Friday, November 17, 2017

Farewell from the 2017 Hawkwatch Educator

From the early mornings on the hawkwatch platform to the crimson sunsets over the Chesapeake Bay, I have enjoyed each day working at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch this season. I feel honored to have had the opportunity to work with Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory educating people of all ages about raptor migration. 

Early morning on the hawkwatch platform, and Anna is on the lookout for raptors.  Photo by Katie Garst.

I always had fun talking with people on the hawkwatch platform. From the long-time hawkwatch volunteers to the people who had only just developed an interest in raptors in the short time since they walked onto the platform, I enjoyed sharing my enthusiasm for birds with everyone on the hawkwatch platform. Visitors' excitement when they got to see a migrating raptor helped to make my time on the hawkwatch platform pass by quickly. Nothing can compare to helping a young visitor see a Peregrine Falcon for the first time or to assisting visitors in spotting a Golden Eagle flying high over the platform.

The Kiptopeke Hawkwatch is not only a special place because of all of the migrating birds and Monarch Butterflies passing through. It is also special because of the people involved. The CVWO board members and Hawk Counter, the hawkwatch volunteers, and the Kiptopeke State Park staff were wonderful people to work with and learn from during my time at the hawkwatch. As I leave Kiptopeke in search of my next adventure, I hope to return to the Eastern Shore of Virginia to visit the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch in future seasons.  Until then, I will enjoy reading Anna's daily reports of the migrating raptors seen at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch through the end of November on hawkcount.org.

Anna (center right) and hawkwatch volunteers enjoying the sunset after spending the day counting migrating raptors.  Photo by Steve Thornhill.

Thank you all for a wonderful season!

-Katie


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Golden Eagles Galore

After seeing the first Golden Eagle of the 2017 season on November 1st, we have had a few good days with multiple Golden Eagles being counted at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch. Two Golden Eagles were seen on November 10th, and three were seen on November 11th and November 14th. The Golden Eagles passing by the hawkwatch platform have mostly been high above us or off in the distance to the east of the platform, but a few have come just close enough for a picture. 

An immature Golden Eagle flying over the hawkwatch platform.  Photo by Steve Thornhill.

Golden Eagles tend to migrate over inland ridges, and few stray to the Eastern Shore. There are typically only five to ten Golden Eagles seen in the fall migration season at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch. To see more than one Golden Eagle in a day is a treat.

Another immature Golden Eagle passing over the hawkwatch platform.  Photo by Steve Thornhill.

We have had some very late migrating birds turning up around the hawkwatch platform over the past week. On November 11th, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo was seen perched in the trees just north of the hawkwatch platform. A Red-eyed Vireo was spotted foraging in a bush next to the platform on November 12th. In addition to late birds, we have also seen a few late Monarch Butterflies migrating over the hawkwatch platform on the warmer days in the past week.

Just to the west of the hawkwatch platform, three Snow Buntings have been seen around the Kiptopeke State Park fishing pier. Snow Buntings are uncommon wintering birds along the coast of Virginia. The Snow Buntings at Kiptopeke posed for a nice picture on the railing of the fishing pier.

Snow Buntings perched on the Kiptopeke State Park fishing pier.  Photo by Brian Taber.
 
 -Katie

Friday, November 10, 2017

An Owl, a Squirrel, and a Cooper's Hawk

We spend quite a few early-morning hours on the hawkwatch platform. Because we spend so much time up there, we are able to see some interesting bird behavior. This time, we got pictures of it too. A Great Horned Owl flew past the platform, and it was carrying an unfortunate Eastern Gray Squirrel. Anna was able to get her camera in time to capture the events that followed.

A Great Horned Owl carrying a squirrel past the hawkwatch platform.  Photo by Anna Stunkel.

Suddenly, we saw a Cooper's Hawk swoop in from behind the Great Horned Owl!

A Cooper's Hawk (left) chasing the Great Horned Owl.  Photo by Anna Stunkel.

The Cooper's Hawk was calling as it chased the owl, and it dived at the owl several times.

The Cooper's Hawk diving on the Great Horned Owl. Photo by Anna Stunkel.
  
The hawk continued to chase the owl into the forest behind the hawkwatch platform, and we heard the hawk calling for a few minutes after the birds had gone out of view. We don't know if the owl stole the squirrel from the Cooper's Hawk, or if the hawk was attempting to steal the squirrel from the owl. No matter what was going on, it was interesting raptor behavior to observe from the platform, and we are glad we have pictures of the event to share on the blog.

The Cooper's Hawk (top) chasing the Great Horned Owl as it flew into the forest behind the hawkwatch platform.  Photo by Anna Stunkel.

