Monday, October 3, 2011

HawkFest 2011 - 17 Sep 2011

This Osprey made a pass in front of the crowd at HawkFest late in the afternoon and provided a few moments of excitement just moments before the largest passage of Broad-winged Hawks would occur this year.

Forecasts had called for clear skies and west winds - optimum conditions for a big hawk movement.  With the past two days producing flights of 40,000+ Broadwinged Hawks south of the count site at Lake Erie Metropark (mostly due to SW winds) today was looking like it could produce the mega-flight that occurs one day each year in SE Michigan (more Northwest winds). 

The day started out cool, cloudy and breezy, however.  I decided to walk the trails around the Marshland Museum before heading over to the count site at the boat launch.  A Red-shouldered Hawk perched in an opening in the trees was a welcome start to the day.  I was too slow to digiscope it, however, and it flew off.  A Cooper's Hawk blew through the trees a few minutes later.  I was looking for warblers, and was disappointed in the relative quietness of the woods.

As I reached the boardwalk area and the canal area along the east a small flock of Black-capped Chickadees sounded the alert to possible warbler activity.  It was still somewhat dark, so I was fortunate that I had brought the Better Beamer.  What I thought was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher would turn out to be a first-fall female Chestnut-sided Warbler.  A Cape May Warbler was a nice addition!  Black-throated Green Warblers, and Tufted Titmice were moving through by the dozen.

Heading over to the boat launch at 9 am we were greeted by cloudy skies.  The winds, however, began to thin the skies, such that by 10-10:30 am the skies were clearing enough to push the first birds of the day into the sky.  Small kettles of Broad-wings began popping up over Canada, and began to drift northward over the count site.  As the HawkCount summary reported, from about 10:30 am on the skies were filled with Broad-winged Hawks.  The best part was that the birds were low enough in the sky to observe easily with binoculars, scopes, and cameras! 

I spent some time taking photos of the birds as they swarmed the skies, and frantically tried to capture them as they streamed overhead.  It was a shame that the skies were so overcast.  This resulted in birds appearing as silhouettes - good for the counters, but bad for the photographers.  Most of my photos would have to be converted to B&W in order to reduce noise from having to process them such that 'some' detail could be seen in the birds.

As the day wore on, things began to slow.  I offered to run down to Pt. Mouillee SGA HQ farther south to see if any birds were moving there.  I arrived about noon and immediately realized that any flights would be occurring to the north.  I saw nothing but streams of Double-crested Cormorants flying out toward the bay from the Huron River.  Among them, however, were four American White Pelicans - a nice sighting.

As I stood on the platform next to the boat launch I spent some time photographing a pair of juvenile Forster's Terns as they flew and dove for minnows. 

I headed back to LEMP and the boat launch there.  I arrived just as large kettles again appeared overhead and streamed across the river.  It was neat to see them kettle up after crossing the river and drift off to the south.  Estimates are that these birds won't put down until they're well near the Gulf.

As the afternoon wore on, the skies cleared, the migration slowed a bit, and birds began to cross at much higher elevations.  By 3pm almost 90,000 Broad-wings had crossed the count site!  Several Swainson's Hawks had been seen, as well.  I had to leave, so reluctantly I packed my gear and headed for home.  I knew more birds would be moving, but I assumed (correctly) that they would be almost invisible at the altitudes they were crossing.  What I didn't know was that another 100,000+ plus birds were pour over the river between 4 - 5 pm.  This would break the single day record for Broad-wings since records were started in the early 70's.

This is one day that won't soon be forgotten.

The weekly hawwatch summary for this period can be found here:

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