Where have you seen a Peregrine Falcon during migration?
Most of the migrating raptors we see at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch (FKH) entirely leave the continental U.S. soon after they have been tallied from Curry Hammock State Park. The Florida Keys arches southwestward into the Gulf of Mexico, making it an ideal launching point for migrants traveling into the Caribbean and Central America during the North American fall season. Satellite tracked Peregrine Falcons and Ospreys migrating over the Florida Keys have flown over Cuba and as far as Nicaragua within 24-hours or less. Some of these birds travel as far south as southern Argentina from northern Canada. We can say with certainty that we share our migratory birds of prey with a couple of dozen nations in the Caribbean, Central and South America.
We invite Florida residents from Latin America and the Islands to visit us at the Keys and reconnect with migration. Our birds are your birds!
Peregrine Falcon photo by Kevan Sunderland. Graphics and campaign by Rafael Galvez for Tropical Audubon Society.
By Rafael Galvez
A spectacular total of 651 Peregrine Falcons were tallied during today’s count (October 10, 2012) over the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, at Curry Hammock State Park. To our knowledge, this is the highest number of individuals of that species counted in a single day, anywhere in the world! The previous high count of 638 Peregrines had been established also at Curry Hammock on October 11, 2008. The photo above of a young Peregrine was taken at FKH by Kevan Sunderland.
The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) is a spectacular species that captures the attention of observers at raptor monitoring sites the world over. Its power, speed and bold appearance have captured the imagination of humanity for ages. Its near extirpation in North America because of the extensive use of organochlorine pesticides for insect control from the 1940s into the 1970s made it a federally endangered species. A broad range of conservation and reintroduction efforts resulted in the species bouncing back from the brink of extinction. Above, a Peregrine Falcon perched on a snag at Curry Hammock State Park, where FKH is based, photographed by Jeff Bouton.
I had been seriously observing birds for many years before I saw my first Peregrine Falcon in South Florida. I nearly crashed my parent’s car as a teenager when I saw it perched on an old snag in Virginia Key in the late 80s. I had grown up accustomed to accepting the species as “nearly gone.” It is hard to believe we witnessed the passage of 651 Peregrines in a single day. This takes us to 2812 of the species for the season!
Kettles of Anhingas can often be seen from the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, and it is not uncommon to find Peregrines in the midst. However, judging by this great photo taken by Ted Keyel, it is clear not everyone is comfortable with Peregrines in the vicinity. Interestingly, and not evident in this photo, distant Anhingas with their long pointed wings, powerful direct flight and capable soaring ability may be easily confused as Peregrines.
Not only was the day excellent for Peregrine flights, but a total of 14 raptor species were seen today from FKH for a total of 2076 raptors tallied:
Turkey Vulture – 16
Osprey – 42
Bald Eagle – 1
Northern Harrier – 57
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 283
Cooper’s Hawk – 76
Broad-winged Hawk – 710
Red-tailed Hawk – 1
American Kestrel – 226
Merlin – 3
Peregrine Falcon – 651
Mississippi Kite – 1
Short-tailed Hawk – 7
Swainson’s Hawk – 2
Day’s Total – 2076
Season’s Total – 9878
We had a great team of observers at the hawkwatch today. It was great to have David Schaffter earlier in the day help us get on the birds an give us updates about the Cape Florida Banding Station. Charles and Colleen Caudill are back this year at the watch, and just in time; they have been great help in getting on high flying birds. Thanks Colleen for helping out at the Long Key transect count this morning, and for doing clicker guard during the afternoon’s raptor rain. Bob Stalnaker joined us today – his first day this season – and what a first day it was! Ted Keyel and Rafael Galvez were the official counters. Visitors included Brett and Debbie Tomlinson, Debbie and Eddie Tennant, and Gwladys Eliot Scott.
Bob Stalnaker and David Schaffter discuss a kettle of Peregrines from the FKH deck (left) while Colleen Kimbert Caudill uses a Leica APO-Televid 65 scope (right) to discern distant Peregrines miles away from the count site.
Winds out of the NNE have finally taken over. After nearly 2 weeks of winds from the SSE and flights over the Bay, the floodgates finally opened and conditions have become favorable for raptor migration. Birds were mostly flying directly overhear at neckbreaking altitudes. It appears similar conditions will remain in the following days, so we look forward to the passage of many migrating birds, and especially Peregrines.
Non-raptor migrants have also been numerous in the Middle Keys over the last days. A massive passerine flight and landfall was evident over Long Key yesterday morning, October 9. A future post will go into detail about our project’s efforts towards monitoring morning flights or non-raptor bird species.
By Ted Keyel
To view the quiz please click this link: FKH Sept. 27 Quiz
First of all, we would like to thank everyone who participated in our first quiz blog of the season! Hopefully, it was fun, challenging, and, at some point, educational. Congratulations to Jeff Bouton for getting all six answers correct and for the useful information he provided in coming to those conclusions. Here is a little more detail explaining what is what.