We have had an unusually high number of Ospreys flying over the hawkwatch platform for the month of November. On November 5th, forty-one migrating Ospreys were counted at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch. That number exceeds the total number of Ospreys counted in the month of November at Kiptopeke in some previous years. 

There have also been days with good numbers of other migrating species.  There were nineteen Bald Eagles seen migrating over the hawkwatch platform on November 5th. On November 9th, we had a large flight of Northern Harriers. A total of forty-six Northern Harriers were counted from the hawkwatch platform on that day.

An adult Bald Eagle (left) and an Osprey flying over the hawkwatch platform.  Photo by Steve Thornhill.
  
Some notable birds that were seen from the platform recently are the first Golden Eagle of the 2017 season on November 1st, a White-winged Dove being pursued by a Cooper's Hawk on November 4th, thousands of migrating American Robins on the morning of November 7th, and the first Tundra Swan flocks of the 2017 season on November 9th. As is often the case, these birds escaped our cameras. (The White-winged Dove also escaped the Cooper's Hawk.)  However, Yellow-rumped Warblers are currently very abundant at Kiptopeke, and we are able to get pictures of them when they visit us on the hawkwatch platform.

A Yellow-rumped Warbler perched on the hawkwatch platform.  Photo by Katie Garst.

A notable person that stopped by the hawkwatch platform on November 7th was Scott McConnell. Scott was the CVWO Official Hawk Counter at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch in 2006. We thank him for his visit to the hawkwatch platform.

 -Katie

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Monarchs!

In addition to counting migrating raptors, we also count the Monarch Butterflies we see migrating past the hawkwatch platform on their way to Mexico. If you visited the platform this season, you probably heard volunteers shout “Monarch!” throughout the day to alert Anna to migrating Monarch Butterflies passing overhead.

A migrating Monarch Butterfly flying over the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch platform.  Photo by Steve Thornhill.
 
During late September and October, we would often count 100 to 300 migrating Monarch Butterflies from the hawkwatch platform in a single day. On several days, there were so many Monarchs that Anna could not continue counting them because it would have taken too much time away from counting migrating raptors. On a few of those days, we estimate over 600 migrating Monarch Butterflies passed the hawkwatch platform. The total number of migrating Monarch Butterflies seen at the hawkwatch platform so far this year is over 5,000. That number is likely lower than the actual number of Monarchs passing over the platform, since we only count the Monarchs we notice while looking for migrating raptors.
 
Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory's Monarch Biologist, Clay Buffkin, was busy tagging migrating Monarch Butterflies from mid-September through the end of October. Clay had a record year for the number of Monarchs tagged by CVWO's Monarch Biologist. He tagged 1,485 migrating Monarch Butterflies! He stopped tagging Monarchs only when he could no longer obtain additional Monarch tags. On October 22nd, he tagged 174 Monarchs, his highest number of Monarchs tagged in a day this year.

Clay searching for migrating Monarch Butterflies to capture, tag, and release.  Photo by Brian Taber.

When he was not out in the field capturing Monarchs, Clay also educated visitors and groups about Monarch Butterflies and their migration to Mexico. While visitors observed him, he demonstrated the process used to tag Monarchs and explained the data he collected from each Monarch he tagged.

Clay in the butterfly garden next to the hawkwatch platform demonstrating how he captures Monarch Butterflies.  Photo by Katie Garst.

A Monarch Butterfly tagged at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch being held by Katie for a picture.  Photo by Bob Anderson.

While searching for Monarchs to tag, Clay was able to see some amazing Monarch Butterfly roosts as the butterflies stopped migrating for the day and rested on vegetation before nightfall. Clay took a video of one of those Monarch Butterfly roosts, and it shows a spectacular group of Monarchs preparing to roost for the night.


Clay has completed his 2017 season at Kiptopeke, and we thank him for his effort that resulted in nearly 1,500 tagged Monarch Butterflies.  As the weather turns cooler, fewer Monarch Butterflies are being seen from the hawkwatch platform.  Now, we must wait for several long months to see if any of the Monarchs Clay tagged at Kiptopeke will be recovered in Mexico in the spring.

-Katie

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Gray Ghosts

Happy Halloween from the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch! We have been enjoying the relatively good flights of Northern Harriers over the past week on days with low numbers of other migrating raptors. On the hawkwatch platform, we have had good views of several adult male Northern Harriers, which are sometimes referred to as “Gray Ghosts.” Adult male Northern Harriers are gray overall and have wings with whitish undersides and black wingtips. A Gray Ghost is always a wonderful sight as it flies over the hawkwatch platform.

