The Keweenaw Raptor Survey is now concluded. Thank you to all of those who followed the KRS blog posts the past three years. The project partners, Copper Country Audubon and Laughing Whitefish Audubon Society, are particularly grateful for the support of chapter members and interested birders far and wide.
To learn more about the ongoing efforts to monitor bird migration at Brockway Mountain, please visit: Brockway Hawk Watch.
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Rocky Ridge proved to be both beautiful & rugged.
The massive raptor migration through the Keweenaw, which clearly is most prominent at Brockway Mountain, is well known. What is hardly known at all is just where the raptors we see at Brockway are actually going. Brockway’s eastbound numbers are always much, much greater than the westbound numbers. Extensive observations at Manitou Island off the tip of the Keweenaw pretty clearly show that no large numbers of raptors cross Lake Superior there. So many of us Keweenaw people have come to the conclusion that the Brockway / Keweenaw raptors probably eventually move southwest toward Duluth and thus around the Big Lake. But just what are the patterns of raptor movement through the tip of the Keweenaw? Where are all those westbound birds that Brockway just doesn’t get? The Raptor Net idea was supposed to help answer those questions. At least twice in the past decades small groups of Keweenaw hawk and bird watchers arranged for a day or two of coordinated counts at various sites in the Keweenaw. This year we actually achieved six days of counts (28 April through 3 May) at three different sites. Of course the main site was Brockway and we also had observers on Rocky Ridge and also at Bete Grise beach. Each site was supposed to visually cover about one third of the Keweenaw. Brockway covers the north third, Rocky Ridge covered the middle third and Bete Grise covered the south. So we believed that most raptors moving east or west through the Keweenaw could be recorded by one of our sites. In addition to those mainland sites we had an observer out at Manitou Island for a full twelve days. Manitou is a major complicating factor in any study of Keweenaw raptor movement. Its pretty straight forward to count raptors, eastbound and westbound, at Manitou’s western tip. But the problem is that Manitou is almost like a storage battery for raptors. You don’t really know how many raptors are “on” the island. You can count birds coming from and returning to the mainland Keweenaw but you never really know how many raptors are just “on” Manitou. From our observations there we know that some days the number “on” Manitou is well over 1,000 and its possible the hundreds of raptors hang out at Manitou for several days. So Manitou really complicates any analysis of movement of Keweenaw raptors.
So how did we do? Did we find the missing westbound birds? We tried hard but we really didn’t find those westbound birds. The Bete Grise site did have more westbound than eastbound birds, as expected, but the numbers didn’t account for the large numbers of eastbound birds seen at Brockway. It seems likely that our six days just wasn’t long enough. We had reports of many hundreds of birds moving west at Bete Grise several days after our count period ended. Were those birds stored up over at Manitou for a few days and returned west after our count?
Here are the totals for the six day period:
Eastbound Westbound Total
Rocky Ridge 412 365 777
Bete Grise 63 254 317
Brockway 2056 618 2674
Manitou 595 755 1350
I’d like to thank our volunteer observers : Mike Swaney, Wendy Sharp, Bill and Nancy Leonard, Bill Deephouse, Tom Rozich, Ruth Gleckler, Lynn Murphy, Catherine Andrews, Keren Tischler, Curt Webb, Phil Quenzi, Marj and Ray Krumm, Nancy Auer, Quentin and Emily(?) Sprenglemeyer and Arthur Green
P.S. - Manitou Island does have its data posted on HawkCount. But I have been lagging in my work and have yet to post the thousands of westbound raptors at Manitou from this spring. I’ll get to it soon. We had 2155 eastbound raptors and 3087 westbound at Manitou from 28 April through 9 May.
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Last year’s Raptorthon brought many birds & some remarkable weather.
Bear with me!
What’s become clear to me over the past two springs is that this count needs to continue beyond the three year survey period envisioned by the fine people who put it together. As a scientific project, this count provides essential coverage in the central flyway that HMANA uses to help assess the health of raptor populations nationwide. (Unlike the northeastern US, there are relatively few hawkwatches in the Midwest.) As an educational initiative, this count exposes hundreds of people firsthand each spring to the migration spectacle with an intimacy that is almost unparalleled anywhere else. (Seriously. Where else do birds routinely pass so close that they sometimes almost hit people and parked cars?) As a conservation initiative, the data this count produced in 2010 and 2011 played a significant role in securing the grant from the Michigan DNR Trust Fund so the Township of Eagle Harbor (with help from several partnering organizations) could purchase the top of Brockway Mountain this summer. (That means that the very spot we conduct our counts will become protected space permanently!) As a focal point for ecotourism, this count functions as a healthy incentive for thousands of people to come visit and spend money in the Keweenaw Peninsula, one that doesn’t require bulldozing more forest or turning towns into theme parks. (Even the thought gives me chills!) So this count is a win-win for everyone involved, and it’s one of those odd exceptions where what’s healthy for business is healthy for the birds.
