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.


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.


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.


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


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.