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Posts Tagged ‘Peregrine Falcon’

By Cynthia Donaldson

“If you want to get back in, you must move more aggressively towards the boat!”  If anyone had told us that we would be hearing these words on our winter trip, we would have wondered if we should even be going.  Forsyth Audubon Trips always hold birdy surprises – those we are ready for.  This was a different kind of surprise, but our group adapts to any situation with a smile. The remembrance of these spoken words will always make the winter trip to Georgetown South Carolina one to remember!

The travel day on Thursday was beautiful and warm for January.  Some of the early arrivals got to go to the Mariana complex and Santee Preserve in the afternoon.  We found the Western Kingbird at the complex and saw or heard the Red-cockaded Woodpecker at the preserve.  The afternoon was warm as we walked along the dike, enjoying the chattering of the Marsh Wrens and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, which we learned sound quite similar.

Friday, January 18 – Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center

In 2016, Tom Yawkey stole our hearts.  Our experience this year was quite the same.  Jim Lee welcomed us with a presentation about the preserve. The beauty of this pristine maritime forest managed for wildlife was amazing.  We visited all the different habitats of the preserve, but did not get to see any alligators this year. The alligators have lived in safety there for years! The alligators there don’t like people because they associate people with getting their blood drawn during their checkups! Over the past three decades, research has been conducted on the alligators there, giving scientists a better idea of how alligators reproduce and grow over their lifespan in the wild.

Our group enjoyed seeing the Marsh Wren and other wading birds on this dike at Tom Yawkey. Photo by Cynthia Donaldson.
Leesa Goodson got a great shot of this skulky Marsh Wren.

A quick stop in the later evening at the Georgetown Water Treatment Plant revealed a rare Black-headed Gull from across the Atlantic. This bird had been reported there for several weeks, and thanks to eBird, we were able to find it after sorting though the many other gulls.

We sorted through the Bonaparte’s Gulls, which look quite similar to find this Black-headed Gull. Bonaparte’s Gulls are smaller and lack the red beak. Photo by Paul Beerman.
Birding and a lovely sunset at the water treatment facility. The papermill is visible in the background. Birders visit the best places!

Saturday, January 20 – Bull’s Island

It was a gorgeous day to visit Bull’s Island, part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. It was a bit overcast, but the temperature was very mild for a winter day. And the warm temperatures saved the day! Our captain was very excited to be transporting a group of birders, so he was eager help us find some “good” birds.

Peregrine Falcon on island of oyster shells.
Photo by Paul Beerman.
American Oystercatchers seen on the Bull’s Island Ferry ride to the island.
Photo by Leesa Goodson.

We learned that American Oystercatchers’ beaks are extremely thin so they can pry open oysters. The boat idled as we tried to watch their feeding behavior. Unbeknownst to us, the tide was heading out to sea, quickly, leaving our boat stranded on one of the oyster beds. First, I must say, I cannot think of a nicer group of people with whom to be stranded on a boat! We laughed, ate lunch, and continued birding. Secondly, our captain was terrific. He made sure we were safe and did his best to free us. After several attempts by a passing fishing boat, the larger of the company’s ferries arrived to try to pull us off. This did not work. We had two choices: wait for the tide to come back in or get off the boat to lighten the load. Thirteen of us stepped off the boat into the knee-deep water. It was a bit cold, but it worked! With a little pushing while the larger ferry pulled, we were able to get the boat back into deeper water. After the first attempt to pick up the 13 waders, the captain had to say, “If you want to get back in, you must move more aggressively towards the boat!” And on the next pass, we all clambered onto the boat.

As I earlier said, the day was warm. The captain took us on to the island boat dock where we poured the water out of our boots and dried our feet. Our next several hours on this beautiful island totally made up for any discomfort and delay! Bull’s Island is a destination like no other.

Many alligators were basking in the sun. We enjoyed seeing wintering ducks, a lone scoter, and several species of shorebirds.

Black-bellied Plover.
Photo by Paul Beerman.
Northern Harrier.
Photo by Paul Beerman.

Sunday, January 20 – Huntington Beach State Park

Sunday morning’s hike to the Huntington Beach State Park jetty was warm and pleasant, but the weather changed by the minute as the dark clouds rolled in. By the time we got to the jetty, the waves were crashing and the wind was blowing scopes around.

Beautiful morning for a walk on the beach at Huntington Beach State Park.
We were hoping to see a Snow Bunting at the jetty, but it surprised us by being down the beach. It was in the lee of the sand dune and when it took off after this quick photo by Paul, the wind carried it back toward the jetty, we failed to relocate it.

Several in our group got a quick look at a mink.
Waves and wind at the jetty!
Male Red-breasted Merganser spotted from the jetty.
Red-throated Loon at the jetty.

We enjoyed the afternoon birding other areas of Huntington Beach State Park. We found a mixed flock with Yellow-rumped, Black-and-white, and Pine Warblers on the Atalaya Straight Road trail. Our total for just this day was 61 species!

Beautiful Orange-crowned Warbler traveling in the mixed flock. Photo by Leesa Goodson.

Monday, January 21 – Huntington Beach State Park

It was a “hand-warmers” kind of day. Although not an official birding day for the winter trip, several of us braved the bitter cold to bird the Huntington Beach State Park causeway for the last time, trying to eek out a few more hours of sharing the love of birding with our friends…


And remember, if you are ever stranded on an oyster bed, the Forsyth Audubon birders are the ones to be stuck with!! Thanks for a great time with a great group of birders.

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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.

broad-winged

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

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.

broad-wings

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.

grosbeak

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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Josh

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.

Osprey

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.

Bockhahn

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.

Vulture

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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