Niagara Peninsula Hawkwatch

 
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NIAGARA PENINSULA HAWKWATCH - 2014 MIGRATION SUMMARY

 

Will it ever end? The decline in the number of migrating hawks seen at Beamer continued in 2014. For the year, the total count was 11,671, a decrease of only 4.4 % from last year but with Turkey Vultures setting a new seasonal high count of 7,330, it means the non-vulture count was 4,341. This easily beat the previous record low count of 5,511 set last year despite the fact that the total does include two Black Vultures. The last time that we had this few birds overall was 2000 (11,665) but at that time we only had 2,971 Turkey Vultures so there were 8,694 non-vultures or almost exactly twice as many as in 2014. At the time 2000 was considered a poor year at Beamer!

 

In the following chart, I have plotted the number of non-vultures for the period 1980-2014. The high counts are usually associated with a large count of Broad-winged Hawks, whose year to year numbers seem to be most sensitive to weather conditions. There has been a general declining trend over the years but in the last two years the decline has become more severe.

 

It wasn’t for lack of effort this year as counters logged 515.7 hours, about 10 above the recent five-year average. Inclement weather was not a problem as only four days were completely wiped out by snow, rain, or both. There just weren’t many birds. This was evident early in the season as it was March 14 before the total passed 100 and March 26 before it passed 1,000.

 

Record low season totals were established for Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk and American Kestrel. The Northern Goshawk record will never be broken as not one of them was spotted. In addition to the record high count of Turkey Vultures, a high-flying Swainson’s Hawk was identified on the day of the Open House, our first of this western species since 2008.

 

The Season

 

After a colder winter than we have experienced in recent years, the flight just couldn’t seem to get started. There were no warm days in March. At the beginning of the month, daytime highs were consistently below normal and while seasonally normal temperatures developed near the end of the month, overall the daily average temperature was 3.1ºC below normal. This certainly contributed to the lowest count for the month since 2001. Snowfall was well above normal but aside from March 12, most fell outside normal counting time and didn’t interfere greatly.

 

April temperatures were fairly normal with no really warm days. The coldest day was April 16 following the only snowfall of the month that prevented a count on the previous day. Rainfall was almost double a normal amount and three days were rain-outs. These no doubt contributed to the monthly count of 8,427 being 7% below the long-term average and 17% below the recent five-year average.

 

Watchers kept hoping that the flight was just delayed and May would bring more birds but that didn’t happen. The count was only 586, which was slightly above the recent five-year average but barely half the long-term average. Temperatures were slightly above normal overall but rainfall was decidedly above normal although little of the count time was affected. A bigger effect was the lack of a counter on three days.

 

Species Accounts

 

Black Vulture: Single Black Vultures was seen on two days. Two birds are about the recent five-year average for the species that only started coming regularly about five years ago.

 

Turkey Vulture: This year’s count of 7,330 Turkey Vultures 3% above the previous record count of 7,125 set in 2011. There was a late push of these vultures in May, pushing the count to the new high.

 

Osprey: The Osprey count rose slightly from last year and at 57, exceeded both the recent five-year and the long term averages. Aside from single birds in March and May, all came through in April, usually one or two a day. April 13 easily had the best flight with nine birds.

 

Bald Eagle: At 43, the count of Bald Eagles was the lowest since 2001. There was little sign of any local birds from the nest to the east. With the colder winter and extent of ice on the Great Lakes, it was anticipated that we would have an increase in the number of this species heading back north this year. The 30% decline in their count from 2013 was very discouraging.

 

Northern Harrier: The 63 Northern Harriers represents the lowest count for this species since we started with full season coverage. This represents only 46% of the long term average for this species. It was the sixth consecutive year that their numbers have declined at Beamer.

 

Sharp-shinned Hawk: Sharpies were definitely missing in action this year. Their count declined 37% from last year to less than half the recent five-year average. More strikingly, at 835 birds it represents only 27% of the long term average. Years ago, they made up the bulk of the count in May and during late April would steadily come through in small groups of two, three or four. Sadly this is no longer the case.

 

Cooper’s Hawk: The count of Cooper’s Hawks actually rose from 2013, a relatively bright spot in the flight. The 122 reported slightly exceeds the recent five-year average of 119 but is only 64% of the long term average. At least one pair of these birds nested in the area again this year as they have for about twenty years.

