Posts Tagged ‘Osprey’

By James Williams

Twas the night before Christmas
in a hawk watchers dream,
the Broadies are kettling
and Merlin are seen.

The Kestrels and Sharpies,
are harassing Osprey.
With Red-tail and Cooper
enjoined in the fray.

The Peregrine soar fast,
while the Harrier pass slow.
We count them together
howsoever they go.

So enjoy this dream…
Merry Christmas to all!
It’s only eight months…
Can’t wait ’til next Fall!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my Hawk Watch Friends!

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The Pilot Mountain Hawk Watch saw another great year in 2014. We tallied 5909 migrating raptors, including 5756 Broad-winged Hawks. Although these totals were about 300 birds less than we recorded in 2013, it was the fourth highest level since the 1991 beginning of the current hawkcount.org database.

September 22 can be a very good day to be at Pilot Mountain State Park. In 1993, observers counted a record 10,835 Broad-winged Hawks on that date. In 2013, 3600 birds represented the second daily total. The 22nd also was good this year with more than 1300 broad-wings. However, Saturday the 25th was even better.


One of 5756 Broad-winged Hawks

That day dawned bright and sunny. It was busy at Little Pinnacle early in the morning. A scout group was there to learn about hawk migration and work on a merit badge. It also was Mayberry Days, so Phil Dickinson, Scott DePue and Park Ranger Jesse Anderson spent much time sharing the watch with inquisitive visitors. “Do you really see eagles, here?” Yes, we do.


Scouts Work on Birding Merit Badge

So far as the birds were concerned, though, things were pretty slow until mid-afternoon. Then, several large kettles arrived between 3 and 5 p.m. One group of about 250 birds moved directly overhead. However, the largest one nearly got by us. Only the sharp eyes of Howard Coston and Scott noticed a lot of specks way out on the southwest horizon barely within view with binoculars. Training a spotting scope on them, we discovered twin kettles of at least 500 birds each moving over Yadkin County. For the day, we ended up with 2392 broad-wings. This was the third highest daily count since 1991.


Watching Broad-wings Kettle Overhead

It also was a good year for Northern Harriers and Peregrine Falcons. These species migrate only in ones or twos, not in large groups. This year, we saw 11 harriers and 9 of the falcons. Even veteran hawk watchers are thrilled to see these powerful flyers. Numbers of Ospreys and Bald Eagles were down a bit from 2013, but still respectable at about 30 each. We counted only one Merlin, though. Other raptor migrants included Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, and American Kestrels.

Raptors aren’t the only migrants to show up at Little Pinnacle in September. Take a leisurely walk up to the overlook from the parking lot on a sunny morning, and you are likely to see several species of warbler, including Pine, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Cape May and Black-and-white. One day, there was a Nashville Warbler, too.

Scarlet Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks also are frequent visitors, and this year a few Cedar Waxwings stayed with us most of the month. We also saw Veery, Wood Thrush and Gray-cheeked Thrush, and a Red-breasted Nuthatch was a good omen for the local winter birding season.


Immature Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at Little Pinnacle

We probably cannot define a trend based only on two years, but certainly 2013 and 2014 suggest that eastern raptor populations are doing well – especially the Broad-winged Hawk. Recent numbers far exceed what was counted through most of the past 20 years. Are there more birds? Or is it just more observers, better local weather or just the luck of location? What will 2015 tell us?

Thanks to all of you who took part this year, including members of Forsyth Audubon and Piedmont Bird Club. It was a great mix of new participants and seasoned veterans. Photos by Phil Dickinson and Lon Murdick.

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By Rob Rogers

Forsyth Audubon’s 2014 Spring Trip was to North Carolina’s southern coastal region. Our “Base of Operations” was the Comfort Inn Shallotte where we enjoyed excellent hospitality – despite a few “technical difficulties” our first night. I would like to offer a special thanks to Judy Scurry for guiding us on our Saturday morning outing to Sunset Beach and for her dining recommendations. Judy, you made our trip very enjoyable and I am sure I speak for the rest of the group. Our group rounded out at 24 folks – a nice size for spring! Several different mini groups enjoyed an afternoon of birding on Friday in several different locations. Carol and Ouida win the “Most Unusual Sighting Award” when they were treated to a “Target Bird” flyover of three Woodstorks a few miles before reaching Shallotte!   Friday Night’s restaurant of choice for a large part of the group was “Inlet View Seafood” in Shallotte. Judy recommended it and we were not disappointed.

