the day following their arrival (5 April). 

There’s still little in the way of migrating songbirds, waterfowl, and other arrivals, and it’s easy to forget it’s spring when you’re socked in with poor visibility amidst another late-season snow. Everything feels a bit late this year!  

Other highlights include our species’ firsts. First Northern Goshawk of the season (16 March), and our first Harlan’s (Red-tailed) Hawk (25 March), which might be the earliest arrival for our site to date. We have also spotted our first Rough-legged Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk (5 April), Northern Harrier (10 April), a Sharp-tailed Grouse standing in the road on Glenn Highway near Mendeltna the morning of that same day, and a Merlin (7 April).

Alas, we really lucked out last year with the hawk owls (plural) but this year, not so much. Views of the Northern Hawk Owl have become elusive, so we hope they’ll stick around for a better look soon.

Do you want more updates on Gunsight Mountain HawkWatch? You can keep up with the count daily on our Dunkadoo here. Are you planning a trip to the site? Make sure to check out our website for directions and packing instructions here. Want to be the first to see updates from the site? Join our Friends of Gunsight Mountain HawkWatch Facebook page here.

This blog was written by Arthur Green and Cory French, members of the 2023 Gunsight Mountain migration crew, as well as Sammy Riccio, HWI’s Donor Engagement Coordinator. You can learn more about Sammy here.
Photos by Arthur Green

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