With nearly all of the Neotropical migrants including Broad-winged Hawks gone for the year, observers and counters at eastern hawk watches are busy tallying numbers of the more hardy species of diurnal raptors and other birds. The majority of species now coming through will spend the winter months in temperate and sub-tropical areas of the southern United States and Mexico.
Here is a quick look at the raptors seen this week at two regional counting stations: Kiptopeke Hawk Watch near Cape Charles, Virginia, and Second Mountain Hawk Watch at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania.
The hawk-watching platform at Kiptopeke State Park is located along Chesapeake Bay near the southern tip of Delmarva Peninsula. In autumn, thousands of raptors and other birds migrate through the Atlantic Coastal Plain Province. Those that follow the shorelines south frequently concentrate in spectacular numbers before crossing the mouths of the bays they encounter. This phenomenon makes both Cape May, New Jersey, on Delaware Bay and Kiptopeke, Virginia, on Chesapeake Bay exceptional places to experience fall flights of migrating birds.
A Sharp-shinned Hawk is counted as it swoops by the owl decoy at Second Mountain Hawk Watch at Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation. Migrating raptors save energy by riding updrafts of air created by winds blowing against the slopes of the mountainsides in the Ridge and Valley Province.
A Sharp-shinned Hawk passes the lookout at Second Mountain Hawk Watch. “Sharp-shins” are currently the most numerous migrants both on the coast and at inland counting stations.
A Sharp-shinned Hawk nearly passes observers unnoticed as it skims the treetops.
A Sharp-shinned Hawk eyes up an owl decoy. Under cover of darkness, nocturnal owls could rather easily prey upon young and small adult hawks and falcons, both on the nest or at roost. Accordingly, many diurnal raptors instinctively harass owls to drive them from their presence. An owl decoy at the lookout helps attract migrating birds for a closer look.
An adult Cooper’s Hawk flaps its way past a counting station. Like the similar Sharp-shinned Hawk, the larger Cooper’s Hawk is a member of the genus Accipiter. As a proportion of the annual fall Accipiter flight, the Cooper’s Hawk is more numerous at coastal hawk watches than at inland sites.
The majority of Osprey migrate along the coast, but a few are still being seen at inland hawk watches.
Bald Eagles are commonly seen at both coastal and inland lookouts. Their movements continue well into late fall.
A Northern Harrier illuminated by a setting sun. Northern Harriers are often still flying when many other species have gone to roost for the day.
An adult male Northern Harrier, the “gray ghost”, flying in misty weather, at a time when few other birds were in the air.
The American Kestrel, like our other falcons, is seen in greatest concentrations at coastal counting stations. It is our most numerous falcon.
The Merlin provides only a brief observation opportunity as it passes the lookout. These falcons are dark, speedy, and easily missed as they fly by.
While moving south, Merlins often accompany flights of migrating Tree Swallows, a potential food source.
A Merlin consumes a dragonfly. Eating is no reason to stop moving.
The “Tundra Peregrine” is an arctic-breeding Peregrine Falcon that travels a distance of over 6,000 miles to southern South America for winter. It is strictly a migratory species in our region with numbers peaking during the first two weeks of October each year. These strong fliers have little need for the updrafts from mountain ridges, inland birds often observed flying in a north to south direction. The majority of “Tundra Peregrines” are observed following coastlines, with some migrating offshore to make landfall at points as far south as Florida and the Caribbean islands before continuing across water again to reach the northern shores of Central and South America. This “Tundra Peregrine” is a juvenile bird on its first southbound trip.
During coming days, fewer and fewer of these birds will be counted at our local hawk watches. Soon, the larger raptors—Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Golden Eagles—will be thrilling observers. Cooler weather will bring several flights of these spectacular species. Why not plan a visit to a lookout near you? Click on the “Hawkwatcher’s Helper: Identifying Bald Eagles and other Diurnal Raptors” tab at the top of this page for site information and a photo guide to identification. See you at the hawk watch!
It’s not all hawks at the hawk watch. Even the coastal sites are now seeing fun birds like the playful Common Raven on a regular basis.
Coastal locations are renowned places to see migrating songbirds in places outside of their typical habitat. Here a flock of Eastern Meadowlarks has set down in the top of a Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda) in downtown Cape Charles, Virginia, not far from Kiptopeke Hawk Watch.