Another Braddock Bay Big Day – So near yet so far

21 04 2012

Northern Goshawk – Greg Lawrence

I’ve spent a little time reminiscing about the season at Braddock, as I wrote up my season report and wanted to capture some of the experiences for posterity, starting with our big day in 2012 – here she is…

It was one of those mornings where things felt right, but the start of the day was actually somewhat slower than expected. Wherever the Broadies were coming from, it was far enough away that the first couple of hours saw nothing in the way of these dinky little buteos. Right from the start though there was a healthy little flight of Sharpies zipping out over the bay as is their wont on these kind of mornings. That kind off flight soon becomes hard to keep track of unless you have more than one counter though, as the birds are almost a mile away as they jump off of the spit and scoot eastwards. The birds can also be almost anywhere on that line with some literally skimming the waves as they motor through.

Luckily local birder Greg Lawrence was already with me and Braddock Bay volunteer Ed Sailer was pitching in to tally birds on the day. As I stayed glued on the spit, Greg was filling me in on the bits and pieces that were already starting to pick up off to our south. By 10am we were already picking up big kettles overhead and thankfully the solid wind was keeping them pretty low. By now the sharpie flight had been somewhat sacrificed and whilst I started to focus on the Broadies to the south, Mike Tetlow showed up, and along with Greg started to run his usual cleanup operation. It’s a nice way of working as a team. While the counter gets the Broadies a couple of people doing cleanup try to catch the rest of the birds in the kettles or pick up little kettles or driftback of already counted birds that may be missed in the chaos. It certainly helps keep things a little more manageable during an essentially crazy experience.

The day brought little extended ‘kettling’ but there were certainly some kettles to enjoy. In the really mega hour between 11:00am and 12:00pm a few birds really started to kettle and it was incredible to scan across the sky and see not one kettle of 1000+ birds but multiple 1000 plus kettles stretching out into the pepperspot distance.

Even as these bird kettled, there were still birds streaming off to the north and south of us including an incredible mass that totaled almost 3000 birds. At Quaker Ridge the most raptors I had ever seen in a single kettle was around 600 birds and now I was seeing three or four that were  larger smeared across the sky. Before the mega hour was done we had totaled 21,629 Broad-winged Hawk alone. It’s hard to imagine that counters in Veracruz would be tallying hour after hour of these type of numbers!

Leucistic Turkey Vulture – Greg Lawrence

Although Broad-winged Hawks always make up the bulk of these flights it often gets to the point where it is hard to spot anything else amongst them so I am sure the odd miscellaneous buteo gets lost in the bunch (again Red-tailed Hawk numbers on this day seemed comparatively low). Not that there wasn’t other stuff out there to enjoy, highlights including: five Sandhill Cranes, possibly the days weirdest bird – a heavily leucistic Turkey Vulture (a crop of the distant bird above), an astounding 47 Bald Eagles (which helped to push us towards another season record) and 11 Golden Eagles (a good show as it was almost a quarter of the whole season flight). Particularly nice was adding 12 Roughlegs to the total to what was a generally disappointing year for this arctic buteo. In fact the Golden’s and Roughies show that you can come to Braddock and pick up some ‘northern’ specialties even whilst you hit the motherload of Broad-winged Hawks. We also had a nice Goshawk and a couple of Peregrines to round out a 15 species of raptor day, and with a little luck one might have added another couple of species to that .

A hard day to be a counter for sure, and the rewards of such a day are only apparent a few days after the fact. Still one can take pleasure in the enjoyment that those visiting are getting and I always do my best to get people on the interesting birds where and when possible – it’s certainly easier when you have help like Mike and Greg to assist with that. Still it’s hard to in the moment really take everything in and much better to reflect on when things have calmed a day or so later. Exhausting! As I noted on my prediction for the next day on hawkcount: ‘Lying in a darkened room with a towel over my face!’

The hawkcount data for the day can be read online here!

Broad-winged Hawk Kettle – Steve Beale

It was interesting to note that on such an incredible day down at Braddock things were somewhat limp under a 100 miles away over at Derby Hill. With the way the birds work their way east around the lake (and the birds supposed dislike for crossing water) and Derby’s position right on the eastern tip of Lake Ontario it would seem likely to the laymen that Derby Hill would rack up similar if not better hawk numbers on this kind of mega flight. And yet looking at the data below you can see that incredible days at Braddock rarely seem to be reflected down the lake at Derby.

