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October Diversity – and certainly Peregrines!

October 11, 2011

By Rafael A. Gálvez

We had an excellent day at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, with just the right weather for good flights, and just the right time of the year for excellent diversity. A total of 881 migratory raptors were tallied, of 10 species. With several counters at the site and plenty of enthusiasm to go around, we closed shop one hour later (5pm) because the birds just kept on coming through!

Above is a photo of an adult immature male Northern Harrier photographed by Kevan Sunderland. Harriers had their best day yet this season, with 36 birds. Note the excellent detail on this photo; you can make out the iris color on this bird. Although this would be nearly impossible to discern at a distance, the pale eye in a juvenile-plumaged bird is diagnostic of a male. According to Jeff Bouton, who has banded hundreds of NOHA and has much experience with the species in the hand, iris color differentiation is useful for telling even the nestlings apart; young females have a dark iris. Jeff also pointed out the body color on this bird, which is overall rich buffy; this would be “creamy” at best in an adult female. Despite the noticeable streaking on the breast of this bird, an adult female would show bolder and denser streaking, typically well into the belly of the bird. I suspect we will be having more NOHA topography discussions soon – a topic I am certainly interested in and one that Jeff has been very helpful in enlightening.

After two smashing days of Broad-winged Hawk flights, and breaking the site’s daily count high (yesterday with 1363), the species continued in healthy numbers: 236 for the day. Here is a very nice shot taken by Kevan of a juvenile Broad-wing.

Kestrels and Sharpies are finally starting to show in good numbers, with just below 100 for each.

Although Red-shoulders did not show after a couple of days of movement, our “late” Buteos are showing up more and more. We had 4 Short-tails and 3 Swainson’s today! Here is a photo of a juvenile dark Short-tailed Hawk.

Despite all the diversity, it is undoubtedly the Peregrines that rule at this dojo, and today was no exception. They gave us the best looks, consistently throughout the day, aerial displays of speed and power, and the highest number compared to all other species, with a very nice high total of 301 birds – our second best this season after 393 on Oct 2.

It is worthy to note that, although our Peregrine numbers have remained healthy, we had somewhat of a dip about a week ago, coinciding with the bad weather. A few days back, our “sister” site at GTM, near Jacksonville Florida (the only other raptor count in the state) had their best counts for Peregrines with 323 on October 8 and 365 the following day. And here we get a spike in PEFA numbers! It is very likely that some of these are the birds sighted at GTM. Now if we get anywhere near 300 Peregrines tomorrow, maybe we are onto something.

This photo of an immature Peregrine was taken by Kevan Sunderland. It is interesting to note more immature PEFAs moving through as of late.

Our total of 881 migratory raptors today included:

Osprey – 64
Northern Harrier – 40
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 99
Cooper’s Hawk – 24
Short-tailed Hawk – 4
Broad-winged Hawk – 236
Swainson’s Hawk – 3
American Kestrel – 98
Merlin – 12
Peregrine Falcon – 301

Other (non-migratory) raptors species seen included:
Bald Eagle (4 individuals)
Turkey Vultures (much fewer numbers than expected by this time of the year, kettles of no more than 10 birds at any time).

We had a great group of observers at FKH today. The jovial bunch included Rudy Brancel, Bob Stalnaker, Mary Butterfield, Karen Riedle, and Gabe, Dave and Jen Cenker – and Rafael Galvez. We were visited by our regulars, Peter from Marathon and Raquel and Jim Sease. It has been great fun to have such a dynamic age range at the site, and everyone contributing to the project with such enthusiasm. Special mention must be given to Gabe – only 10 – who has quickly gotten the hang of hawkwatching and is on top of most of the birds, quickly advancing on his ID skill – the Cenkers will be joining us until the end of the week.

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