Osprey.  Photo by Mike Conway.

Osprey. Photo by Mike Conway.

Saturday morning, we departed from the usual “Rob Early Start Time”, departing for Twin Lakes at 8:00 AM. There we saw several of the expected denizens – egrets and herons – from the coast as well as a Common Moorhen, Alligators and Fox Squirrels the size of Welsh Corgis. Ospreys were nesting in the tall pines and put on quite a show as did the Least Terns fishing quite successfully in the lake. We left the Lakes and drove to Twin Lakes Golf Course where Ospreys were nesting on platforms close to the parking lot. All were able to observe to their heart’s content. Especially interesting when one of the nesters showed up with a 10″ Whiting and proceeded to have breakfast in full view of the group. We left the golf course, navigated the roundabout and over the bridge to Sunset Beach. After a brief encounter with a Corn Snake, the best birding was on the inlet side of East Beach where we had excellent looks at Oystercatchers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Black Skimmers, Black-bellied Plovers and (a personal favorite) Red Knots. We had a quick look at the west end of the island and were delighted to have long looks at a Whimbrel. We left Sunset around noon and headed out to Oak Island.

American Oystercatchers.  Photo by Phil Dickinson.

American Oystercatchers. Photo by Phil Dickinson.

Whimbrel.  Photo by Phil Dickinson.

Whimbrel. Photo by Phil Dickinson.

On Oak Island, we birded the 3 walkovers across the marshy area and though the species count was not high, what we saw was both interesting and entertaining. At the 30th Street Walkover, we had a Clapper Rail calling directly under and around the boardwalk. Several got decent looks at the moving grasses and the bird slinking along almost invisible in its camouflage. The 20th Street Walkover proved the old adage that everyone – er, everything – is attracted to a fight. Two Boat-tailed Grackles were battling on one of the creek banks – one on the other’s back, hammering him mercilessly on the back of the head. The loud squawking attracted a Clapper Rail’s attention from the opposite side of the creek. The Clapper was standing most unClapper like with head and neck extended so much that at first we thought it might be a Limpkin. The Clapper stood there for 5 minutes in rapt attention at the spectacle before him until the Grackles finally stopped the “Barney.” After checking the 3rd walkover, we headed back to the hotel to recount the day’s events.

Clapper Rail.  Photo by Mike Conway.

Clapper Rail. Photo by Mike Conway.

Sunday morning, we got back to a more standard “Rob Early Start” with a 7:15 “AIS” time and headed for Holly Shelter Gamelands. Our timing was impeccable with Turkey season over on Saturday leaving the gates unlocked until Monday. We were able to drive in and avoid the 3 mile hike to Fussell’s recommended areas. First stop, as we stepped out of our automobiles, we heard numerous Prairie Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, Yellow Warblers and the crowd pleasing Red-headed Woodpeckers and Bobwhites. Just when we turned to go back to the cars, two Red-cockaded Woodpeckers flew in and all got good looks at this declining species. We drove to the second location and stopped to seek the Bachman’s Sparrow. We were directly in the area described by Fussell when we heard our first Bachman’s. The group scanned deep into the brush in vain until we realized the bird was singing a mere 20 feet from the road. Everyone “got on” the bird as he sang away and it was a lifer for many in the group. One last stop series near the drain pipes and we saw a luckless, Legless Lizard that had just been hit by a car. Alas, he did not make it but still an interesting sighting. The last of the drain pipes had Swainson’s Warblers on either side of the road. Unfortunately, as is often the case with Swainson’s, the brush was so thick that despite the close proximity, no one got a look.

Bachmans Sparrow.  Photo by Mike Conway.

Bachmans Sparrow. Photo by Mike Conway.

