Niagara Peninsula Hawkwatch

 
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2015 Migration Summary at Beamer Memorial CA

 

A record high count of Turkey Vultures led to the Niagara Peninsula Hawkwatch‘s 2015 spring migration being an average year overall. The total count for all species, 14,869, was within a hundred birds of the most recent 5-year average, 14,771, and only about 5% above the long term (35-year) average of 14,254. Such a mediocre result still came as a welcome relief to all the watchers after the serious decline in the number of birds counted that we had experienced in the last three years.

 

While the Turkey Vulture was the only species having a record high annual count for Beamer, Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle had their second highest counts on record, and Red-shouldered Hawk had the second highest count since 1997, almost doubling last year’s total. By contrast, historically very low counts were recorded for Northern Goshawk, American Kestrel, Merlin, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk.

 

Highlights during the season included 298 Red-shouldered Hawks among 1,176 birds on March 31st, twelve species on each of April 2nd and April 12th, and a Swainson’s Hawk along with 1,594 Broad-winged Hawks on April 25th. No Black Vultures were counted this year and no mention of any sightings of them was made at Beamer.

 

The Season

 

Winter 2015 was still in full swing as the beginning of March approached and no counts were conducted in February. Counting began on schedule on March 1st but almost nothing was counted until after the middle of the month. The cold, snowy winter was experienced well south in eastern North America and this may have delayed the arrival of the earlier migrants that spend the winter in the Appalachians. Temperatures were slightly below normal for the entire month but notably there were no warm days, the highest temperature of 10C being reached on the 16th. Precipitation events affected five days to some degree so the monthly total of 4,687 birds, being slightly above both short and long-term averages, was quite encouraging after the slow start.

 

In April we experienced slightly above normal temperatures and rain but almost no snow. Rain impacted the counting on the 8th and 9th but otherwise there was little effect and almost 220 hours of counting occurred. This produced a slightly above average total of 9,654 birds for the month. The first Broad-winged Hawk appeared on April 11, which is about normal. Of course our winter has no relevance to this species that spends the winter in South America.

 

The first part of May was quite warm with several days having temperatures in the high 20s or low 30s. For the most part, rain was not a factor as, although it was noted on several days, it was either light, of short duration, or both. May 14th was not covered but that was likely of little consequence as the flow of birds had pretty well stopped by then. The rest of the coverage was normal but the monthly count was below average, particularly compared to the long term.

 

Species Accounts

 

As already mentioned, we experienced a record count of Turkey Vultures, the second year in a row this has happened. The continual increase in their numbers is clearly evident.

 

It was a below average year for Ospreys. Like other large raptors, this species was severely affected by chlorinated pesticides such as DDT. After they were banned, it made a remarkable recovery but the number seen at Beamer has now remained fairly steady for the last 25 years at between 40 and 70 birds. The 42 recorded this year is near the low end of that range.

 

Recovery from the effects of persistent toxic chemicals in the environment has been slower for Bald Eagles than for Osprey but it has been more dramatic. The number counted at Beamer appeared to have peaked between 2005 and 2009 when the three greatest counts prior to this year were recorded. The count of 80 birds in 2015 is nearly double the 43 of last year, which was the lowest total since 2001. At least one sub-adult bird residing in the area this year was seen on numerous occasions moving both east and west. Efforts were made to avoid counting it, but it is possible that it got counted several times and inflated the annual count.

 

The news for Northern Harrier is not good. The 2015 count of 68 represents the second lowest total since we began full season coverage and is only half the long term average for Beamer. Last year the record low count of 63 was set. While this year was an improvement, it should be noted that the counts in the last four years represent four of the five lowest counts in our history.

 

We counted 50% more Sharp-shinned Hawks in 2015 than we did last year, which is a real improvement. However, the 1,253 sharpies was still the second lowest total in our history. Twenty-five to thirty-five years ago we routinely counted over 4,000 a year. The pronounced decline in their numbers is almost as stunning as the increase in the Turkey Vulture counts.

 

The Cooper’s Hawk count of 153 was greater than the recent five-year average but still well below the long-term average of 189. This was the highest count since 2007. The population of this species has increased in the last 35 years in southern Ontario but the counts at Beamer generally remained static between 1980 and 2007. In recent years the migration numbers had declined at Beamer as they have for a number of species.

