Tag Archives: Golden Eagle

2015 Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch Season in Review

The 2015 Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch, co-sponsored by Freeport Wild Bird Supply and Leica Sport Optics, came to its conclusion on May 15th. This season was an interesting one, especially in how the weather affected our counts. During the 2-month period, the Official Hawkcounter, Andrew Wolfgang, tallied a total of 3628 raptors. This included vultures, hawks, eagles, and falcons. Over the 8-year span that we have conducted this standardized count, this year was the second lowest, coming in 12% below average.

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Welcome to spring hawkwatching in Maine, Andrew!

However, a single year’s count tells us little beyond what the weather conditions were like during the course of the season. The late arrival of spring was actually a benefit to the count at the start, as few early migrants had progressed north by March 15th. Therefore, we had very good counts of our earliest migrants: Bald Eagles, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Turkey Vultures. In fact, we set a new record for eagles deemed migrating, and vultures produced our second highest tally of all time. We simply didn’t “miss” any of these migrants before the project got underway.
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Bald Eagles set a new all-time record this season.

However, as the season progressed, spring still didn’t seem to arrive. Lots of unfavorable (for viewing birds at Bradbury Mountain) winds meant that viewing migrating hawks past this mountain was not optimal. Strong and cold west winds, for example, push birds towards the coast beyond our view, while persistent easterlies seem to shunt birds inland before they reach the northern terminus of the coastal plain. Simply put, the poor conditions during the peak of our migration period in mid to late April really lowered the overall numbers and it’s those couple of weeks that can really make or break the overall count for the season. Therefore, the below-average numbers of our two most abundant migrants (Broad-winged Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk) combined to yield a below-average season total.

However, we had some great birds once again, highlight by our 4th record of a Golden Eagle.
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Andrew also recorded a new record of 3 Rough-legged Hawks, no doubt due to the late onset of the spring’s flight (most Rough-legs probably move north before the start of the count in most years).

Meanwhile, a total of 85 species were recorded, including an ever-increasing number of Sandhill Cranes. This year a total of 11 migrant cranes were recorded. Other highlights included frequent visits by Bohemian Waxwings to the summit for much of the first half of the count, both Red and White-winged Crossbills. Fox Sparrow was recorded at the summit for the first time as well (two dates).

But, this hawkwatch is not just about the numbers. We also work hard to educate visitors to the park, both birders and non-birders. Every year we expose more and more people to the world of hawkwatching and bird migration in general. Bradbury Mountain is just one of many hawk migration sites throughout the continent. The data we collect becomes part of this vast network allowing researchers to determine population and geographical trends in particular species. So, even though our numbers this year were low relative to past seasons, it becomes no small part of building this data set. 1174 visitors were recorded at the hawkwatch (tabulated as coming specifically for the hawkwatch or spending time chatting with the counter), plus many hundreds more who at least briefly read the sign or asked a question or two. This was slightly below average, but likely due to the cool conditions for most of the season.
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There are few public projects where scientific data collection so effectively goes hand-in-hand with public outreach and education. With the growth of regular hawkwatch visitor volunteers, and especially the growth of the “Feather Over Freeport: A Birdwatching Weekend” festival, we look forward to many more years of introducing people to hawkwatching and hawk research and conservation.

Season Totals:
Turkey Vulture 374
Osprey 382
Bald Eagle 102*
Northern Harrier 101
Sharp-shinned Hawk 610
Cooper’s Hawk 85
Northern Goshawk 4
Red-shouldered Hawk 104
Broad-winged Hawk 1190
Red-tailed Hawk 236
Rough-legged Hawk 3*
Golden Eagle 1
American Kestrel 307
Merlin 75
Peregrine Falcon 8
Unidentified Hawk 46

Total 3628

*Denotes new season record

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Peregrine Falcons just eclipsed our annual average this year; most migrants in this area stick closer to the coast.

Our ninth Spring Hawkwatch kicks off again on March 15th, 2016! We invite everyone, whether seasoned veteran hawkwatchers or casual nature enthusiast, to join our professional biologist and naturalist at the summit once again.

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Ospreys are a fan favorite at the hawkwatch.

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It was quite a change in climate and the color of the scenery since the start of the count!

Tuesday Twitching in Bath

Jeannette and I went in pursuit of three “good” birds in Bath on Tuesday.  We don’t “twitch” (chase a rarity) very often, and when we do, we always expect the worst.  Therefore we were shocked when not only did we get all three birds that we sought, but they all came quickly, were all photographed, and all were seen – at least at first – from the comfortable confines of our car.

In fact, one of the reasons we chose this particular endeavor this day was to avoid spending too much time out in the -20 wind chills.  Good birds, and a little warmth, made for a very good day.

First up was the Bath landfill, where a Golden Eagle has been present now for a couple of weeks.  Other than one quick late-afternoon visit in which we didn’t see the Golden, I hadn’t gotten around to visit it.  Jeannette didn’t have photos of a Golden in her library, so this seemed like a good opportunity.  And within a mere ten minutes of our arrival, the Golden – a 1-year old (first-cycle) bird – appeared from the north and circled over the landfill, harassing some Bald Eagles and causing consternation among the gulls.

We spent about a half-hour with the Golden, positioning ourselves for the best photos.  Unfortunately, when it was closest, thick clouds blocked the sun, making for backlit photos.  I think Jeannette did pretty well, however.
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This photo is also an excellent comparison of the different size and shape of Common Raven (left) and American Crow (right), as both birds engaged in mobbing the Golden!

And we took some time to study the various ages classes of Bald Eagles, such as this 4th-cycle bird.
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After a chilly – and not overly birdy, as expected in the woods right now – hike with Sasha down the Whiskeag Creek Trail, we pulled up to Telephone Pole #24 on Whiskeag Creek Road, where an immature Red-headed Woodpecker has been caching seed and suet.  Seconds later, the bird arrived.
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We watched it for a while, flying east to a feeding station out of sight and returning with various foodstuffs to save for later.  Perhaps most interesting was the 3/4-piece of a saltine cracker that the bird jammed into a linear crack on another pole.  Not sure how well this cache will hold up to the next rain, however.

Last, and certainly not least, was a real oddity – a leucistic Black-capped Chickadee that is coming to a feeder easily visible from the road only a short distance away.  First reported by some as a Boreal Chickadee due to its brownish crown and bib, this bird is clearly a Black-capped Chickadee that is lacking melanin and other pigments.  It’s not a pure albino (lacking all pigment), but the sandy-buff body color is classic of leucistic birds – it certainly doesn’t have the gray back and peachy flanks of a Boreal Chickadee.  Also, it is the same shape and size as the Black-caps that it associates with.  Here’s a perfect example of the foible of identifying birds based on a single field mark!

The relatively dark brown cap and bib is fascinating, as it shows that the bird definitely has some melanin.   Of all of the birds that we were looking for today, this was actually the birds that I wanted to see and photograph the most!  And I was pretty excited with the shots that Jeannette scored once again.
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So while I most certainly prefer bird-finding over bird-chasing, a good chase now and again is never a bad thing.  Plus, it was cold out.  Really cold.  And we saw three great birds and still made it to the matinee of The Hobbit.  I’d call that a successful day!