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Peregrines Peregrines Peregrines Peregri…

October 2, 2011

By Rafael A. Gálvez

With winds primarily out of the north, maintained at about 7 to 8 km/h throughout the day, migrating raptors had excellent conditions for swift flights over the Middle Keys. The buzz around had all the anticipation of a spectacular count. But as the first hours ticked by with little over 60 birds and hardly any cloud cover, we feared that the birds might be flying past us undetected despite our vigilance.

Before the second hour was over, we had back-to-back surprises. The first Short-tailed Hawk of the season – a dark bird – sped by on a mid-height glide, giving us all great looks (by the end of the day we would have 3 of this species -2 dark and 1 light). A few minutes later, amid increased flights of Northern Harriers and Sharp-shinned Hawks, we were stunned to have a juvenile Swainson’s Hawk pass by, again giving excellent looks and another first of the season! That hour would give us also the fourth of the day’s Mississippi Kites, but little in terms of falcons and Broad-wings.

By mid-day, our relatively low number of Peregrines was somewhat disheartening.

The tables soon turned as we started getting a steady “rain” of high gliding Peregrines – 68 from 12 to 1 – 77 from 1 to 2 – 160 from 2 to 3 and so forth, for a total of 393 PEFAs for the day!

Don’t be fooled. These were not birds passing by leisurely at comfortable heights, but bullet-speed gliders through blue skies, often at the limit of binocular vision. Every now and then, they would be joined by other species, such as Sharpies, Harriers or the rare Osprey, but there was no doubt it was a Peregrine show. Our dear friends Kevan and Linda Sunderland were there, hoping for low fliers to get some shots in; but even with their magnificent 800mm lens, few shots could be captured.

Our total of 658 birds included:
Osprey – 20
Mississippi Kite – 4
Northern Harrier – 25
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 70
Cooper’s Hawk – 44
Short-tailed Hawk – 3
Broad-winged Hawk – 76
Red-shouldered Hawk – 6
Swainson’s Hawk – 1
American Kestrel – 14
Merlin – 1
Peregrine Falcon – 393
Unidentifiable falcon – 1

Additionally, non-migratory raptors of the following species were seen:
Bald Eagle – 1 (adult)
Turkey Vulture – 10+
14 raptor species total

Counters today were Larry McDaniel, Jim Eager and Rafael Galvez. We had the pleasure of being joined by Jim and Raquel Sease – who were regulars during the 2010 season, Michael Thompson, and Linda and Kevan Sunderland. Jenny Welch and Sandy Webb passed by later in the day.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 2, 2011 8:08 pm

    Man, I dreamed about seeing my first Short-tail last night. I will keep my eyes open down in Key West.

    Was out at Woman Key today on my boat. Had about 5 Peregrines, a stooping Coop, a non-stooping Coop, a Sharpie and a harrier.

    Also had a Black-bellied Whistling Duck, which was a Keys first for me.

  2. October 2, 2011 8:22 pm

    Love to see those pelagic raptors!!! Was the BBWD out there too?

    Thanks for conjuring up the STHAs. Why don’t you dream a Zone-tailed Hawk for us please!

  3. Susan Sorensen permalink
    October 2, 2011 10:05 pm

    WOOOOOWOOOOO!!!! Peregrine show indeed; along with Harriers, Sharpie’s, BW’s & Osprey’s. I’m certain every flyer over Long Key came by you at Mach2 with their feathers on fire because my camera couldn’t keep up with their fly-bys!

  4. Jeff Bouton permalink
    October 3, 2011 6:50 am

    Awesome flight man! Weather channel was calling for N @ 16 mph originally. Woulda helped keep those birds in your face if it had held true. Woulda loved to have been there!

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