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240 OSPREYS: Top 3rd Day Count!

September 13, 2014

An Osprey migrating over the Middle Keys. Photo by Rafael Galvez. Leica V-Lux 4.

South-bound migration was the agenda for Ospreys moving through the Florida Keys today. Inclement weather and unfavorable winds appeared to have had a bottleneck effect on migrating raptors the day before. The total number of Ospreys detected at the hawkwatch on September 12, 2014: one. And the day before that brought a respectable thirty-eight.

Ospreys migrating over the Middle Keys. Photos by Rafael Galvez. Leica V-Lux 4.

Ospreys migrating over the Middle Keys. Photos by Rafael Galvez. Leica V-Lux 4.

Ospreys wasted no time making up for a day spent hunkered down farther north the day before. When the hawkwatch opened at 9:00 am, Ospreys were already on the move; in the first two hours, 135 were detected. Numbers of them would remain consistent throughout the day, and as thermals began to form, we began seeing birds at higher altitudes. Small groups could often be seen riding thermals with Magnificent Frigatebirds, gaining height with every wide turn. Then, one-by-one at the most favorable height above Earth’s surface, they would follow the same trajectory for landmasses farther afield. Once in a strong glide, one could watch an Osprey disappear to the south, all without one beat of a wing. The birds also seemed to be following two different flight lines. The majority appeared to be following the Keys, island hopping possibly until reaching the Lower Keys before making the jump to Cuba or Central America. But as the day went on, we saw more and more making a bee line for Cuba. Apparent Cuba-bound birds also seemed to be the highest-flying on average. Birds following the Keys appeared to be cruising at lower altitudes.

Osprey High Counts Chart

By the end of the day, the hawkwatchers would tally 240 Ospreys. This number makes for the third highest day total for the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, and only nine behind the second highest (249 on 9/25/2002). A lull in southbound activity around 4:00 pm made beating the second highest total seem a bit more distant. It wasn’t until driving north on US-1 towards Long Key that we could see just how many Ospreys were still moving through the Keys. Forty-six more were located between Marathon and Long Key, most of which were southbound. Yet another storm had been keeping these birds from moving south as the afternoon went on, so who knows what the end-of-the-day count could have been?

Ridgway's Osprey video

 CLICK IMAGE TO PLAY VIDEO. Above, a resident “Ridgway’s” Osprey kept an eye on the sky as migratory birds of its species continued moving overhead. Often, as it spotted a migrating Osprey, it would make a plaintive call. To learn more about this Caribbean subspecies, read “Observing Ospreys,” by Jeff Bouton. Video by Rafael Galvez – Leica V-Lux 4.

Osprey Top 5 High Counts ChartTop 5 single-day counts for Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) from the Florida Keys Hawkwatch at Curry Hammock State Park – spanning the project’s entire history at that site.


4275 Nighthawks!

September 10, 2014
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One of 4275 nighthawks documented from Curry Hammock State Park on 9/10/14. Photo by Kerry Ross.

A breathtaking total of 4,275 nighthawks – presumed Common Nighthawks (Chordeiles minor) – were tallied today between 09:30 and 14:39 hrs from the FKH observation deck at Curry Hammock State Park, Little Crawl Key.

For the past fall seasons we have been documenting large numbers of migratory nighthawks engaged in diurnal flights due south, detected as they cross the narrow landmass of the Middle Keys and continue southward over open water in general direction towards Cuba.

FKH Nighthawk Video ICON

CLICK TO PLAY VIDEO – Nighthawks in flight taken with a Leica V-Lux 4 camera.

Today we surpassed our high counts of nighthawks from all previous years. Time and again we witnessed the passage of nighthawks in flocks ranging from roughly 70 to 500 individuals each, sometimes coming directly over our count site, other times spotted over a kilometer away. Nearly all flocks trended S to SE, and were tracked as the birds moved towards the ocean, and were finally lost in sight. Our hourly count was 568 (09:00-10:00 hrs), 254 (10:00-11:00), 1739 (11:00-12:00), 1079 (12:00-13:00) and 635 (13:00-14:00) for a total of 4275!

Nighthawk Passage and Weather

The weather was quite variable in the Middle Keys this day, with winds ranging from 2-13 km/h pushing bands of clouds and rain over the region. Cloud cover in general was dense and low, averaging 79% throughout the day (100% 13:00-16:00 hrs), and as low as 1500 ft in altitude. The map above (left) shows blue arrows indicating the general trajectory and line of detection of nighthawks crossing our monitoring area. The radar image on the right shows weather over South Florida from 1pm – 2pm.

Counters were Kerry Ross, Brehan Furfey, Alexander Harper, Moe Morrissette and Rafael Galvez.

