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Preparing for the Hawkwatch

September 5, 2011

Dear Florida Keys Hawkwatch Counters,

We are just a few days away from the start of the hawkwatch season and we’re very excited about the excellent team lined up for 2011. Some of you are veteran hawkwatchers, and others will be experiencing raptor migration for the first time. Regardless, we are going to have a great time!

Although absolutely no experience is required to be an effective member of the project, a number of you have asked if there are ways to be better prepared for FKH, prior to arrival. Most important are your interest and enthusiasm, and a working pair of binoculars. FKH staff will be there to help all counters understand our monitoring strategy, and to enjoy the birds.

I highly recommend for all scheduled counters to browse through the FKH blog and become familiar with the project. This will help you understand the significance of the hawkwatch, which will make your time at the monitoring site more meaningful and enjoyable. I have recently added a “Raptors” page, which includes stats for all the raptors documented at the Curry Hammock site. Memorizing these will NOT make you a better hawkwatcher, but becoming familiar with the species we’ll be encountering will certainly be to your benefit.

Please read through the “Volunteer!” page’s FAQs so that you have a clearer idea what to expect, ESPECIALLY those of you staying at our HOUSING facility. There are several rules and regulations we must abide by at the Keys Marine Lab, so please read.

Some of you may want to brush up on your raptor identification skills prior to your participation at FKH. The bulk of our endeavors will consist of spotting and identifying distant FLYING raptors. Understanding the shapes of the major diurnal raptor groups – Falcons, Accipiters or “true” hawks, Buteos (buzzards or hawks), Harriers, Kites, Vultures, Osprey and Bald Eagle – is an excellent start. Keep in mind that the vast majority of the birds we will observe will be engaged in migration, so focus your familiarization on raptors in flight.

An excellent resource for beginners is a flight identification sheet made available by the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA). Please follow this link for more information: http://www.hmana.org/silhouette_guide/

If you already own a copy of Sibley’s field guide to birds, you have an excellent resource there. Sibley is a veteran student of flying raptors, and his guide includes all species possible at FKH, depicted in excellent shape renderings.

Please also join our community on Facebook, where we are often sharing and discussing identification issues for beginners and advanced hawkwatchers: FKH Facebook.

For anyone interested in seriously studying migratory raptors, you may want to look over the following books prior to your arrival.

Migratory Raptors:

  • Hawks in Flight. Pete Dunne, David Sibley and Clay Sutton. Houghton Mifflin 1988.
  • A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors. Brian K. Wheeler and William S. Clark. Princeton 1995.
  • Hawks from Every Angle. Jerry Ligouri. Princeton 2005.
  • Hawks at a Distance. Jerry Ligouri. Princeton 2011.

Raptor Ecology:

  • Migrating Raptors of the World. Keith Bildstein. Cornell University Press 2006.
  • Life Histories of North American Birds of Prey. Arthur C. Bent. Dover Books 1937
  • The Wind Masters. Pete Dunne. Houghton Mifflin1995.
  • The Raptor Almanac. Scott Weidensaul. The Lyons Press 2000.

All the resources mentioned here will be available for reference at the hawkwatch site, in addition to interpretive signage and banners. See you there! RG.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeff Bouton permalink
    September 12, 2011 4:58 pm

    Dude, isn’t that “Raptors of Georgia” along the bottom of this image ~2/3 from the left?!?… Good book! Unfortunately, not a lot of overlap with the FKH species wise though…

    • September 12, 2011 8:27 pm

      Osprey, Northern “Hen” Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin… that’s about it. Unless you are willing to take Lesser Kestrel as ours, White-tailed Eagle for Bald Eagle (not a far stretch), Common Buzzard for Broad-winged (sort of ~), Eurasian Sparrowhawk for Cooper’s and Shikra for Sharpie… mmm… but too many species would be missing here.

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