01. This first picture is of a young Cooper’s Hawk., which everyone got correct. Notice the broad, rounded wings and very long tail. These traits help bring us down to Accipiters. Of the three Accipiters that occur in the US, only Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk (colloquially, Sharpies and Coops) are regularly occurring in Florida (the third species, Northern Goshawk, is a much more northern and western species). Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks can be very difficult to differentiate, but due to some great advances in hawkwatching over the last 30 years or so, there is a suite of characteristics that can be used. Coops are larger than Sharpies, and that can be reflected in the morphology. The head on Coops tend to project further beyond the wings than on Sharpies. Notice in this picture, even with the wings pushed forward in a glide, the head still projects pretty far out. Another widely used field mark is the shape of the tail. As evidenced here, Cooper’s Hawks have rounded tails and Sharpies have squared-off/flat tails. Be careful that each species can show the “typical” tail of the other, especially during molt. Sharpies wings tend to appear very compact, while Coops’ wings are quite a bit longer. Posture can make this a little tricky, but extending the wings out, they would be pretty long.
02. As pretty much everyone said, this was a Great White Heron. Very long legs, very long neck, some feathery plumes, and a large, thick and pointed bill, brings us to Herons and Egrets. Even in the picture, it is still pretty apparent that this is a very large, white bird. Really, that only brings us down to Great Egret and Great White Heron. The pinkish/blackish legs, extremely thick bill, and dark upper mandible help clinch this for Great White Heron.
03. Getting a touch trickier now, this bird is a Merlin. An overall small bird, but with very pointed, thick wings, a thick, blocky head, and a fairly thick (notice a prevailing theme here?), tail. American Kestrels would be very lacking in the aforementioned thickness. Rock Pigeons would be quite a bit chunkier still, with a much thinner head. White-crowned Pigeons are a little more slender than Rock, but still not that same shape as Merlins, and, similar to Rock Pigeons, would have a much smaller head.
04. This was definitely the hardest shot of the series. The above picture was taken right before the quiz shot. We do and do not really have a lot to go on here. We have a cable in the foreground, which helps give us some semblance of size, as maybe a Robin-sized bird or thereabouts. We also have a fair amount of color. The bird has pale-yellow underwings, with translucent brown-gray remiges, a brown tail, and a light/whitish underside. Put all these together, and that pretty much only leaves flycatchers. A few different species were suggested, so why, from the picture, is this a Gray Kingbird? Eastern Phoebe was brought up, but structurally, this bird does not really match. Phoebes tend to have long tails, but rather short wings. Here, we can see the bird has a moderately long tail, and very long wings. Let us jump next to Western Kingbird. As was mentioned in the comments, Western Kingbird has white outer retrices, with the rest black. This bird has a dark tail, but certainly not black, and the little bit of lighter edges is not the pronounced white that a Western would have. Also, the yellow tends to be much more pervasive and much brighter in Western Kingbird.
05. Another tricky shot, of a female American Kestrel. This shot was intentionally zoomed out, to give a more-realistic view of what might be seen overhead. A lot of shapes can be seen, but only some slight color. Since color can often be unreliable at great distances and different light conditions, let us first focus on shapes. Key features here, are the thin base to the tail and the long, thin, tapering wings. As was discussed in Shot 3, Merlins are much thicker than Kestrels, and that would show out here, especially at the tail and wings. Peregrine Falcon and Kestrel identification can get much harder at great distances. Both have long, pointed wings, and fairly long tails. Behavior can be extremely useful, as Peregrines are much, much stronger, not pushed around by the wind, and rarely flap when they glide in circles. Unfortunately, we only have one still image here, and do not have access to that kind of behavioral information. For all that, Peregrines also have tapering wings and they are much thicker throughout. Their wings are also a little more angular in a glide. Between the head and the wrist tends to be a fairly straight line, and then from the wrist to the tips of the primaries also tends to be a straight line. As mentioned earlier, this bird has a very narrow base to the wings and tail, both of which also eliminate Mississippi Kite.
06. This shot was intentionally used to be confusing and is an example of how much behavior can influence changes in shape and structure in a picture. Looking at the picture, we see what looks to be a medium-sized raptor, with long wings, held up, and a long, narrow tail. If this bird was gliding, those three descriptors would scream out Northern Harrier. From one picture alone, this can be hard to determine, and as it was; the bird was flapping. The chest in this image looks very thick as well, and while Mississippi Kites are a little stouter than Northern Harrier, neither show quite this thick of a chest in a glide. Another very useful tip for identifying Mississippi Kites is the short P10 feather (as pointed out in the above picture). This helps to give them an extremely tapered-wing look.
Once again, thank you all so very much for checking out this quiz blog, and even more to the few brave souls who posted answers. There will be more quiz blogs to come, and please come down to see some of these birds in person!
