Quaker Ridge Hawkwatch Season Roundup Talk – Dec 9th

1 12 2009

Quaker 'Tail - Luke Tiller

After an amazing season at Quaker Ridge, I’ll be giving a presentation on the highlights of the year at Greenwich Audubon on December 9th at 7.00pm. More in their newsletter (online here). I’ll be talking a bit about the migration process, as well as some of the highlights that were seen over the three months that I was carrying out the count. As well as highlighting some records and interesting sightings I’ll also take a little look at some of the status of some of the key birds that migrate overhead. I hope to see some of you there.

Reflections on The Season – Quaker Ridge 2009

22 11 2009

Bald Eagles - Michael Ferrari

It seems like it was just a short time ago that I was standing out on the lawn at Greenwich Audubon in a t-shirt picking up the first migrating raptor of the season as temperatures soared up into the 90’s. We started our watch on August 20 and three months later we are at the close. What a season it has been though, records have tumbled, rarities have been sighted and most importantly we have gathered another seasons worth of data which will help scientists determine the health of North America’s raptor population.

Highlights of the year have been legion, with a total of nine beautiful Sandhill Cranes on the season, including a remarkable group of five that were tracked by observers all the way from Wareham MA to the Scott’s Mountain Hawkwatch on the border of NJ and PA and perhaps eventually as far as Georgia (see post below). Other interesting sightings have included two Mississippi Kites that appeared together on October 14 (a species that has only recently been found nesting as far north as New England) and 11 Golden Eagles on the year.

We have also been breaking records all around, for example Nov. 18 with just two days to go we finally broke our seasons best record for Bald Eagles (thanks to Stefan Martins eagle eyes – bad pun intended). It has been a great year for these magnificent birds and it’s amazing to witness an environmental success story like this in action and heartening to see that armed with the right information and desire to make a difference we really can make a positive impact on the lives of these creatures.

Merlin numbers (a rather feisty little member of the falcon family) also peaked at an all time high this year (150) reflecting their burgeoning numbers and spreading breeding range. Conversely American Kestrel numbers,although not shockingly low, were not as high as past years and there is still much concern for this birds future, especially in our own state. Early date records were set for Golden Eagle (Sept. 12) and late ones for Osprey (Nov. 18 – by just one day).

Counting all of the 17,000 birds that have passed overhead would of course have been impossible were it not for the dedicated team of volunteers who have helped man the watch, pick out birds that would have otherwisehave been missed and simply helped get me through the birdless days. There are too many to mention by name but they know who they are, and it has been a pleasure to have met and worked with such a nice group of people. If you didn’t manage to get along to the hawkwatch or join us for the amazing Greenwich Audubon Hawkwatch Festival this year, make sure you add it to your diary for 2010.

Tracking Birds part 1 – 5 Sandhill Cranes

3 11 2009
Sandhill Crane - Gary Howard

Sandhill Crane - Gary Howard

It was fascinating to be a small part of what has turned into something of a phenomenon across the Northeast. At about 2:15pm on Thursday October the 29th Stefan Martin picked up a small flock of large birds heading Southwest towards the hawkwatch. To our collective amazement it was a group of 5 Sandhill Cranes – a pretty decent east coast rarity and a group of 5 would be pretty much unprecedented in the state (at least in recent times) I believe.

The fun continued when Don Morgan noted on the CTbirds listserve (link) that these birds had been seen out in Wareham on Cape Cod and had been seen departing earlier in the morning at 9:30am. Later in the Morning they were picked up en route to Quaker Ridge by Paul Champlin who had seen them first in Fall River MA and then followed them down into Rhode Island to Portsmouth. From there the birds next sighting was at our humble little hawkwatch, and it was a watch and life bird for Stefan which was even better. I’d already had two Sandhills pass by me at the watch earlier in the season and had picked up my first state birds at good old Allen’s Meadows last fall. After their brief appearance they were discovered over in New Jersey almost at the PA border as they took off from Merrill Creek Reservoir and flew past the guys at Scott’s Mountain Hawkwatch.

