Big Flights: 2023 Mid-season Migration Update

We’re halfway through the field season, and what a flight it has been! From Broad-winged Hawks galore to former counters visiting to relive their glory days to lawn mower races, it has been an exciting season across the network! We are so grateful to our crewmembers for their contributions to the count, especially with the high numbers they’ve been seeing, and for making our migration sites fun and educational for visitors. Most of all, we on the communications team are grateful that they put together some great updates for you all on the 2023 season. 

Grand Canyon HawkWatch – Tamara Russo

As of October 5th, we have counted a total of 2,343 migratory raptors. The most commonly observed migratory raptor species have been Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Red-Tailed Hawks, and American Kestrels. We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of more American Goshawks, but we are lucky enough to have observed three individuals. We are excited to say that Swainson’s Hawks numbers have exceeded the 10-year and long-term average with 87 individuals. We also counted 26 Broad-winged Hawks which also exceeded the 10-year and the long-term averages. We have not observed a Red-shoulder Hawk or Rough-legged Hawk but hope to see individuals with the approaching cold weather. We did, however, count one beautiful and amazing Ferruginous Hawk. Other notable mentions include 16 Northern Harriers, 39 Ospreys, and three  Zone-tailed Hawks.  

Our site is located in one of the seven wonders of the world, which accounts for the high volume and diversity of visitors. We had the pleasure of meeting a group from Flagstaff Audubon, who counted with us and shared the experience of watching a flock of 300 white pelicans fly through the canyon. Surreal experience. We were also visited by a former Hawkwatcher named John Martin, who stayed for two whole days of counting. John’s counting experience included multiple years of counting in the Goshute Mountains HawkWatch site. We also had visitors from Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, NPS volunteers, and a former Hawk Mountain trainee. Researcher JF Therrien from Hawk Mountain Sanctuary will be visiting us next week.

We are very lucky to have the support of Grand Canyon National Park employee Brian Gatlin who enjoys spotting birds with us. Additionally, Bob George, a volunteer who helps with the Condor Project, is a frequent visitor who enjoys sharing his wisdom and knowledge of raptors. Another Condor researcher, Maggie Charek, has been a frequent visitor and helpful spotter.

We deliver two programs a day from Friday to Monday at Yaki Point. Our crew genuinely enjoys delivering these programs and engaging with the public. Oftentimes, we share binoculars with the visitors so they can experience seeing these raptors for the first time!

After work, we enjoy exploring the canyon and meeting the locals. On our days off, we usually go hiking. We have been sharing some dinners and fire. We celebrated our Golden Eagle sightings by having some drinks at the Tovar bar.

Bonney Butte HawkWatch – Karl Garrett

As of 10/7, we have counted a total of 1,512 raptors and banded 120. Some of the highlights have been a Bonney Butte HawkWatch record of 222 Turkey Vultures in one day, as well as banding a Peregrine Falcon, Broad-Winged Hawk, and all three subspecies of Merlin. We have also been paying attention to migrating passerines, and have counted an astonishing amount of Clark’s Nutcrackers and Evening Grosbeaks. As a crew, we have been playing a lot of card games at camp in the evening, but we also get out sometimes for group activities like checking out the historic Timberline Lodge and watching a night of local lawnmower racing.

Manzano Mountains HawkWatch – Elly McManus

The Manzano Mountains HawkWatch crew is enjoying a beautiful fall up at Capilla Peak! We’ve been seeing lots of Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks migrating this fall, as well as some great looks at Peregrine Falcons, Zone-tailed Hawks, and American Kestrels. Over the past few days, we’ve also enjoyed seeing (and hearing) groups of Sandhill Cranes high overhead. We’ve loved having lots of returning and new visitors on the ridge, and look forward to having more in the coming weeks and during the RRF conference in mid-October! In addition to raptors, we’ve had some great wildlife sightings at camp and obs, including bears, foxes, horned lizards, and our absolute favorite, the stunning Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth caterpillar. When we’re not scanning the sky, we’ve had fun striving to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich, debating Sasquatch theories, and traveling far and wide on our days off to add to our New Mexico bird list!

Commissary Ridge HawkWatch – James Petersen

The season so far has been full of high counts for many raptor species, from having counted 140 Broad-winged Hawks to date (site record) to over 919 Cooper’s Hawks to date (also a site record). We also had a span of three days where we counted over 400 birds each day, with one day counting 540 migrating birds (second highest day count this site has seen)! Currently, we have counted 4,838 birds.

As for visitors, we have had a number of returning visitors from years past, including some former HWI counters and visits from friends and family as well.

Some of the nonraptor species we have come across are multiple moose seen by all and an astounding flight of Clark’s Nutcrackers, of which we have had over 6,000 migrating south past obs.

Updates from the trapping blind include a record three Swainson’s Hawks, above-average numbers of Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks, and three Golden Eagles!

In our free time, we play games of Wingspan, Palace (card game), and enjoy movie nights, with Eurovision still being a crew favorite. 

We’re looking forward to continuing to see what the rest of this season has in store for us!

Goshute Mountains HawkWatch – Crew Effort

We’re having an amazing season up at the Goshute Mountains HawkWatch this year! We’ve had the highest single-day counts of Turkey Vultures and Broad-winged Hawks recorded in the 30+ years this site has been running. We’ve also had the highest season count for Broad-winged Hawk recorded at the site, with 414 flying by so far. 

One moment, in particular, we can all recall was on the last day of September when we counted 454 birds in one hour. The birds were funneled by bad weather to the north, and all streamed past the ridge at a very close distance, which made for some exciting counting. On September 19th, we counted nearly 100 American Kestrels in an hour right at sunset. Birds were vocalizing from every direction and roosting in any open tree they could find around our camp, which was very special to watch.

The weather this fall has been unusually wet for a peak in the Great Basin desert, with many rain and snow days where we have been inside the clouds. We had our first snowfall on the last day of summer this year.

It’s been a great season for banding, too, with highlights including a second-year American Goshawk, a dark morph Red-tailed Hawk, a Peregrine Falcon, four Taiga Merlins, and two Broad-winged Hawks. We also recently had our first recapture of the season, a female Sharp-shinned Hawk that had been banded here by a crew member last year as a juvenile! The recaptured sharpie flew by about a month later in the season than the previous year. 

HWI Research Biologist Jesse Watson was up at the site for a few days and was able to put out four transmitters on adult female Cooper’s Hawks. These GPS tags will collect data on migration paths, wintering, and breeding grounds for hopefully many years to come. An update from one of the Cooper’s Hawks showed that she had nearly made it into Mexico about a week later. 

We’ve also had two groups of high schoolers visit us through Salt Lake Center for Science Education and were able to show them how our data is collected, teach them about raptor identification, and show them some birds in hand!

After days of counting and banding, our crew often chooses to spend our downtime playing Catan or card games. On our days off, crew members have taken the time to explore nearby areas like Great Basin National Park, the Ruby Mountains, and Salt Lake City.

Looking for an update from our Corpus Christi HawkWatch? If you know anything about our counters there, you know Daniel Horton writes some of the best daily recaps on Daniel did not disappoint with his mid-season recap, so much so that it was too big to fit in this blog! Click here to check it out:

This blog was written by Sammy Riccio, our Communications Manager, as well as our 2023 crewmembers. You can learn more about Sammy here.

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