Bill Thompson III and Gabe Cenker identifying one another at the FKH deck
The Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival has once again come and gone, and with it the hawkwatch has turned another page. The Festival is a great opportunity for us to spend good hawkwatching time with plenty of visitors and friends; we always have a great group up at the observation deck. This year we were graced by visits from Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest and the keynote speaker for the Festival. His great sense of humor, friendly personality and creative energy are immediately felt once you spend a little time with him. Who else brings a guitar to a birding event? Children gravitate to him, and his conversations about birds are fun and engaging. Many of us walked away with an earworm after his keynote sing-along. Yes, he finished his excellent talk with a sing-along cover: “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowbirds.” Serendipitously, our friend Trisha Auffhammer brought very tasty Cowboy Cookies to the hawkwatch, packed with oats, chocolate chips and nuts. Soon we had renamed them Cowbird Cookies. I was happily singing Bill’s song while eating Trisha’s cookies and watching distant raptors fly by.
Nico Porcelli helps his brother Lucas get on a distant flying Peregrine Falcon.
The Leica Trinovid 8×42 binoculars were their favorite.
It has been so much fun to have kids up at the hawkwatch deck; talk about future talent! Between Gabe Cenker’s (age 9) hawkwatching enthusiasm, and the impressive knowledge and keen observation skills of brothers Nicolas (10) and Lucas (7) Porcelli, we’ve had much to feel proud about at the hawkwatch. Upon arriving to Curry Hammock on Friday, September 28, and fresh from a six hour drive to the Keys, Gabe spotted a Buteo kettle overhead that contained the first Swainson’s Hawk of the season! The Porcelli brothers arrived to their first hawkwatching experience filled with raptor facts. Nico was soon calling out Peregrines a mile away as they cruised through high clouds. Lucas knew well about the speed of a stooping Peregrine reaching over 200 mph, and pondered out loud about the specialized talons of Ospreys and their reversible outer toes. We have no doubt that with these young hawkwatchers scanning the skies with us over the coming days, few raptors will go by undetected.
A long band of cumulus clouds was strung over the Middle Keys today. Most raptors flew through this corridor, often appearing and disappearing as they exited and entered the clouds at high altitudes.
The cumulus cloud band is marked above in light blue. It sat roughly over the 500m line from the count site, and followed the Keys chain towards the SW. Surface winds were out of the ENE with much variability and at times falling flat. High altitude winds also appeared extremely variable, evident in the broad ranging cirrus and altocumulus formations above. Roughly 90% of our migrants were within this band.
Today was the third triple-digit day in a row for Peregrine Falcons. We saw 125 on Sept-25, 126 on Sept-26, and 141 today. During the last hour of count (16:00-17:00), 46 Peregrines were tallied, well within the K5 to A5 flight path range.
Today we surpassed the site’s daily count high for Mississippi Kite, with 28. We also surpassed the site’s seasonal max for the species, bringing us to a total of 74!
Raptor totals for September 27, 2012:
Turkey Vulture – 11
Osprey – 73
Bald Eagle – 1
Mississippi Kite – 28
Northern Harrier – 18
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 15
Cooper’s Hawk – 21
Broad-winged Hawk – 191
Short-tailed Hawk – 1
American Kestrel – 23
Merlin – 24
Peregrine Falcon – 141
Unknown raptor – 2
Total – 549
2012 Season Total – 3126
Observation start time: 09:00:00
Observation end time: 17:00:00
Total observation time: 8 hours
Official Counters: Ted Keyel, Rafael Galvez
By Ted Keyel
Quizzes can be challenging. You lose out on so much that can help with identification by just looking at one quick capture in time. There are many important factors to keep in consideration, such as lighting, posture, and behavior. It can be trickier still when images have been deliberately changed in such a way to create the quiz. However, all that being said, quizzes can still be extremely useful. The goal of this set of quiz photos is to be a good learning experience. Hopefully it will make you look at these birds a little more closely and see something that you may not have noticed before.
There are many kinds of photo quizzes. Some people use very blurry pictures of easy birds, others take clear shots of cryptic species. There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods. We have tried to combine decent shots with some lower-quality shots. Realistically, sometimes we get good views of birds from our observation deck, and often we do not. In addition, there are times that with quick and/or poor views, what may be an easy-to-identify bird becomes much harder. One final note to make is that all of these pictures have been taken this fall at Curry Hammock State Park, where the Florida Keys Hawkwatch takes place. So, with all that in mind, here are the pictures.
FKH Sep Quiz 06. In addition to being cropped, this image was turned into a silhouette.
If you think you can identify any of the birds in these photos, please post your answers. Don’t forget to explain why you think your identification is correct. The answers will be posted soon.
All photos by Ted Keyel. Top graphic and editorial contributions by Rafael Galvez.
By Rafael Galvez
Plain and simple, today was an excellent day at the hawkwatch: a total of 750 individual raptors were tallied. Only 10 days from the start of the season, we could hardly ask for a better day.
With winds predominantly out of the NNW ranging from 7 to 18 km/h, birds had favorable conditions for “southbound” flights despite mild and intermittent precipitation during the midday hours.
Raptor totals for September 25, 2012:
Turkey Vulture – 2
Osprey – 83
Swallow-tailed Kite – 3
Mississippi Kite – 10
Northern Harrier – 30
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 54
Cooper’s Hawk – 47
Red-shouldered Hawk – 2
Broad-winged Hawk – 216
American Kestrel – 135
Merlin – 43
Peregrine Falcon – 125
Unknown raptor – 1
Total – 750
2012 Season Total – 2217