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Big Flights of Vultures, Broad-wings and Swainson’s!

October 30, 2012

By Rafael Galvez

By the end of the day we had tallied 5714 Turkey Vultures, 1398 Broad-winged Hawks, 56 Swainson’s Hawks, a late Mississippi Kite, many Northern Gannets and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, many Cave and Cliff Swallows, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and much more.

With the blustery winds associated with Hurricane Sandy finally giving way to calmer skies, and the cold front finally making its way to the Keys, a new set of floodgates swung open and kept us very busy today at FKH.

As I was doing my morning transect counts at Long Key, it was evident this day would differ from previous counts. Although the warbler diversity was next to null – with dozens of Palm Warblers flying overhead and making landfall nearby – the discovery of 3 Grasshopper Sparrows feeding on the damp pneumatophore floor of the mangrove forest indicated the beginning of a memorable day. Soon, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was seen flying over the Atlantic and making its way towards shore as it continued flying on a southwestward direction. As I scanned the ocean, I noticed American Kestrels flying low over the water towards the southwest, and tallied 12, some of which were nearly a kilometer out. This is when I noticed the first Northern Gannets. After a 15 minute scan from the shoreline, I counted 16 gannets all heading SSW. A group of ducks flew by and I was able to get them on the scope and get good looks; these were 10 American Wigeons. By this point I was quite happy. One of the rewarding aspects about conducting standardized transect counts at Long Key State Park is the opportunity to help the park supplement its list of recorded bird species. This season, we have added nearly 20 bird species to the park’s list of vertebrates, and this morning, I knew we had added 3 more: American Wigeon, Northern Gannet and Grasshopper Sparrow.

I had to cut my Long Key survey short when I noticed a blanket of Turkey Vultures flying overhead. Hundreds were streaming by in determined flight southwestward, following the key’s land chain. I also noticed several Swainson’s Hawks and Broad-winged Hawks in the mix. I knew these birds would soon be getting to Curry Hammock,  so I hurried out of Long Key. I briefly stopped at the tower and estimated well over 2000 Turkey Vultures passing by.

At Curry Hammock, Ted Keyel and Michelle Davis had already been keeping tally. Gannets and Lesser Black-backed Gulls – both firsts for the season – had been flying by over the Atlantic. It did not take long for the large streams of Turkey Vultures and Broad-winged Hawks to finally reach us. By the end of the day we had tallied 5714 Turkey Vultures, 1398 Broad-winged Hawks, 56 Swainson’s Hawks, a late Mississippi Kite and many other species.

Raptor Count for Oct-30-12:
Turkey Vulture – 5714
Osprey – 14
Bald Eagle – 2
Northern Harrier – 29
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 40
Cooper’s Hawk – 54
Red-shouldered Hawk – 2
Broad-winged Hawk – 1398
Short-tailed Hawk – 1
Swainson’s Hawk – 56
American Kestrel – 46
Merlin -4
Peregrine Falcon – 5
Mississippi Kite – 1
Total – 7366

2012 Season totals to date:
Black Vulture- 2
Turkey Vulture – 7758
Osprey – 1430
Bald Eagle – 17
Northern Harrier – 822
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 1889
Cooper’s Hawk – 690
Red-shouldered Hawk – 20
Broad-winged Hawk – 7235
Swainson’s Hawk – 101
Short-tailed Hawk – 32
Red-tailed Hawk – 2
American Kestrel – 3126
Merlin – 571
Peregrine Falcon – 3817
Mississippi Kite – 98
Swallow-tailed Kite – 40
Unknown Accipiter – 1
Unknown Falcon – 5
Unknown Raptor – 29
Total – 27,685

Non-raptor observations (Long Key and Curry Hammock, highlights):
American Wigeon – 10
Northern Gannet – 68
Lesser Black-backed Gull – 33
American Avocet – 1
Wilson’s Plover – 1
Cliff Swallow – 125
Cave Swallow – 29
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher – 2
Grasshopper Sparrow – 3
and much more!

All photos by Ted Keyel.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Michelle Davis permalink
    November 3, 2012 8:04 pm

    There’s a few more on the way; we’ve banded one Coop or Sharpie every day for the last 4 days at Cape Florida, and one or two more have escaped from the nets each day, too. Today while leaving the banding station we looked up and had 6 species in the sky at once: osprey, short-tailed, broadwing, red-shouldered, TV, BV.

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