Our species list stands at 94. In addition to the “Most Unusual Sighting Award” mentioned above, I would like to hand out the “Dr. Doolittle Award.” Although we enjoyed David Doolittle’s company, the award is not for him! No, the “Dr. Doolittle” award goes to Kitty Jensen for her ability to speak with female Boat-tailed Grackles. Kitty would not divulge the subject of her conversations but assured me that they were most enjoyable. The trip was a big success and I look forward to the next outing.

Additional photos from the trip can be viewed in the Forsyth Audubon photo gallery http://www.forsythaudubon.org/Birds/PhotoGallery.aspx.  Select “Audubon Spring Trip 2014.”



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Josh Buchanan Spots Merlins and More

“Merlin,” Scott DePue shouted on a September morning at Pilot Mountain State Park. Sure enough, a small, dark raptor with pointed wings shot through the gap that separates Pilot Knob from the Little Pinnacle overlook where we conduct our annual hawk watch. Then, as we watched the bird zoom south toward Winston-Salem, a second Merlin followed the same path only a few seconds behind.

The Merlin sightings were particularly thrilling for me. We see very few even at the hawk watch, and three times last year I was looking one way while other observers spotted these birds going another. Seeing two within ten seconds was special.


Ospreys Fly Over Pilot, Too

In Forsyth County, Red-tailed, Red-shouldered and Cooper’s Hawks stay all year. However, many hawks and other raptors that breed to our north migrate to warmer climes in the fall. Most notable in the eastern United States is the Broad-winged Hawk. Hundreds of thousands of these birds travel to Central and South America, often in large flocks or “kettles” of dozens, even hundreds, of birds. A large kettle is quite spectacular, as the hawks swirl up on a thermal rising off the ground and then glide out on a high current of air – a very efficient means of travel.

Pilot Mountain has been the site of an annual hawk watch for almost 40 years. In 1973, Ramona Snavely was there in early October and observed several Broad-winged Hawks riding the thermals on their way south. Since then, Pilot Mountain has joined many other watch sites from Canada to Mexico. Sites submit collected data to www.hawkcount.org, where they are available for scientific study.

At Pilot, observers can find 13 raptor species. Besides the species already mentioned, we see Bald Eagle, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, and both Black and Turkey Vultures. Park visitors often are amazed to hear that we see eagles and, even more so, when they get to see one themselves.


State Ranger Brian Bockhahn Taught Raptor ID Classes

We get much satisfaction from talking with the visitors about what we are doing and seeing at the pinnacle. For this veteran, it is always a joy to see the “wow” look of  someone seeing their first eagle or a broad-winged kettle. Chuck Smith brought his natural history class from High Point University one day, and State Park Service Ranger Brian Bockhahn brought two groups of rangers and other individuals for a raptor identification class.

In 2012, we conducted our hawk watch from September 12-30. During that time, we counted 2592 Broad-winged Hawks. In addition, we observed 30 Osprey, 25 Bald Eagle, 14 Peregrine Falcon, 4 Northern Harrier, plus a few each of the other raptor species. Those two Merlins were the only ones seen. For butterfly enthusiasts, this also is a great place to watch the fall Monarch migration.

The 2592 Broad-winged Hawks was the highest tally since 2006. Sunday September 16 was a dream day for hawk watchers, as 1735 passed by, including over 1000 birds kettle after kettle between 3 and 6 p.m. We wrapped up on September 30 with another 632 broad-winged and six eagles.


Turkey Vultures Roost on Pilot

For many years, Toby Gordon was synonymous with the Pilot Mountain Hawk Watch. Every fall, Toby was there most days often alone patiently waiting for those large kettles of birds to come through. These days, Scott DePue is the name that comes to mind. Blessed with extraordinary vision, Scott has been nicknamed “Hubble” after the space telescope by fellow Piedmont Bird Club member Julien McCarthy. Scott finds “specks” of birds on the horizon that some of us with old eyes never see. More than that, he has excellent raptor ID skills and always is ready to help less experienced birders understand what they are seeing.

Thanks to all of the many observers who made this year’s Pilot Mountain count a success. In addition to Scott, I extend a special thank you to Jean Chamberlain and Carol Cunningham for their many shifts as compilers at Hawk Watch and their extra efforts to make sure we did not miss any of those migrating birds. To learn more, visit the Hawk Watch page at our website, www.forsythaudubon.org.

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