Additionally, we tallied an impressive 790 southbound Eastern Kingbirds, 2195 Barn Swallows, and many individuals of numerous migratory bird species – culminating in an unforgettable day of migration in the Florida Keys!!!

Mantengan un vistazo al cielo en Cuba – alla van los Querequetés migratorios!!!

World Shorebirds Day at Long Key

September 6, 2014
Sketch of the lone Wilson's Plover (Charadrius wilsonia) found this day at LKSP. The bird paused and faced the wind as it was about to rain.

Field sketch of the lone Wilson’s Plover (Charadrius wilsonia) found this day at LKSP. The bird paused and faced the wind as it was about to rain. By Rafael Galvez.

Today we participated in the World Shorebirds Day event at Long Key State Park (LKSP). Although we have been conducting surveys for all bird species at that location, this event gave us an opportunity to highlight the importance of Florida Keys habitats for shorebirds. We joined efforts with LKSP to raise public awareness, and created educational material and opportunities for visitors to participate in our research.

Field sketch of a Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) as it worked the wrack line. By Rafael Galvez.

Field sketch of a Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) as it worked the wrack line. By Rafael Galvez.

Although we had miles of transect counts to run and a hawkwatch to monitor, I took a bit of extra time to sit by the shoreline and do a few watercolor sketches of my favorite plovers. It rained, the wind went from still – perfect for the thousands of sand fleas – to gusty, picking up sand and foam. Finally the sun came out; temperatures rising to 91 F (32.7 C) degrees. All the while, flocks of shorebirds worked the wrack line, and as I sketched, I was allowed brief snippets into the complex lives of a number of fascinating birds.

Sketching shorebirds at Long Key State Park.

Thank you to all those that participated, and I hope to see you there again tomorrow!

Shorebird Species tallied during World Shorebirds Day – September 6, 2014 at Long Key State Park:

Spotted Sandpiper
Black-bellied Plover
Wilson’s Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Piping Plover
Ruddy Turnstone
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Marbled Godwit
Short-billed Dowitcher
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
(Western) Willet
Solitary Sandpiper

The FKH 2014 Full Season Counters

September 5, 2014

photo xv

It is very exciting that we are in the midst of another fall migration season. This will mark the 17th year of standardized full-season counts in the Middle Keys, and I have no doubt it will be another successful one!

During the 2014 fall season, the FKH team will be conducting morning transect counts for migratory birds at Long Key State Park and point counts from Curry Hammock State Park for all bird species, with a focus on diurnal birds of prey.

The FKH Full Season Counters

photo 1B

We have a fantastic team lined up this year! With great pleasure, we welcome Kerry Ross back to the project for his third season! He has worked with birds ranging from plovers to goshawks, including raptor migration projects, avian recapture and rehabilitation. We could not do the project without him.

photo 3B

Kerry is returning to the Keys from his native California with his long-time colleague Moe Morrissette, who has years of experience working with Marbled Murrelets, shorebird surveys, and various projects along the Pacific coast and western forests. We welcome Moe to the project and to the Florida Keys!

photo 2b

Another fantastic addition to the team is Bree Furfey, a South Florida researcher with experience ranging from Black Skimmers to Swallow-tailed Kites and Magnificent Frigatebirds. We are fortunate to have her join FKH this season, and we will greatly benefit from her knowledge of the region and its avian specialties!

photo 4b

We are also thrilled to welcome Miami’s own Alex Harper to the team. Alex is an avid and sharp birder with experience in many parts of the world. Following field opportunities out west, we are fortunate to have lured him back to his native habitat. We will sure benefit from his wealth of knowledge about Florida birds!

I will also be participating in the counts, and look forward to welcoming visitors to our sites throughout the season, during the Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival, and during the many planned activities this fall. Happy Migration to All!

Kingbirds on the Move

August 28, 2014


Migration was certainly evident today in the Middle Keys, with ten warbler species making appearances within hardwood hammock and coastal habitats. But it was the Eastern Kingbirds that stole the show! 

Eastern Kingbirds - Curry Hammock

While I had noticed an influx of this flycatcher species over last weekend in Big Pine, it was not until I spent much of the afternoon today along Curry Hammock’s bay side that I saw flock after flock of them (6, 10, 12 at a time) heading SW, typically flying low just above tree tops. At some point around 2 pm, there seemed to be Eastern Kingbirds on every other wire and snag, much to the curiosity of the many Gray Kingbirds in the area. 

Gray Kingbird and Swallow 2

Gray Kingbirds at the Blue Hole seemed particularly preoccupied with the many swallows in the vicinity.