So, I’m asking for your help! On May 31, shy of just one week from now, I will begin a Raptorthon atop Brockway at nautical twilight to raise funds for both the Keweenaw Raptor Survey and the Hawk Migration Association of North America. Last year’s Raptorthon at Brockway raised over $1100, and helped stay some of the requisite costs in running this count for a full season. Please help support this count by writing me with your pledge (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) today. (Or you can also donate directly via HMANA.) Because I’m asking you to dig into your pockets, it’s only right that I dig into mine, so I’m personally pledging $5 for each raptor species I see, and $0.50 for each non-raptor species I see or hear; and to make things interesting, I’ll kick in another $50 if the total raptor count at the end of the day exceeds 500 birds as it did last year. Naturally, if you can be at least so generous, we would be ever so grateful, but whether big or small, your pledge/donation matters!
Thank you for allowing me this soapbox for so worthy a project. It has been my distinct honor to serve as counter both this year and last, and it is my wish to see that this count continue long into the future.
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Any day now, we’re set to break the highwater mark of 16,000 raptors for the season, the largest count of any season undertaken at Brockway thus far (including Jon Peacock’s pioneering 1992 survey). As I write the morning of May 25, we’ve already seen twice as many Bald Eagle (1080), Osprey (54), and Northern Harrier (167) as we did last year, and handily overtaken the previous KRS counts for nearly all species except for Turkey Vulture, Sharp-shinned Hawk, American Kestrel, Merlin, and Peregrine Falcon. And we still haven’t seen the peak for juvenile Broad-winged Hawk yet (the peak for adult Broad-winged Hawk was May 11), so the current count for Broad-winged Hawk (10,772) has room for growth. I’m especially pleased by the by number of Red-tailed Hawk (1163) we’ve seen, although I’m a little surprised that we haven’t yet recorded a dark morph “Western” bird this season. (Last year we had two of them.) With a few weeks still to go before the close of the count, I don’t feel I’m being premature in saying that we’ve had one helluva season!
Musing from somewhere below Brockway,
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Well, not exactly a call for help, nor a British Holiday. But after a few strong days, I assumed this year we’d pass on that big annual flight of Broad-winged Hawk and stretch it out instead. I was pretty convinced at one point that we’d missed that “big day” entirely after being socked in by fog for the first days of the month. But it seems our fine-feathered (predatorial) friends were simply waiting it out: May 9 brought 1313 BWs, May 10 saw 1163, and May 11 topped them both with a 2544 BWs. As of today (May 12), our total raptor count now stands at 12043 birds, with a full month still to go before the survey concludes in June. The juvenile Broad-winged Hawk peak is still ahead of us. That means are still a lot of birds in the pipeline. So don’t feel you’ve missed the show by any means!
And warblers are definitely approaching prime, too. We’re now regularly hearing Black-throated Green Warbler, Ovenbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Parula, Palm Warbler, and Blue-headed Vireo from up on the mountain. Today, I also heard Rose-breasted Grosbeak and American Redstart. Things are shaping up, and following my “tradition” last year, I’ll mark my first Northern Waterthrush with a beer (no, not on the mountain!) just as I did for my first migrant Turkey Vulture.
I still have some catching up to do. Among other topics I promised to address were books on cloud identification, and Joseph Youngman’s Raptornet. Also, we had a terrific group of school kids join us atop Brockway on May 4, and I’m reminded of my overseas counting experience when I think of how important the educational component is to any raptor survey and the community it serves. I’ll admit I’m feeling the burn at this point in the season, so I will do what I can do to take all this on one bit at a time. Thanks, as always, for your patience!
Good Hawkwatching to you!
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As good a day as any to watch hawks.
Yesterday’s flight seemed to help validate my suggestion in my previous entry about getting out on the mountain when the weather clears this week. You really have nothing to lose. Sometimes wind directions are less than stellar. It’s true that south or southeasterly winds are indeed the “magic” winds for Brockway, and often bring the best (& closest) flights, and I’ve said this a lot. But especially during peak migration periods, many species of raptors routinely migrate no matter what the winds are. This runs counter to the usual “wisdom” that says that hawks don’t migrate except on such-and-such winds. Or won’t fly if the winds are too strong. Or <insert other pearl o’ wisdom that many hawkwatchers nod sagely to but never question here>. It’s a mistake to conflate actual migration with the observed migration at Brockway, even if, practically, it may not seem like there is much point in splitting hairs (especially when you’re not seeing any birds, or they are ridiculously far away!). But especially later in the season (as I learned last year), juvenile Broad-winged Hawk seem to move no what the winds are, and it’s possible to see decent flights even with northerly and easterly winds (something I would have considered less likely earlier in the season) so long as these winds are not strong enough to push the birds beyond the range at which you could detect them. So, again, while we’re in this peak period, no harm in giving it a go even if things aren’t ideal. You might see a lot more than you thought you would!
Cordially Yours from atop Brockway,
Arthur (who likes hawks just as much whether they are very close or ridiculously far!)
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Another strong raptor flight on May 1 bodes well for this week, even though the forecast is a bit dismal. It is likely birds will move in sync with these fronts, so even brief periods of good weather offer good possibility of letting loose a wave of birds until the next round of precipitation moves in. While days like these may not quite capture the romantic notions of hawkwatching that most of us retain, birds carry somewhat different notions of “good” weather than we do!
In any case, if the weather clears a bit this week, it might be seriously worth your while to drop what you are doing and try the mountain for a few hours. There are never guarantees, of course, but you may find yourself handsomely rewarded for your effort!
I’ll close for now by mentioning that we also recorded our first American Pipit and Pine Warbler on the mountain on Tuesday. Passerine migration seems set to pick up in the days ahead. Stay Tuned!
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