The 2016 fall migration season at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch is off to a fantastic start. This is the 19th season of standardized counts of migratory birds in the Middle Keys of Florida. We are excited to welcome a new team of talented hawkwatchers joining the FKH family. They will be counting daily at the Curry Hammock State Park deck from early September through the end of October.
Our official counters this fall are – from right to left – Cameron Cox, Kenny Fowler and Chris Payne.
Cameron has tremendous experience as a counter in hawkwatches and seawatches at a number of locations, as well as birding and guiding throughout the U.S. and all over the world. You may be familiar with his excellent reference guide to Seawatching, Eastern Waterbirds in Flight (Peterson series). He has lived in Florida, has served in our state’s Record’s Committee and is thoroughly familiar with Florida’s avifauna. He is currently based out of Cape May, NJ. We are greatly benefiting from his expertise. Kenny Fowler has been a hawk counter at Bake Oven Knob, Pennsylvania, and is familiar with HMANA protocols. He was also an intern at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, has worked with migratory shorebirds, and has worked from North Dakota to the East Coast. His studies have taken him as far as South Africa. He is based out of Quakertown, PA. Chris Payne has been birding since childhood, frequenting his local hawkwatch at Allegheny Front in Western PA. He has worked on point counts to monitor Golden-winged Warblers, worked with horseshoe crabs, conducted surveys for Louisiana Waterthrushes and Cerulean Warblers, and has wide experience ranging from veterinary technician to invasive plant eradication. He is based out of Berlin, PA.
Visitors are welcome to stop by Curry Hammock State Park, and spend time sharing the migration spectacle with our hawkwatchers. It is a great opportunity to see many bird species, and learn how to identify raptors in flight. We count daily – rain or shine – from 9am to 4pm.
Although we still have the month of October to continue counting, the season is already unfolding in an exciting manner. Falcons have started strong, with Peregrines and Merlins closing September with an advantageous edge over other seasons. One of the biggest highlights so far was a Snail Kite observed at the hawkwatch on September 29 – the second ever observed in the history of the project. The bird was intrepidly spotted and identified by volunteer Greg Thompson. It was skillfully photographed by Cameron Cox as it quickly flew past the count site, slipped away and disappeared.
October 10, 2015 was an incredible, magical day when 1506 migratory Peregrine Falcons were tallied from the Florida Keys Hawkwatch at Curry Hammock State Park. No other site in the world has recorded such a high count during a single day of this incomparable predator. The previous world record was established by our site during Oct. 10, 2012, when an impressive 651 total Peregrines were tallied that day. This year’s new record more than doubles the previous count from 2012.
BIGGEST PEREGRINE FLIGHT DAY VIDEO (CLICK IMAGE TO PLAY)
This day was also the third highest day count for Sharp-shinned Hawks at our site, totaling in 1241. It would have taken 284 more Sharpies to match the 1525 from Oct. 20, 2011.
Below is a list by the hour of the impressive Peregrine Falcon flights our site experienced throughout the day (Oct. 10, 2015):
OUR AMAZING HAWKWATCH VOLUNTEERS this day were Ted Keyel, Colleen Kimbert Caudill and Charles Caudill. Mark Hedden and Rafael Galvez were backup counters during the latter half of the count day. A tremendous effort by this crew! Tom and Janet Kuehl have been visitors for many days and shared this magical day with us – thank you for your help and enthusiasm.
We finally surpassed the 1500 Peregrine mark this season, encouraged by several 3-digit single day counts this week. Yesterday, October 9 the count team tallied 272 migratory Peregrine Falcons, taking us to 1512 for the season. The species typically peaks around mid-October at our site, but each year is slightly different. Within recent years we have seen peaks as early as late September and other years when their flights were relatively well spread throughout the season. Challenging weather this year, particularly effects of hurricane Joaquin interfered with the detection of migratory raptors at our site. It is unclear at this point how this will affect our overall Peregrine numbers for this fall.