Gray Kingbirds have also been seen in congregations – I counted 89 on visible perches while I drove from Islamorada to Big Pine a few days ago. However, many of these may have bred in the Keys – as they are known to do. They still seem very much preoccupied with their territories and neighbors. The Eastern Kingbird presumably does not nest in the Keys, but does in the Everglades. While we typically account for a decent number of Eastern Kingbirds every fall, our early start this year seems to be revealing that we have been arriving late for their show.

Other migrants today included several American Redstarts, Ovenbirds, Prairie Warblers and Worm-eating Warblers. Less numerous were Black-and-white, Black-throated Blue, and Northern Parula. Singles were seen of Northern and Louisiana Waterthrushes, and Hooded Warbler.

Today was a tremendous day of Barn Swallow movement – thousands. At midday, many Purple Martins were also coming through. And the swallow flights have been going strong for weeks.

While raptor migration is just beginning to unravel, an absolute highlight was seeing two Northern Harriers on the move at high altitudes. This is a species that tends to peak in October. Hopefully this will be a good fall for them.

Fall of 2013 Counts for Migratory Birds of Prey

July 28, 2014

Final Totals 2013 mid b

The chart above summarizes the number of birds tallied from September 15 through November 3, 2013, including daily maxima per species for that season. The chart also compares previous seasonal and daily maxima, and presents a count site average for each species (1999-2012). The presented “totals” include 38 birds categorized as unknown Accipiter, unknown Buteo, unknown falcon, or unknown raptor. For a daily breakdown of migratory bird of prey counts at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch (Curry Hammock State Park), and detailed comparisons with previous seasons, visit

Another Record Peregrine Falcon Count!

October 26, 2013


Once again, the raptor migration monitoring project based at Curry Hammock – in the Florida Keys – documents more Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus) during a single season than anywhere else on Earth.


The Florida Keys Hawkwatch surpassed its own world record by the end of count-day on October 22, 2013 after tallying 3,840 migrating Peregrine Falcons for the season. The count continues through the first days of November, and there is no telling what the final total for the species will be. As it stands, the “PEFA” tally is at 3,956 (end of Oct 26 count-day)!


If you think you have heard this story before, it is because the Florida Keys Hawkwatch broke the documented world record during the 2012 season, when the project tallied a total of 3,836 Peregrines, surpassing the then-highest seasonal total of 3,219 from Costa Rica (Kekoldi, 2004). During 2012, FKH also tallied the highest daily count ever recorded for the species, with 651 on October 10, 2012. While no daily record was reached this year, Peregrines started moving through in high numbers earlier than average. On September 27 this season, we tallied 429, the fourth highest daily count since 1999. Above, a young Peregrine Falcon photographed by Kerry Ross; below, photo by Rachel Smith – both were taken from the count site this season.



Click to play a video of multiple Peregrine Falcons migrating over the Florida Keys Hawkwatch in mid-October, 2013. By Rafael Galvez / Leica V-Lux 4.

As the video above illustrates, Peregrine Falcons are not the easiest birds to count, since they can move through at great velocities and at very high altitudes. It requires a lot of work and coordination to detect, identify and tally them before they are long past the count site. This season has been dictated primarily by winds out of the south and the east, and we have experienced many flights by raptors pushed far towards Florida Bay, northwest from the count side. The Middle Keys are renowned for offering plenty of opportunities at seeing perched falcon in the fall, especially during the mornings and late afternoons. Below, left, is a photo by Jeff Bouton of a young falcon perched on a bare snag; to the right, is a capture by Susan Sorensen of a Peregrine migrating low along the coast.




At top left, an adult male Peregrine perched on a snag along the ocean side at Long Key State Park during early morning. This bird was quite a small “tiercel” compared to some of the large females that were flying by that morning, trying to knock it off its perch. The bird did its best at standing tall, puffing out its chest and flaring its “sideburns.” Top right, a migrating adult Peregrine photographed by Eran Brusilow during this year’s Florida Keys Birding & Wildlife Festival. Bottom left, a young falcon by Rachel Smith, photographed at Curry Hammock during this season’s hawkwatch. Bottom right, a young “PEFA” perched along the coast, by Rafael Galvez / Leica V-Lux 4.

Trends from HawkCount

PEFA stats and trends to-date at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch. The counts continue into November, so the numbers WILL change!


An incoming young Peregrine approaching the count site. Photo by Kerry Ross.

The 2013 Peregrine Falcon “high-count” would not have been possible without tremendous commitment from several individuals. Rachel Smith and Kerry Ross are doing an incredible job day after day at the hawkwatch; we could not be more thrilled about having their talents once again as part of this project. Charles and Colleen Caudill – we could not have done it without their invaluable help; Tedor Whitman is an enduring ally; Jennifer and Gabe Cenker came down to share the excitement of another record breaking (and perfect timing!); and my personal gratitude to Michelle Davis for helping me out with the prolonged flights of October 22.

Still, the count continues!


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