A "Gray Ghost," an adult male Northern Harrier.  Photo by Steve Thornhill.
 
Juvenile Northern Harriers are also beautiful birds to see fly over the hawkwatch platform. Juvenile Northern Harriers are brown overall and appear to be a pumpkin color from below.


A juvenile Northern Harrier.  Photo by Anna Stunkel.

After counting raptors on October 27th , we volunteered at the KiptoShriek Halloween event that took place at Kiptopeke State Park. Anna was a Turkey Vulture, and Katie was a Common Raven. Long-time Kiptopeke Hawkwatch volunteer, Joe, also volunteered at KiptoShriek. Clay, CVWO's Monarch Butterfly Biologist, volunteered at the event dressed as “Doctor Plexippus.”

Katie as a Common Raven and Anna as a Turkey Vulture at KiptoShriek.  Photo by Joe Beatty.

Clay, CVWO's Monarch Biologist, as "Doctor Plexippus" at KiptoShriek. Photo by Clay Buffkin.
 
Although we have had days in the past week with fewer than fifty migrating raptors, interesting birds continue to be seen from the hawkwatch platform. Sadly, we were not able to get pictures of these birds, but they are still worth mentioning. Four American Golden-Plovers flew past the platform on October 24th. A group of approximately twelve American White Pelicans was seen flying over the Chesapeake Bay on October 27th. On the same day, a leucistic White-throated Sparrow with abnormal white feathers on its head was seen under the trees next to the hawkwatch platform. One Cave Swallow was spotted flying with Tree Swallows passing over the hawkwatch platform on October 28th

Even though we can't always get a picture of birds seen from the platform, the Northern Mockingbird that sings from the trees next to the hawkwatch platform is often available to pose for a few pictures.

Northern Mockingbird singing next to the hawkwatch platform.  Photo by Steve Thornhill.

-Katie

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Pink-headed Peregrine!

On October 21st, a pink-headed Peregrine Falcon flew over the hawkwatch platform. This was not an exotic species or some sort of plumage anomaly. The feathers on the juvenile Peregrine Falcon's head had been purposefully dyed red. We had been watching for pink-headed Peregrines at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch because we knew that Peregrine Falcon research was being conducted to the north of us on Assateague Island. The pink-headed Peregrine seen at Kiptopeke likely traveled from Assateague Island. Anna was able to get a picture of the bird as it flew over the platform.

A juvenile Peregrine Falcon with feathers on its head appearing pink after the feathers were dyed red by researchers.  Photo by Anna Stunkel.
 
You may be wondering why anyone would be dying the feathers on a Peregrine Falcon's head red. In the research conducted on Assateague Island, data on migrating Peregrine Falcons are collected when the birds are captured. The Peregrine Falcons are banded, and the feathers on their heads are marked with red dye before the birds are released. The dye does not harm the birds, and it fades away over several weeks. This marking allows researchers to identify birds from which they have already collected data, and the researchers will not try to capture those Peregrine Falcons again.
 
On the same day as the pink-headed Peregrine, we had two more very exciting birds show up at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch. A light morph and a dark morph Rough-legged Hawk were spotted together in the same thermal. The two juvenile birds remained in the distance and never passed over the hawkwatch platform, so we were not able to get any pictures of them. However, a picture of the light morph Rough-legged Hawk that passed over the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch earlier this season is included in the previous blog post, and Anna has provided a picture of a dark morph Rough-legged Hawk she took while working at the Derby Hill Hawkwatch.

A dark morph Rough-legged Hawk seen at the Derby Hill Hawkwatch during a previous season.  Photo by Anna Stunkel.

-Katie

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Rough-legged Hawk and Other Interesting Things

On October 17th, a Rough-legged Hawk flew over the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch platform. Rough-legged Hawks are not frequently seen at Kiptopeke. These hawks breed in the Arctic and winter in southern Canada and the United States. Virginia is near the southern extent of the winter range of the Rough-legged Hawk in the eastern United States, so few Rough-legged Hawks pass over the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch. Anna was able to get a picture of the Rough-legged Hawk as it passed the hawkwatch platform.

Rough-legged Hawk flying over the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch.  Photo by Anna Stunkel.

The Kiptopeke Hawkwatch hosted a group of local educators working with The Nature Conservancy on October 15th.  We discussed hawk migration and identification on the hawkwatch platform and went for a hike. The educators also got to see a Monarch Butterfly tagging demonstration. A familiar face was in the group visiting the hawkwatch. Zak Poulton, who is now with The Nature Conservancy, was the Hawkwatcher at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch in 2010.

