Wednesday, October 24, 2018

White birds, Gold birds, Purple birds

October 20th was a rainy dreary day. While Anna is often happy to endure some rain to watch for birds, even she sometimes decides it's just too rainy for raptors. 6 Merlins, 1 Bald Eagle and 1 Northern Harrier snuck south before the rain began.

Birds zoomed by on October 21st due to strong winds that persisted throughout the day. Raptors often flew low enough for good looks if your binoculars moved fast enough and you weren't fighting the wind to keep your balance. There was an especially amazing flight of lightning fast Merlins that zipped past in the late afternoon. We were also treated to another Golden Eagle sighting, again far away to the east. We observed a Bald Eagle harassing an Osprey for their fish for the second time this season. The Bald Eagle was successful again. Different predation strategies colliding in mid-air!

Merlin with a bug (Julia Magill)

October 22nd was a great day for Red-tail Hawks. Anna's count of 39 was a new season record. There was some excitement when 16 American White Pelicans flew north rather far to the east. We were just getting over not having a better look when another group of 18 flew over much closer and almost directly above the platform!

American White Pelicans (Julia Magill)

4 very energetic Chimney Swifts gave us quite the show on Monday when they flew close to the platform repeatedly for hours. We'd never seen Chimney Swifts come right in front of the platform like that. They were fun to watch and a challenge to capture with our cameras.

Chimney Swifts (Julia Magill)

There was a nice morning flight of Northern Harriers and Bald Eagles on October 24th. We also had two good looks at close Peregrine Falcons later in the day. Anna has been hearing Purple Finches flying overhead for the past week and a half, and today we got to see them close up when a few landed in the nearby cherry tree. There have also been many Eastern Phoebes hanging around Kiptopeke and the surrounding areas. They're fun to watch as they flutter around catching bugs!

Female and male Purple Finches (Julia Magill)

Eastern Phoebe eating a bug (Julia Magill)

Today's subadult Golden Eagle flew nice and close. The first sighting ended with it flying north, then 15 minutes later it returned with some Turkey Vultures and continued south. It's a good idea to give a good look to every bird within a group of Turkey Vultures around this time. Red-shouldered Hawks are picking up, with 5 on the 22nd and 3 today. Another highlight of the day were the large flocks of Tree Swallows dancing over the bay.

Golden Eagle (Julia Magill)

Tree Swallows (Julia Magill)


Monday, October 22, 2018

Michael The Monarch Man

Hello, I’m Michael Ferrara, CVWO’s Monarch Biologist for this years fall migration.  I graduated from SUNY ESF in Syracuse, New York with a degree in Conservation Biology. Since then I have spent numerous seasons working with endangered shorebirds in the northeast and a few seasons working with the Southern Pine Beetle in New York. I decided to give Julia and Anna a break in order to give you an update on how the fall migration has been going. 

Me searching for Monarchs. Photo by Nancy Barnhart

It was a very slow start to the season, which was pretty discouraging but over the past week the migration has really picked up. To this point there have been 528 tagged Monarchs, with a peak of 87 Monarchs tagged on October 16th. I am hoping that the migration continues at that pace. Monarchs have been seen at the greatest densities around the platform, at Pickett’s Harbor and around the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge.  

Tagged Monarch in hand. Photo by Michael Ferrara
Foraging Monarch. Photo by Michael Ferrara

So far this season there have been a few uncommon observations. On his last visit, Brian Taber observed a Brazilian Skipper although he was unable to get a photo of it. There is only 1 previously recorded observation of a Brazilian Skipper in Virginia on record.  There have also been multiple Praying Mantis’ observed predating on Monarchs.

Praying Mantis feeding on a Monarch. Photo by Michael Ferrara

In the Kiptopeke Butterfly Garden we recently had Monarch caterpillars chowing down on the milkweed growing in the garden. Along with Monarch caterpillars; Common Buckeyes, Cloudless Sulphurs, Red-spotted Purples and Clouded Sulphurs have been some of the frequent visitors to the butterfly garden. Some of the other butterflies often seen around Kiptopeke include Question Marks, American and Painted Ladies, Cabbage Whites, Spicebush Swallowtails and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. 

Monarch Caterpillar on Milkweed. Photo by Michael Ferrara

Common Buckeye at the butterfly garden. Photo by Michael Ferrara
If you plan on catching the Monarch migration, it is not too late. Come visit us at the platform before the sun sets on the fall migration.

Sunset from the Platform. Photo by Michael Ferrara


Friday, October 19, 2018

Swainson's Hawk and Golden Eagle

It's been an exciting two days at the hawkwatch!

Yesterday, October 18th, Anna spotted a juvenile light morph Swainson's Hawk circling above with Turkey Vultures and a Red-tailed Hawk. This West coast bird is a rare hawk for Virginia, and usually only comes this far east if they have gotten mixed in with other Buteos.

Swainson's Hawk (Julia Magill)

Swainson's Hawk with a Turkey Vulture (Julia Magill)

Swainson's Hawk (Julia Magill)
Red-tailed Hawk (Julia Magill)

Today's excitement was due to a Golden Eagle spotted by a visitor to the platform. It was rather far to the East but was close enough for binoculars, and multiple people were able to get a good look through the scope. Hopefully this sighting will be the first of many! 


Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Big Sit!

Peak raptor migration is beginning to slow down here at Kiptopeke, however species diversity is still high and there are always amazing things to see from the platform.

The highlight of October 12th was a Great Egret spectacle in the sky. A giant flock of 59 flew by in a great V formation. It seems that the egrets brought cold weather with them, it's finally started to feel like fall at the hawkwatch thanks to the cooler weather that began this day. Another welcome sight was a beautiful Eastern Hog-nosed Snake spotted by Wes Hetrick near the CVWO butterfly garden. A small burst of falcons late in the day led to a total of 48 Merlins and 110 Kestrels.

Great Egret flock (Julia Magill)

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake (Wes Hetrick)

October 13th was The Big Sit!, an annual birding event coordinated by Bird Watcher's Digest. Participating teams strive to see or hear as many bird species as possible in one day within a 17 feet diameter circle. The CVWO team confined to a small section of the platform counted 74 species! It was a very fun day and we were helped by several visitors with great eyes. Highlights included an Orange-crowned Warbler, a Northern Pintail, and many many Red-breasted Nuthatches.

Red-breasted Nuthatch enjoying our feeder (Julia Magill)

October 14th and 15th were slow for raptors, but not for Blue Jays! 748 Blue Jays were counted heading south on the 14th, often in large groups 30 and 40 strong. Monarchs seem to have picked up for a couple days as well. Several adult Cooper's Hawks were counted on the 15th. Was one of them the Cooper's Hawk I saw snacking on a Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the woods a short walk from the platform? Maybe! Kiptopeke is a great place for raptors to stop and refuel.

Blue Jay (Steve Thornhill)

Cooper's Hawk (Julia Magill)

October 16th started out slow, but turned around with a great accipiter flight in the afternoon. Overall there were 98 Sharp-shinned Hawks and 119 Cooper's Hawks. It was a good day for Northern Harriers as well, many of the 24 counted that day flew close to the platform, allowing great looks at these beautiful raptors.


Saturday, October 6, 2018

10,000th Raptor

The CVWO staff and our platform visitors are still enjoying the peak of fall raptor migration.

October 3rd started off slow and with a clear blue sky. It wasn't until the afternoon that a few clouds and great number of raptors rolled in. It was an amazing day for American Kestrels in particular. 305 of them flew by, which accounted for a large portion of the 796 total raptor count of the day.

American Kestrel on a post close to the platform (Julia Magill)

We were also treated to a good look at a brilliant adult male Northern Harrier, AKA a "gray ghost". Adult female and immature Northern Harriers are brown-backed (Immatures can be distinguished by their rich orange chests with less streaking), so gray ghosts are less frequently seen.

Adult male Northern Harrier (Julia Magill)

As of October 4th Anna has counted over 10,000 migrating raptors so far this season! Lucky number 10,000 was determined to be a Cooper's hawk. There were many low flying birds that day, and we were so glad to have many visitors enjoying the views with us.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk (Julia Magill)

Visitors to the HawkWatch enjoying the raptors (Julia Magill)

October 5th was a great day for Peregrine Falcons, Cooper's Hawks, and Ospreys. 121 Peregrines passed over, many of which flew low and wowed the crowd. The majority of Peregrines we have observed this season have been adults, which is interesting considering about 90% of the other migrating raptors that pass through Kiptopeke are juveniles.

Adult Peregrine Falcon (Julia Magill)


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Hello Hawktober

September 29th was Outdoor Exploration day here at Kiptopeke State Park. It was a fun day of festivities, and we enjoyed having visitors of all ages stop by the platform to learn about CVWO's raptor research and look for hawks with us.

Julia showing the identifying characteristics of the American Kestrel to a visiting school group (Brian Taber)

There was an amazing Northern Flicker flight on September 29th and 30th. 1,284 flew south on Saturday and 1,403 on Sunday, often flying in quick succession one after another over the observatory. It gave the passed around role of "Flicker Clicker" a run for their money. 36 Bald Eagles were counted on September 29th, which tied the observatory's second highest record (the highest was 38).

Northern Flicker (Steve Thornhill)

Bald Eagle (Julia Magill)

October 1st saw good numbers of high flying Ospreys, Bald Eagles, and Peregrines, as well as 3 Red-Shouldered hawks. Light winds from the South on October 2nd led to a relatively slow raptor day for Kiptopeke. We did see a wonderful kettle of 50 Broad-Wing Hawks however.

Broad-wing Hawk (Julia Magill)

The Tuesday lull gave us the opportunity to observe other interesting sights around the platform. We observed a gorgeous Long-tailed Skipper at the CVWO butterfly garden...

Long-tailed Skipper (Julia Magill)

Praying Mantis predation...

Praying Mantis eating a grasshopper (Julia Magill)

and Yellow-billed Cuckoos feasting on Tent Caterpillars 

Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Julia Magill)

A cold front will be passing through on Friday, which is a good predictor of a good flight day. We hope to see you at the observatory!