 

Northern Goshawk: At the HMANA Conference this spring, I learned that Northern Goshawk populations are declining. As if to demonstrate that fact, not a single one was seen at Beamer this year. Their numbers had been quite low for almost twenty years but this year, have reached their nadir. I understand that the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources suspects the species may be expanding their breeding range southward. They do not appear to be expanding their migratory behaviour.

 

Red-shouldered Hawk: Another species setting a record low count total in 2014 was the Red-shouldered Hawk. Their numbers peaked in 1994 and plunged the following year. They never really recovered in the intervening years but have now set record lows in consecutive years. The flight in 2014 was later than normal, peaking about a week after it usually does.

 

Broad-winged Hawk: No good flight of Broad-winged hawks occurred at Beamer in 2014. The first birds showed up around the usual date of April 15. The final count of 1,508 was about the same as last year but was only about a third of the recent five-year average and less than half of the long term average. It was the second lowest count ever at Beamer for the species.

 

Red-tailed Hawk: There was a huge decline of 35% in the Red-tailed Hawk count in 2014 from last year’s record low total. Their count represented a little over half the recent five-year average but only 42% of their long term average. Of particular concern to this observer was the virtual absence of immature birds in late April and May. Even a poor hatch survival year in 2013 would not account for the back to back years of record low counts.

 

Rough-legged Hawk: Three Rough-legged Hawks on the first day of March raised hopes that after the cold winter it would be a banner year for this species. Not so, as with a count of only 28, they were at 55% of their recent five-year average and just 38% of the long term average. This was the second lowest count since we commenced full season coverage in 1980.

 

Golden Eagle: While never seen in large numbers at Beamer, the five Golden Eagles in 2014 was the lowest count for this species since 1995. The counts had been consistently in the eight to twelve range for the last dozen years. Five birds represent only 52% of the recent five-year average. Braddock Bay to the east had a record high count of Golden Eagles in 2014 so they may have benefited from our loss.

 

American Kestrel: After staging a modest recovery in 2013, the American Kestrel count plunged to an all-time low in 2014, even fewer than in any of the early years when count coverage was incomplete. Thirty birds represent 32% of the long term average and just 48% of the recent five-year average. This species is known to be declining in North America and this result does nothing to change that impression.

 

Merlin: The Merlin count held steady at 12, which is about the long term average for the species although the recent five-year average is over 16.

 

Peregrine: Another species that we are seeing in increasing numbers in recent years is Peregrine. There was apparently a nest not far west of Beamer and we may see one of those birds returning from a foraging excursion. Still eight sightings is only equivalent to the recent five-year average but it is almost double the long term average.

 

In summary, it was a particularly disappointing fortieth year for the watch unless, that is, you like vultures. Tom Thomas had the best day, April 6, with 1,377 birds and twelve species, both seasonal highs.

 

Thank you to the counters and assistants who volunteer their time and talents whatever the weather and flights they have on their assigned days. “Official” counters in 2014 were: Glen Barnett, Bouwe Bergsma, Bob Curry, Sandy Darling, Chris Escott, Tim Foran, Sandra Horvath, Marcie Jacklin, Gord Kozak, Bruce Mackenzie, Matt Mills, Brian Mishell, John Stevens, Chris Street, Mike Street, Tom Thomas and Phil Waggett.

 

John Stevens

July 2014

 

 

 

2014 NIAGARA PENINSULA HAWKWATCH MONTHLY COUNTS

Species

March

April

May

Total

Black Vulture

2

0

0

2

Turkey Vulture

1,809

5176

345

7330

Osprey

1

55

1

57

Bald Eagle

14

25

4

43

Northern Harrier

12

45

6

63

Sharp-shinned Hawk

41

734

60

835

Cooper's Hawk

29

74

19

122

Northern Goshawk

0

0

0

0

Red-shouldered Hawk

224

168

0

392

Broad-winged Hawk

0

1391

117

1508

Swainson’s Hawk

0

1

0

1

Red-tailed Hawk

434

668

29

1131

Rough-legged Hawk

14

14

0

28

Golden Eagle

4

1

0

5

American Kestrel

2

27

1

30

Merlin

4

6

2

12

Peregrine Falcon

4

4

0

8

Unid. Accipiter

0

0

0

0

Unid. Buteo

0

0

0

0

Unid. Falcon

3

5

2

10

Unid. Eagle

59

16

0

75

Unid. Raptor

0

0

0

0

Total Raptors

2658

8427

586

11671

Hours Counted

214.25

211.9

94.0

520.16

Raptors/Hour

12.4

39.8

6.2

22.4

 

 
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