Former Kiptopeke Hawkwatcher Zak Poulton uses CVWO's raptor models to show local educators the characteristics used in identifying raptor species.  Photo by Brian Taber.

  
Anna and Katie give a hawk migration presentation to local educators working with The Nature Conservancy.  Photo by Brian Taber.




CVWO's Monarch Biologist Clay Buffkin demonstrates Monarch Butterfly tagging for local educators.  Photo by Brian Taber.
Many migrating Monarch Butterflies have been flying high above the treetops at Kiptopeke. We usually count the Monarchs we see passing over the platform, but we had to stop counting when there were so many Monarchs that counting them took too much time away from looking for hawks. It seemed that every time we would look at hawk through our binoculars, we would see at least one Monarch floating through our field of view. On October 18th, dozens of Monarch Butterflies were refueling with nectar in the butterfly garden next to the hawkwatch platform before continuing their journey to Mexico.

Migrating Monarch Butterflies in the butterfly garden next to the hawkwatch platform.  Photo by Katie Garst.
 
An unexpected visitor to the butterfly garden on October 15th was a Long-tailed Skipper. These butterflies are usually found farther south than Virginia, but they will sometimes stray north.

A Long-tailed Skipper in the butterfly garden next to the hawkwatch platform.  Photo by Katie Garst.

During the time we spend on the hawkwatch platform, we get to see some interesting things.  Occasionally, we manage to get pictures of those things.  On October 16th, Anna was able to get a picture through a telescope of a Merlin with a Northern Parula it had caught.

Merlin with a Northern Parula in its talons.  Photo by Anna Stunkel.
 
On October, 14th, Steve Thornhill got an amazing photo of two adult Bald Eagles flying very near to each other over the hawkwatch platform. He got another great photo four days later of two immature Bald Eagles displaying aggressive behavior.

Adult Bald Eagles.  Photo by Steve Thornhill.


Immature Bald Eagles.  Photo by Steve Thornhill.

-Katie



Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Plentiful Peregrines

Peregrine Falcon by Steve Thornhill
The first week of October is typically within the peak of raptor migration at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch, but you wouldn't know it if you visited the hawkwatch platform over the past week. We've had several days of migrating raptor totals in the 50s. At this time last year, the daily migrating raptor totals were often over 1,000.

The low numbers of migrating raptors at Kiptopeke are likely due to the south and southwest winds that have been persisting at Kiptopeke for over a week and the remnants of a hurricane that traveled through the eastern United States recently. The best winds for raptor migration at Kiptopeke are winds from the northeast because they assist the birds' southward travel, and the winds push the birds toward Kiptopeke.

Despite the low daily totals, we had several good days of Peregrine Falcon migration between October 4th and 10th. We had 152 migrating Peregrine Falcons pass by the hawkwatch platform on October 7th! We were lucky to have the plentiful Peregrines on that day for the Outdoor Exploration Day at Kiptopeke State Park. We were able to educate children, adults, and families about the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch and show them many low-flying Peregrine Falcons.

Peregrine Falcon by Steve Thornhill
 
On October 10th, we had a surprise visitor in the cherry tree next to the hawkwatch platform. A Lark Sparrow was seen perched in the tree several times throughout the morning. We were able to get a few pictures of this bird that is usually found farther west than Virginia.

Lark Sparrow by Katie Garst

-Katie

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Hello from the 2017 Hawkwatch Educator

Hello, my name is Katie Garst. I am the 2017 Hawkwatch Educator with Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory. I am from Maryland, and I graduated from college this spring with a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries. I will be on and around the hawkwatch platform at Kiptopeke State Park this season to answer visitors' questions about the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch and hawk migration. I am looking forward to meeting the volunteers and visitors who make this hawkwatch a wonderful experience for hawkwatch experts and novices alike. Please stop by the hawkwatch platform to watch for migrating raptors and say hello!

On October 1st, the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch added a new species to the list of bird species observed during the hawkwatch.  A Roseate Spoonbill was seen flying past the hawkwatch platform by twelve observers!  Unfortunately, no one was able to get any photos of this pink bird that is usually found much farther south than Virginia.

-Katie

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Broad-wings n' Blustery Days

The migration is continuing to pick up here at Kiptopeke. We have been seeing quite a few Broad-winged Hawk kettles this season, including some that contain up to 70 birds (which is considered a large amount for this site). 

