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Southerly Winds and Migrating… Nighthawks?

September 25, 2011

By Rafael A. Gálvez

It was a calm and focused day at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch. Once again, Ospreys, Merlins and Peregrines took most of our attention, with a wash of several other species – raptor and non-raptor – to keep the day interesting.

Above, an Osprey skims over the tops of Buttonwoods near the observation deck. The quickly changing topography of the Curry Hammock site is often a topic of conversation. The Buttonwood is a fast-growing hardwood associated with mangrove and coastal habitat. Several of the trees in the vicinity have grown to the point that they may soon obstruct our view of key flight trajectories. On the other hand, it is often interesting to watch certain species “hot-dog” their way through the growing foliage, particularly Merlins, Harriers and Accipiters.

With winds averaging at about 5km/h out of the south, flights were primarily inland and at times quite distant, pushed against the Bay following the southwestward curve of the Keys.

A highlight of the day was seeing several large flocks of nighthawks, presumably Commons flying out directly towards the ocean, ESE. Although not truly hawks nor part of our research, it was fascinating to watch this typically nocturnal species engaged in migration and in large numbers. First a few were sighted, then 3 flocks of about 30 each were seen, and at about midday, a kettle of about 100 gathered briefly and moved on. Judging from the determined and unswerving flight style they maintained, it would not be surprising to learn that these birds flew clear across Florida Bay from somewhere on the southwest mainland. Their destination? Would love to know.

As I write, night is falling and a nasty thunderstorm is brewing over us. I took a quick stroll outside and noticed a couple of hundred nighthawks flying low and south in more typically erratic flight!

Our total of 135 raptors included:

Osprey – 53 (our best yet this season)
Swallow-tailed Kite – 2
Northern Harrier – 5
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 5 (they are starting to show up – finally)
Cooper’s Hawk – 1
Broad-winged Hawk – 9
American Kestrel – 1 (our 3rd AK this season!)
Merlin – 17
Peregrine Falcon – 41
Unknown Accipiter – 1 (too distant, too fast)

The counters today included Jim Eager, Rudy Brancel, David Simpson, Christine Vaskovic, Samantha Sardes and Rafael Galvez.

Left – Christine on her favorite perch keeping eagle eyes on the sky. Although she claimed her vision was not up to par, she proved to be an excellent spotter, often picking out birds before anyone else got to them. Below her, Samantha helps a visitor use the scope.

Other sightings included southbound Great Blue Herons in small flocks, several sizable Eastern Kingbird flocks, a single Wilson’s Snipe, and thousands of swallows – Barn Swallows seemed to dominate.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Susan Sorensen permalink
    September 25, 2011 8:01 pm

    Sorry I missed you today! I was down this morning when the kayakers and SUP took off on an eco-excursion. On the way down to the Hammock I was escorted by many peregrines seen coming through Long Key, so I knew your excellent crew would be tallying them up as they flew through. The sky was alive with merlins and peregrines around noon-ish.

    • September 26, 2011 7:18 am

      On days such as this, when the winds are pushing the birds out towards the bay, I wonder what you are seeing from your post Susan. We work hard to not miss any of the birds, but of course that is impossible. Considering the distance at which we were seeing many of the Peregrines and the few Sharpies, I wonder what the flight looked like from the Dolphin Research Center? Keep us posted!

  2. Christine Vaskovic permalink
    September 26, 2011 8:01 am

    I had such an amazing time doing the Hawkwatch!!! I’ll be planning one coming out to volunteer again for this season, thank you for having me and for being so hospitable!

    • September 26, 2011 5:04 pm

      It was a pleasure to have you. You were excellent help – we couldn’t have done it without you. Don’t be a stranger.

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