Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sandy Hook March: the count so far

Non-birders visiting a hawk watch usually ask the hawk counter "how do you know you're not counting the same birds?" It's a great and absolutely valid question, nowhere more so than at a peninsular site like Sandy Hook. Yesterday, on light, variable winds, many raptors got up very high in thermals and left the Hook in northerly direction, headed either north for Brooklyn's Coney Island (10 km) or northwest for Staten Island (12 km). Sometimes - but not yesterday - birds will cross northeast toward Breezy Point in Brooklyn (9 km).

But I've only seen them leave the Hook that way a couple of days this season. A much more common scenario is for birds to fly up to the northern tip of the Hook, see water, and turn around. They really need thermals and light tail winds or light head winds to make the jump over New York Bay.

I do count these birds that fly up and turn around, because they are migrants after all, even though I know that many of them will try multiple times. Some individuals can be recognized by a missing flight feather or a specific plumage, while others may be counted double that way.

Birders visiting the hawk watch usually ask me "how is the season so far?"

With the last day of March a rainy day here (no count), let's take a look at the numbers so far. Bear in mind this possibility of double counts, but consider this a constant effect from year to year.

This March I counted 379 raptors, representing 13 species. Best bird no doubt was an adult Northern Goshawk on the 18th of March, the second day of the count. The season so far has been reasonably good for Osprey (23), Bald Eagle (4), Sharp-shinned Hawk (65), American Kestrel (22), and Merlin (4). Buteos did not do so well in March.

I graphed out the seasonal March totals for Sandy Hook:

Parts of March were rainy, and 5 days of the count were missed so far due to rain. Looking at number of raptors per hour, March 2011 wasn't so bad - third best of the last eight:


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