Broad-winged Hawk kettle by Steve Thornhill

We noticed one juvenile broad-wing with an interesting tail pattern, which occurs in a low percentage of individuals. The bird's outer three tail feathers on each side have typical juvenile patterning, while the inner feathers have thicker bars like that of an adult. Notice that the breast is streaked rather than barred, showing that it is a first year bird. 

by Mike Tove

Here are some comparison sketches of a normal tail type (left) versus an adult-like tail (right) which I drew for a Golden Gate Raptor Observatory article a few years ago.



We have also been seeing many Ospreys, including a high count for the season of 365 individuals on 9/23. Local Ospreys have been busy fishing as well.

by Steve Thornhill

Many visitors have been stopping by the platform to help count and to learn about the hawkwatch. Thank you to all for your sharp eyes and good company!

by Mark Hopkin

Last Saturday, a banded American Kestrel passed over the platform! Unfortunately, the band is not readable, but perhaps the bird will be recaptured elsewhere along his journey. Thanks to Steve Thornhill, who noticed the band while going through his photos.



Here is another photo of the Wood Stork that passed by several days ago. The approaching cold front should bring in some more interesting birds, particularly on Friday. The past few days have been a bit slow due to strong winds, but we hope that things will pick up again soon!

 
by Mark Hopkin

-Anna





Friday, September 22, 2017

Happy International Hawk Migration Week!

This week is International Hawk Migration Week, a time in which many hawkwatch sites record their peak fall season counts. The week is celebrated by the Hawk Migration Association of North America, and it is meant to raise awareness of raptor migration. We, and many other hawkwatch sites all over the continent, submit our data to this organization.

Tim Barry hard at work spotting raptors
Migration is certainly picking up, and yesterday we had our busiest day of the season so far with 1273 raptors in total. This included 164 Ospreys, 266 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 188 Broad-winged Hawks, and 478 American Kestrels. Today, we had another Wood Stork sighting (quite likely the same bird that was seen on 9/17). The bird flew relatively low over the platform and was heading southwards. 

Wood Stork

Tomorrow, we will be participating in the Kiptopeke Challenge, an annual "big day" fundraising event in which we record all bird species seen from the platform and surrounding areas. Other teams will be participating as well, birding on the Eastern Shore and coastal plain of Virginia. We hope to see you at the hawkwatch soon! 

-Anna

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Swallow-tailed Kite

Today, a beautiful Swallow-tailed Kite flew over the platform and spent hours hunting for insects and flying around gracefully. In the past 40 years only two other individuals have been seen at the hawkwatch. It is certainly possible that the bird will be in the area again tomorrow. I encourage you all to stop by the platform to check! 


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Swallows n' Seabirds

The raptor migration is off to a slow but steady start, with mostly Ospreys moving through over the past week. We have been rewarded with some beautiful, low views of a few birds, like this Bald Eagle (top) and Merlin (bottom).


Photos by Steve Thornhill

We have also been very busy watching non-raptors moving through. Some of these sightings have involved unusually high numbers, such as the 30 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers recorded on September 1 and 19 Red-headed Woodpeckers on September 4. Hundreds of Barn Swallows and Purple Martins have been zipping their way through on most days. White Ibises and Glossy Ibises have been flying past in small flocks, including one single mixed flock of both species. 

White Ibis; photo by Steve Thornhill
Today, a Parasitic Jaeger passed very close over the beach, and a Black Tern flew over the platform. The trees behind the platform were buzzing with passerine activity this morning, including a variety of warbler and vireo species. Tonight's cold front ought to bring in some more interesting migrants, and hopefully an increase in raptor numbers, tomorrow morning. We hope you can join us to enjoy the migration soon!

-Anna 


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Migrants are on the Move

Another hawkwatching season has begun here at Kiptopeke, and we are off to a great start! Ospreys have composed most of the raptor flight so far, which is typical during the early part of the season. An Osprey (which we think is probably a single individual, based on plumage characteristics) has been hanging around on the nearby telephone pole, snacking on fish and drying its wings in the sun. Yesterday, a Peregrine Falcon zoomed very low and close overhead.

Osprey with fish; photo by Steve Thornhill
Today, a beautiful Yellow-throated Warbler landed on the platform ramp and foraged for awhile, hopping around and flycatching. Other non-raptor highlights have included 30 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers yesterday, ~337 Eastern Kingbirds today, and hundreds of Purple Martins and Barn Swallows.

Yellow-throated Warbler; photo by Steve Thornhill
My name is Anna Stunkel, and I am returning to the hawkwatch as the counter for a second season this year. I am so excited to be here to experience the migration at Kiptopeke again. Please stop by the platform sometime; the season runs from September 1- November 30 and visitors are always welcome. I am happy to answer your questions and to share the joy of hawkwatching.

Photo by Steve Thornhill

-Anna