 

It was another poor year for Northern Goshawks with only a single bird seen, but that was an improvement on 2014. Derby Hill at the eastern end of Lake Ontario had the second lowest count of goshawks (9) in their 36 year history. Other spring watch sites around the Great Lakes all experienced low numbers this year as they have been reporting for several years. Fall migration numbers in the lower Great Lakes area have also been low for several years with the last modest irruption occurring in 2003-2004, an event we did not experience at Beamer.

 

The Red-shouldered Hawk count fell between the recent five-year average and the long term average. The count of 698 birds in 2015 was 78% above last year’s record low. Almost all the birds counted were adults and the last bird passed the watch on April 23rd. The absence of any significant flight of juvenile birds seems rather unhealthy.

 

While not a banner year by any means, the count of Broad-winged Hawks was up slightly from last year but still below the five-year and long term averages. 55% of the flight passed on April 25th when 1,594 were counted.

 

There were no reports of unusual colour versions within the 1,778 Red-tailed Hawks counted this year. This total was in line with the recent 5-year average but 33% below the long term average. As with the Red-shouldered Hawks, there seemed to be a poor flight of immature birds in late April and May.

 

The 46 Rough-legged Hawks seen was the most since 2011 but only represents about 64% of the long term average for the species. The weather last winter was the kind of year when one might expect these birds to move further south looking for food. Having less than two-thirds of an average count was disappointing.

 

American Kestrel also had the second lowest count in our 36 years, with only last year’s dismal total being lower. The 40 birds counted represent just 43% of the long term average. A total of 40 birds is only about a third of the five-year average in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This low count represents further evidence of the declining population of this beautiful species.

 

Merlin was one of the three species in 2015 (along with Osprey and Peregrine) to show a decline from their 2014 counts. The count of nine birds was their lowest count since 2001 and was not only below the recent five-year average but also below our long term average. Merlins have never been a common species at Beamer.

 

The Peregrine Falcon count of six birds was above the long term average although below the recent five-year average. The fact that they now nest a few kilometres along the escarpment from Beamer does not appear to have impacted the frequency with which they are seen at Beamer.

 

Summary

 

All in all there were a few bright spots this year such as the recovery of the Red-shouldered Hawks and the more frequent sightings of both eagle species. On the other hand, the decline of the small hawks like Sharpies and Kestrels as well as Harriers, remains a concern. This year, Turkey Vulture moved ahead of Sharp-shinned Hawk as the second most frequently counted raptor since we began monitoring in 1975.

 

The NPH salutes the following fourteen people who served as the designated counters this season: Bouwe Bergsma, John Black, Craig Corcoran, Sandy Darling, Chris Escott, Tim Foran, Gord Kozak, Bruce Mackenzie, Matt Mills, Brian Mishell, John Stevens, Chris Street, Mike Street, and Phil Waggett. Thanks for your help.

 

John Stevens

July 2015

2015 NIAGARA PENINSULA HAWKWATCH MONTHLY COUNTS

Species

March

April

May

Totals

Black Vulture

0

0

0

0

Turkey Vulture

3003

4507

220

7730

Osprey

0

39

3

42

Bald Eagle

49

26

5

80

Northern Harrier

9

51

8

68

Sharp-shinned Hawk

36

1061

156

1253

Cooper's Hawk

57

77

19

153

Northern Goshawk

0

1

0

1

Red-shouldered Hawk

586

112

0

698

Broad-winged Hawk

0

2830

68

2898

Swainson's Hawk

0

1

0

1

Red-tailed Hawk

912

825

41

1778

Rough-legged Hawk

15

30

1

46

Golden Eagle

8

6

0

14

American Kestrel

2

35

3

40

Merlin

3

6

0

9

Peregrine Falcon

0

5

1

6

Gyrfalcon

0

0

0

0

Unid. Accipiter

0

5

1

6

Unid. Buteo

4

31

2

37

Unid. Falcon

0

1

0

1

Unid. Eagle

1

1

0

2

Unid. Raptor

2

4

0

6

 

 

 

 

 

Total Raptors

4687

9654

528

14869

Hours Counted

220

219.5

99.1

538.6

Raptors/Hour

21.30

44.00

5.33

27.61

 

 

 
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