Monday, September 24, 2018

Kiptopeke Challenge

Fall migration is continuing to bring many raptors, visitors, and interesting sights to the CVWO Hawkwatch observatory.

On Saturday we partipated in the Kiptopeke challenge. A few teams stopped by the platform in the morning hours to utilize our raptor hot spot. It was a quiet day for much needed passerines to add to our species list, but we enjoyed the high raptor diversity. Also diverse were the many visitors who came from near and far to experience the day's raptor flight. 

The highlight of the challenge was the amazing Great Blue Heron flight towards the end of the day. 105 of them were spotted moving south, including one flock of 22 and another of 37! Seeing flocks of that size is uncommon at Kiptopeke, so it was an exciting sight.

Kettling flock of Great Blue Herons

Sunday brought a stream of Ospreys over the platform. 315 flew south, some carrying fish between their talons to snack on during their long journey. Falcon numbers were high as well; with Merlins, Kestrels, and Peregrines often flying overhead close to the platform.
Osprey with fish

American Kestrel harassing a Peregrine Falcon

A favorite among visitors are Merlins. Fierce and fast hunters, their prey barely have time to register an attack before becoming meals for the small falcon. We got a first hand look at their predatory prowess when a Yellow-billed Cuckoo lost some tail feathers to a swooping Merlin. The Yellow-billed Cuckoo flew away after the attack, but we didn't see it again.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo tail feathers collected by a visitor

Friday, September 21, 2018

Kettles and Kestrels

Hello, I'm Julia Magill, the CVWO's newest Hawkwatch Educator. I graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in Wildlife Conservation, and have been travelling around the east coast ever since working on various bird research projects. I'm so excited to join the Hawkwatch migration count this season!

We were amazed by the number of American Kestrels we saw yesterday, a whopping 515 of them were spotted heading south over our platform. This is far and away the highest of the season yet, and a personal best for our hawk counter Anna. We expect many more of these small falcons as the season continues.

American Kestrel (Steve Thornhill)

Many times over the past two days, large kettles of Broad-winged hawks have appeared in the sky seemingly out of nowhere. "Another kettle!" was often exclaimed and a finger pointed in the direction of 40-60 broad-wings, where seconds ago there had been only clear blue sky.

Broad-wing kettle (Steve Thornhill)

We have also gotten good looks at Bald Eagles, Merlins and Peregrine Falcons thanks to low clouds bringing these raptors close to the ground.

Merlin (Steve Thornhill)
Immature Bald Eagle (Julia Magill)

This Saturday is the Kiptopeke Challenge, a fundraising event for which we will aim to record as many bird species as we can from the Hawkwatch platform. Other teams will be competing along the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Wish us luck!

If you want to get in on this migration action then please stop by our hawk watch platform. We are always eager for skilled eyes and birding beginners alike. There are picnic benches and many fun trails close by to our platform.


Friday, September 7, 2018

A New Season Begins, and Rarities are on a Roll!

The fall hawkwatch season is off to a good start here at Kiptopeke, and I (Anna Stunkel) am so glad to be back! So far, Ospreys have been migrating in decent numbers, and other species such as American Kestrels are starting to move along. The weather has been hot, with stagnant high pressure. However, a cool front tonight and a shift to northeasterly winds should bring in a lot of passerines tonight, and hopefully some good raptor flights if there isn't too much rain this weekend.

Several rarities have been causing excitement on the platform during the past few days. First, a Wood Stork showed up on September 4, and was seen on and off throughout the day. The bird often circled among vultures, and eventually headed southwards.

Wood Stork; photo by Steve Thornhill

On that same day, a Lark Sparrow showed up near the hawkwatch parking lot. The dapper sparrow was hanging around and feeding amidst a flock of Chipping Sparrows.

Lark Sparrow; photo by Steve Thornhill

On September 5, an Anhinga was seen, and two Anhingas flew northwards over the platform on the following day. The birds were flying too high to obtain photographs, but hopefully they might make an appearance again.

If this season plays out similarly to recent years, Osprey and small falcon movement should pick up considerably within the next week or so. We hope to see you on the platform soon, so you can experience the thrill of migration with us!