Date                      Braddock Bay                  Derby Hill

4/16/12                   37,415                             3431

4/27/11                   42,235                             6319

4/23/07                   16,976                             1660

4/23/01                    23,885                            11,414

4/26/96                    33,019                            2923

4/27/87                    41,168                            2534

The reason for this seems to be all down to the willingness of these birds (especially the Broadies) to take a ‘pelagic’ route across the lake before swinging north en route for Canada. The following links from the  days radar highlight this nicely. Tom Carrolan of Hawksaloft fame (check out the blog here) is really into the use of radar for tracking flight and shared the following loops to people at both Derby and Braddock (view here).

Unfortunately there isn’t a Nexrad Radar in Rochester but the following links nicely illustrate the blossoming of migrant hawks as they take off near Buffalo and then track the flight as it initially hugs the shoreline and hits Derby before disappearing off shore later in the afternoon.  It’s cool to see the flight in action. It seems like radar isn’t just great for watching nocturnal migration. Anyway fascinating stuff and fun to look at.

An amazing day at Braddock struck early this season. Although it was the raptor blowout for the season there were plenty more memorable days to enjoy and I may make a note of them here at a future date.





Same ‘ol same ‘ol

11 04 2012
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Saw-whet Owl - Jill Church

Well here I am back at Braddock Bay Hawkwatch. It’s been an interesting season thus far. Nothing way too exciting to report just the steady tick tick tick of Turkey Vulture flight. Last year was cold and generally miserable punctuated by a day of decent weather that would send a flood of birds coursing across the watch. This year although the winds have been wrong the skies have been clear and even the least opportune of winds has brought movement of some kind or another.

I had already said to numerous friends that I would prefer a steady flow of decent days rather than days of nothing broken by a burst of hawkwatching craziness. Now though I am jonesing for that crazy burst. It’s funny to think that when I first saw the numbers for Braddock I couldn’t understand how the previous watcher had become disenchanted by seasons with 50k + and 35k + birds but when you know what Braddock can be capable of it’s easy to see how frustration and disappointment can set in.

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Golden Eagle - Josh Lawrey

This season hasn’t really seen anything majorly exciting pass by the watch as of yet. 40 Rough-legged Hawks is 40 more than one might see in a season at Quaker Ridge (where I watch in fall) but not a patch on the average of 355 a season or the all time high of 1807 of these corking raptors, as was tallied in 1996. Other favored species are lagging somewhat behind as well with just 15 Golden Eagles so far and an even more depressing tally of just three Northern Goshawks. The 11 Black Vultures have at least equaled a season high and although common enough in my adopted state of Connecticut a ‘kettle’ of four of them was exciting to see along the banks of Lake Ontario.

Away from the hawks things have been a little slow too. A few Sandhill Cranes have made their way through so far and are always a joy to see, but little else of huge note has been located as of yet (a dipped Ross’s Goose and a Eared Grebe I didn’t bother chasing besides). At owl woods it has also been quiet as well with a maximum of three Saw-whets found in one day and recently a whole week without a sniff of these cute little birds.

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Coopers Hawk - Daena Ford

All of this sounds terribly depressing and whiny but really it’s just a reflection on what might be. All that said though it is worth noting that I have already almost tallied as many ‘raptors’ at Braddock as I did all season in fall. The day with a pair of Golden Eagle’s right over the watch, stunning views of an adult Goshawk and a wander at the local park that turned up a Short-eared Owl are all highlight of a season that is less than half done. So with half the season under my belt there is at least the feeling that there are still many many good days to come: Broad-wings, warblers, sparrows and other goodies just to mention a few.

A ‘bad’ month at Braddock is better than many places on the east coast, so one really shouldn’t complain and it’s also a month I have been lucky enough to hang out with old friends from Greenwich like Brian and Pete, meet Frank Nicoletti as well as spend time with many friends old and new from the Braddock Bay region. So enough feeling sorry for myself, it’s time to get back out there and do some more hawkwatching 😉