Pretty amazing to have a flight and timeline of these rather distinctive group of birds. I have attached links of photographs taken of the group by Frederick Wasti in Wareham (here) and the one snapped at Scott’s Mountain (here) and I have put together a little map showing roughly the sighting points along the route (here). Anyway interesting (at least to me) to see just where these Quaker Ridge birds come from and where they are going to.

I guess it’s pretty easy when you have a distinctive group of birds like this. It gets harder when it’s just one hawk amongst many, although this year we did manage to spot a Bald Eagle (amongst the 159 so far) that had something very distinctive about it that we are hoping might allow us to find out more about where the birds that pass by Quaker Ridge come from and go to. More about that in the next post….

EDIT: It seems that there is a possibility that the group of five birds was picked up on their way through Georgia, (thanks to Sara Zagorski for passing on the information) however I am not sure that the evidence that it is our particular 5 birds is very strong. Here’s the Massbird posting on the issue out of interest s you can form your own opinion (here).

Chinese Mantis 2

22 10 2009
Chinese Mantis - Ken Mirman

Chinese Mantis - Ken Mirman

Not sure what it is about Quaker Ridge but the place seems to be covered in mantis. Having seen exactly one that I remember previously, I have seen about a dozen or so here this fall. Pretty cool stuff, especially if you have an ace macro attachment on your camera. Thanks for the picture Ken, and for keeping me remotely sane through the slow days at the watch.

Greenwich Hawk Watch Festival

20 09 2009

Frankenfalcon - Luke Tiller

Frankenfalcon - Luke Tiller

Too tired to post anything about the event right now but thought I’d stick up this digiscoped picture of some weird Gyr/Saker/whatever cross falcon that was part of the show at the Hawk Watch Festival (maybe this digiscoping is growing on me!). More thoughts on the whole thing tomorrow once I can feel my brain again (quite numb at the moment!) Some more press coverage of the event (here and here) only a couple of minor inaccuracies involved! Fellow Hawk Watcher and blogger Ben posted his thoughts here.

Hawkwatching! Quaker Ridge Rules!

14 09 2009
Mugging for the Cameras! - Luke Tiller

Mugging for the Cameras! - Luke Tiller

Bloodshot and swollen eyes, skin tanned and leathery, a thousand yard stare that makes the most traumatized of shellshock sufferers look positively fine, all are marks of the seasoned hawkwatcher at Quaker Ridge. But what a nice group of guys and gals, and there couldn’t be a more entertaining gang to spend your day with staring into the blank empty nothingness of a pale, cloudless blue sky trying to pick up the distant silhouette of an incoming raptor .

I’d been initiated quietly into the world of pro Hawkwatching with some nice light days at the end of August where nothing much was drifting through apart from a few early returnees (many of them Bald Eagles!) Today however I was dropped into the deep end of Broad-wing craziness. The day started inauspiciously enough with just the one Kestrel making a beeline over the valley and scooting past me at head height. However as the clock ticked over towards 9:30am, suddenly things were changing fast. It started with just a handful of adult Broad-wings lifting up from the surrounding forests and starting to kettle up in the morning sun. In another 30 minutes I was quickly on the phone for battle hardened eyes to help to give me some chance of staying ahead of the approaching hordes.

By 10:00am the clans had gathered and we had 10 or so of the regulars out front and doing their best to make sure that every bird was located and equally that none were counted twice. Of course this isn’t the easiest task, with the frantic call of kettle! or streaming birds! going up left right and center. Heated discussions break out amongst good friends as to which birds might have already been counted or not and tallies are quickly processed on the essential clickers. All through this madness,however the witty banter keeps flowing and the mood is one of excitement and fun as the hordes of birds keep flying.

By 3pm (2pm Bird Time – which runs at EST for the count) bodies and eyes are tired, but the thrill and excitement of the first good day is finally settling  over everyone and we coast the last couple of quiet hours reflecting on a job well done. Another exhausting but fun day at the Hawkwatch and my first real experience of a full day of Broadie madness. It’s an incredible spectacle, so get yourself down here to Quaker Ridge in the next few days before you miss out on all the Broad-winged fun!

You can find information about the Quaker Ridge site on Hawkcount (here) and see a daily roundup of our sightings here.