It was also encouraging to see 116 Ospreys migrating over Curry Hammock. Ospreys typically peak early in the season, and years when we start counting during mid-September, such as this year – we run the risk of missing too many. Just having tallied beyond 1000 Ospreys as of yesterday, we may reach our average seasonal count of 1289 for the species this season.
Who’s at the helm of the counting deck during the 2015 FKH fall migration season?
“I grew up in Racine, Wisconsin, birding along Lake Michigan with my father. Family trips to Hawk Ridge (a hawkwatch in Duluth, MN) really sparked my interest in hawkwatching. I loved spending all day on the Ridge and did not want to be pulled away for a second, out of fear of missing something. After college, I realized that the best way to miss fewer birds was to be the hawkcounter. I have been fortunate to be able to count at a few sites. My first was the spring watch at Chavarrillo in Veracruz, MX. It was an incredible experience, and it really helped hone my counting skills. I next went to Montclair, NJ for both the spring and the fall. Montclair is second only to Hawk Mountain as the longest-running US hawkcount, and I enjoyed being a part of it. After Montclair, my last hawkcounting position was at the Peregrine Falcon Capital of the World. While I was there, I received my acceptance letter to graduate school at the University of Minnesota Duluth and now I am just finishing up my Master’s work on mercury accumulation in birds of prey.”
You may find Ted counting at Curry Hammock nearly every day this fall. He is a fun hawkwatcher with a friendly attitude and tremendous knowledge of birds. You are sure to maximize your migration experience in the Middle Keys by spending some time birding with him. Ted was a counter at FKH during 2012, and we are thrilled to have him back this year!
Colleen Kimbert Caudill & Charles Caudill
The heart and soul of FKH!
Colleen and Charles have volunteered at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch for five consecutive years, giving the project as much as a solid month of counting each fall season. They travel extensively in their RV, embarking on trips throughout the country from their home in the Florida peninsula. They first discovered hawkwatching by chance. They have had a long love for birds and nature, but when they visited Curry Hammock State Park during the fall of 2011, they had no idea they would be captured by a new passion – raptor migration! They are friendly, patient and willing to share migration with all visitors. We could not conduct this project without their immeasurable work year after year.
The Backup Team
A long time friend of FKH, Mark Hedden has filled in as a hawkcounter and bander over the years. He is a photographer, writer, bird guide and the Executive Director of Florida Keys Audubon Society. A Key West resident, Mark writes narrative nonfiction, primarily ornithology-oriented natural history and about several other interesting topics. His work has been published in the Key West Citizen, Solares Hill newspaper, the Miami Herald, Tropic magazine, Miami Metro magazine, the Washington Post, and many other publications. You can find some of his work at BoneIsland.com.
I (Rafael Galvez) will be counting during unpredictable days – when organizational work allows. I hope to see you at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch soon!
We are finally gaining some momentum: 274 migrating Peregrine Falcons were tallied at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch – Curry Hammock State Park – today 10/08/15, bringing the season’s total to 1240. It was also a decent day for Sharp-shinned and Broad-winged hawks. See the chart below.
Songbirds at Long Key State Park picked up quite a bit from recent slow days. Despite the many thrush vocalizations heard over South Florida last night, none were detected in the park, therefore we assume safe flights beyond the Keys. Warblers were represented in higher diversity and numbers than recent days, including Pine, Prairie, Magnolia, Black-and-white, Black-throated Blue, Palm, Cape May, Yellow-throated and Worm-eating warblers, Ovenbird, Northern Parula, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat and 51 American Redstarts.
Gray Catbirds are finally present in our area, and it will be a common species during our surveys for the remainder of the season. However, the least common species this day was a Yellow-headed Blackbird!
Counters for 10/08/15 were Ted Keyel, Colleen Kimbert Caudill and Charles Caudill.
Single day 3-digit Peregrine Falcon counts are not uncommon at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, but they have been relatively delayed this 2015 fall season (see the chart below). We finally experienced the first for 2015 in recent days, with 102 Peregrines counted on 10/05/15 and an excellent 233 on 10/06/15. We hope this is only the beginning of the falcon show. We also have a new single day record for Bald Eagles, with 8 counted on 10/06.