Niagara Peninsula Hawkwatch

 
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2009 MIGRATION SUMMARY

By John Stevens

In the end, the Niagara Peninsula Hawkwatch had a very successful season with 17,577 birds counted, the fourth highest total ever recorded at the site. However, our expectations for a record year with three weeks to go were dashed by a very disappointing flight in May, with only a very small flight of Sharp-shinned Hawks and virtually no immature Broad-winged Hawks.

What set up the potential record were unusual conditions during March. For the first time in memory, there was no snow cover for the entire month. Total snowfall amounted to 0.4 cm, which is about two per cent of normal,with only traces ever being present on the ground. This can be compared to the 54.8 cm we had in March 2008. We did have more than twice the normal amount of rain but no days were totally rained out, although there was one zero-count day. There was a stretch of two weeks, beginning on March 12, during which good counts were obtained every day. Without having any really big days, the March total of 5,548 was the third highest on record.

A big day arrived on April 2, when a huge flight of Turkey Vultures across a broad front occurred. The tally at the tower was 2,272 birds in total, including 2,021 TVs, but that represented only a fraction of the number passing through the peninsula. In the morning, groups of up to 100 TVs were moving along the lakeshore (with many seen turning to head across the lake), while in the afternoon, the flight line moved further and further south.

There were several days during the month when rain and/or snow led to zero or very low counts as once again precipitation was more than twice normal for the month. But then on April 24, the birds flooded through between 10:00am and about 3:45 pm EST before abruptly stopping. The count of 4,912, including 4,316 Broad-winged Hawks, represents the second highest daily total for Beamer, behind only the 7,007 of April 21, 1985.

At this point in the season, we’d counted over 15,500 raptors. There was a good flight on the morning of April 27, but the final 18 days of the season produced fewer than 600 birds, so with a season total of 17,577, we didn’t come close to the record for a full season (19,275 in 1985).

Our effort this year of 525.7 hours was about average and combined with the above average count resulted in our second highest birds-per-hour value of 33.4. This was achieved despite the fact that the May count of 383 birds was the second lowest on record and the birds-per-hour value of 4.3 was just one-eighth of what it was 20 years ago in May 1989. Could this be further evidence of climate change?

Species Highlights

Despite the good number of birds counted, only the fifteen regular transients were observed in 2009. The totals for four of the five most commonly seen species, Turkey Vulture, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk and Redshouldered Hawk, were above their recent five-year averages, and of these, only the Red-shouldered Hawks were below their long-term (20-year) average. By contrast, the number of Sharp-shinned Hawks was below their five-year average and only 53% of their long-term average. In fact, the Sharpie count was the second lowest that has ever been recorded for our site since full season coverage was initiated in 1980. One result of this season’s counts is that for the first time since 1976, the Sharpie is not our highest recorded species, having been passed by the Broad-winged Hawk. Of course, it appears that it will be only a matter of a few years before Turkey Vultures overtake both these species although they still rank fourth behind Red-tailed Hawks as well.

For the less common species seen at Beamer, 2009 was generally a below average season. Notable exceptions to this were the 76 Bald Eagles and the 8 Peregrine Falcons, each representing their second greatest counts, as well as the 12 Golden Eagles, a total which was above both their five-year and long-term averages but somewhat disappointing in light of the record high count of this species in the fall of 2008 at Hawk Cliff.

For the remaining group of seven species with below average counts, the 67 American Kestrels and 136 Cooper’s Hawks, continue trends that have seen their recent five-year averages fall below their long-term averages. The 39 Ospreys represent only 74% of the five-year average and was their second lowest total in the last 20 years. Probably the three nearest-to-Beamer occupied nest sites in 2008 were unoccupied in 2009 (Mike Street, pers. comm.). Considering that the ballpark where the Blue Jays train in Dunedin alone had three active nests at the end of February this year, maybe the Ospreys are finding that the fishing is better in Florida.

This was not an irruptive year for Northern Goshawks and their count of 6 was well below the long-term average. The Rough-legged Hawk (92) and Merlin (13) counts in 2009 were above their long-term averages but the Northern Harrier total of 121 was below both the five-year and long-term averages. This is consistent with the Harrier count from Hawk Cliff in the fall of 2008, which was well below their normal range.

Finally, a partially albino Red-tailed Hawk passed the watch on April 24th during the big flight of Broad-wings. Either this bird or, possibly, a similar one was seen five days later at the Grimsby Airpark, 5 km southwest of Beamer,
by Colin Horstead.

Thanks to the following individuals without whom the 2009 count could not have been carried out. Our apologies to anyone whose name has been omitted; please advise Mike Street of any errors.

OFFICIAL COUNTERS: Glenn Barnett, Bouwe Bergsma, Peter Booker, Geoff Carpentier, Barry Cherriere, Linda Cherriere, Ed Couture, Bob Curry, Sandy Darling, Keith Dieroff, Tim Foran, Sandra Horvath, Marcie Jacklin, Bruce Mackenzie, Gord McNulty, George Meyers, Brian Mishell, Glenda Slessor, Bill Smith, Terrie Smith, Janet Snaith, John Stevens, Mike Street, Tom Thomas, Phil Waggett.

OBSERVERS: John Black, Toni Carson, John Djukic, Dave Don, Denys Gardiner, Jaques Giraud, Brian Hawthorne, Clive Hodder, Brandon Holden, Eric Holden, Colin Horstead, Frank Horvath, Tim King, Mike Kirchin, Derrick Lyon, Jennifer Lyon, Mike Matthews, Kevin McLaughlin, John Niewiadomski, Terry Osborne, Roland Parks, Ron Pittaway, Keith Sealy, Marty Shimano, Dave Sked, Art Slaughter, Ian Smith, Doris Southwell, Ed Taylor, Peter Thoem, Richard Tofflemire, Ryan Tofflemire, Joe Turner, David Weare, Mike Williamson, Joyce Wong.

2009 NIAGARA PENINSULA HAWKWATCH MONTHLY COUNTS

SPECIES
FEB
MAR
APR
MAY
TOTAL
Black Vulture
0
0
0
0
0
Turkey Vulture
0
2326
3629
136
6091
Osprey
0
2
35
2
39
Mississippi Kite
0
0
0
0
0
Bald Eagle
0
47
22
7
76
Northern Harrier
0
31
84
6
121
Sharp-shinned Hawk
0
197
1424
100
1721
Cooper's Hawk
0
84
46
6
121
Northern Goshawk
0
2
4
0
6
Red-shouldered Hawk
0
697
33
0
730
Broad-winged Hawk
0
0
5457
40
5497
Swainson's Hawk
0
0
0
0
0
Red-tailed Hawk
0
2018
770
64
2852
Ferruginous Hawk
0
0
0
0
0
Rough-legged Hawk
0
51
37
4
92
Golden Eagle
0
4
8
0
12
American Kestrel
0
16
51
2
69
Merlin
0
1
7
5
13
Peregrine Falcon
0
5
2
1
8
Gyrfalcon
0
0
0
0
0
Prairie Falcon
0
0
0
0
0
Unidentified Accipiter
0
4
2
1
7
Unidentified Buteo
0
20
10
2
32
Unidentified Eagle
0
0
0
0
0
Unidentified Falcon
0
0
0
0
0
Unidentified Raptor
0
43
25
7
75
Total Raptors
0
5548
11646
383
17577
Hour Counted
0
225.9
211.3
88.4
525.6
Raptors/Hour
0
24.6
55.1
4.3
33.5
 
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