All posts tagged Raptors

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

This chair is waiting for you! We invite you to enjoy the Ashland Hawk Watch and help us scan the skies for hawks, eagles, falcons, and many other species of birds.

This has been a record-breaking fall migration for raptors at the Ashland Hawk Watch, located at the Delaware Nature Society’s Ashland Nature Center.  As of yesterday, 15,027 raptors have been counted passing the watch since September 1, 2012.  Previous total counts in past years, September through November, are as follows:

  • 2007 – 6,255
  • 2008 – 7,143
  • 2009 – 13,071
  • 2010 – 13,976
  • 2011 – 13,705

These numbers are dictated by the migration of Broad-winged Hawks that come through in September.  This year has been excellent, with 12,020 counted.  In some years, Broad-winged Hawks migrate to our west in the mountains, and we don’t get as many.  This year, they concentrated their migration through the Piedmont, where Ashland Hawk Watch sits. 

The tally board at Ashland Hawk Watch displays the migration of raptors here through the fall and is updated daily.

Now is a good time to visit the Ashland Hawk Watch.  On a day with winds out of the north, you may see lots of Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, Red-tailed, and Red-shouldered Hawks with some Bald Eagles, Northern Harrier, American Kestrel, and Merlin mixed in.  The big highlight this past week has been the arrival of our first Golden Eagles.  These huge raptors that breed in wilderness areas of northern Quebec and Labrador migrate through our area in small numbers.  If you are lucky, you might see one at Ashland over the next three weeks.  Other interesting birds regularly being seen at the hawk watch bird feeders are Purple Finches and Pine Siskins, northern birds that are not seen here every year.

Kim Steininger, one of the dedicated Ashland Hawk Watch volunteers, captured this great image of a young Golden Eagle as it passed Ashland Hawk Watch on Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Ashland Hawk Watch is responsible for recording all raptor species that pass by in their migration and our data is sent to the Hawk Migration Association of North America.  Additionally, we record the height that all birds are flying by, and this data is sent to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Natural Heritage Division.  The Ashland Hawk Watch as well as our southern counterpart, the Cape Henlopen Hawk Watch, is a cooperative program between DNREC, Delaware Nature Society, and the Delmarva Ornithological Society.  Come visit the Ashland Hawk Watch any day of the week through the last day of November, but especially when the winds blow out of the north.  Keep your fingers crossed for one of the rare Golden Eagles, and experience the beauty of autumn in the golden and red foliage of the surrounding hillsides.  Witness the season pass right before your eyes in the form of migrating talons, feathers, speed, and beauty…the raptors.

By Cyrus Moqtaderi, Ashland Hawk Watch Coordinator

The field-mark for the Red-tailed Hawk is quite evident: rusty red tail along with classic wide buteo wings. Image by Derek Stoner.

It’s nearly impossible to go through life without noticing one ubiquitous denizen of the sky: the Red-tailed Hawk. We see them circling above our farm fields, and hunting from our telephone poles, and at Ashland we’ve watched our resident birds soaring and diving all season long. But, come November, we begin to see this common hawk in a new light. As northern populations of Red-taileds begin to migrate south en masse we find ourselves playing spectator to the stunning beauty of this bird. In the warm tones of the November sun, a flight of high Red-taileds on the move is a stunning thing. We’ve already tallied over 600 and have most of the month to go. November belongs to the buteos, and there’s nothing quite like watching a kettle of Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks high in the clear blue sky.

A soaring Red-shouldered Hawk shows the distinctive white "window" crescents in the outer wings. Image by Derek Stoner.

There’s nothing quite like a kettle of Red-shouldered Hawks circling above on a bright November day. When the sun touches on their soaring wings, these birds shine like stained glass in the heavens. Two crescent-shaped portals and a bright banded tail make this hawk one of the most beautiful of the November migrants. Even more, this year brings the excitement of a possible record high, with our current count just a few shy of the past total of 331.  

A juvenile Golden Eagle flexes its massive, long wings as it glides by, leaving viewers slack-jawed. Image by Derek Stoner.

Simply whispering the words “Golden Eagle” on the hill is enough to bring a flurry of upturned heads and raised binoculars. This Western species stands as one of the highlights of a November day at the Ashland Hill. Once October turns, we find ourselves patiently scanning every far-off vulture kettle in the hopes of catching sight of an “odd-one-out.” On lucky days, such as we’ve had this October, one of these magnificent birds will stream overhead, seemingly close enough to grasp. We’re on an excellent start to our Golden Eagle season this year, already recording 7! This puts us 1 bird above our count at this time last year. With some luck, we’ll break our all-time high of 13.

A juvenile Northern Goshawk cruises by with powerful wingbeats. Image by Tom Munson.

This powerful hunter surely takes the prize for both the most sought after and most elusive bird of the Ashland Watch. This fierce accipiter (close relative of the more common accipiters, the Cooper’s and the Sharp-shinned Hawk) is a bird of the Northern woods, and we sit at the southernmost fringe of its range. Still, we’re blessed with a few incredible sightings each and every year at the watch, already having tallied 3! We’ve got a slight head-start on last year’s Goshawk numbers, with this year’s first sighting coming nearly two week early. With this, and a stronger than usual northern push, we should be really upping our chances at catching a glimpse of one of these incredible raptors!

Come to the Ashland Hawk Watch anytime before the end of November to enjoy the great late season raptor flights– and maybe catch a rarity like a Golden or Goshawk!   After this Sunday’s daylight savings time change, hawk watch hours will run from approximately 8:00am to 3:30pm. 

On Sunday, November 28, we will celebrate the end of the season at the Ashland Hawk Watch with a party!  Gather on the hill from 2:00pm until dusk and enjoy good company, snacks, and beverages.  After dark, we’ll head into the lodge for a great dinner featuring seasonal favorites.   Come join us to toast another successful season of hawk watching!