Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch Season-in-Review

An Osprey glances down at the hawkwatchers as it passes over the Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch.

An Osprey glances down at the hawkwatchers as it passes over the Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch.

 

The record-shattering 8th season at the Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch came to a close on May 15th. And we sure did go out with a bang! To cap off this season of superlatives, our final tally was 6,015 raptors. Compared to the Great Lakes watches, this may not sound like a huge number, but for our site, it topped our previous record set in 2010 (4,074) by 34%. Included was a single day count of 1,257 on May 14th (never had we imagined a day of 1,000, let alone 1,200). So, yes, this year was stellar – no doubt augmented by the fine optics provided by Leica.

As the count season got underway on March 15th, the persistent cold and snowy weather that we had been experiencing did not give way. In fact, the hawkwatch season averaged by far the coldest that we have had. But as we had hoped, we caught more of the early season migrants since they were likely moving later than usual; very few if any raptors fought their way north prior to the beginning of the project. Early-migrating Turkey Vultures, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Red-tailed Hawks were all counted in record numbers. Especially noteworthy is a steady increase in Red-shoulders that we continue to see. Before we began this count, these secretive forest nesters were thought to be rare in Maine. Our numbers show otherwise. Is their range expanding northwards with global warming? Or have they always been a fixture of the northern woods, just difficult to detect in the summer?

Like most hawkwatches, the Broad-winged Hawks make or break a season; will they have favorable winds during their narrow wind of peak migration? Our total of 2,357 was 35% above the 2010 total. So, yes, we had Broad-wings – at least adults, but a spate of days in May with northwesterly or easterly winds likely kept our flights of immature Broad-wings down, so we probably could have had more. But that’s just getting greedy.

The icing(s) on the cake came during the final week of the count. On May 7th, one Swallow-tailed Kite was seen, twice (3rd count record). Then, not to be outdone, one Mississippi Kite was counted on May 14th (4th count record). These southern vagrants were welcome additions to this year’s tally, perhaps indications of warming winds after a very cold spring on the summit.

As we do ever year, we also keep track of other migrants when we can. One bird we expected was the Snowy Owl that soared high over the mountain on April 10th – an amazing sight! This past winter was an unprecedented one for the number of these arctic owls that had penetrated the southern reaches of the U.S. (In fact, at least one is still being seen in Maine!) If we were going to see our second-ever (first was in 2008) at the Brad, this was going to be this year

While we did not have any non-raptor rarities for the region, a few migrants stood out. An Iceland Gull was seen on 2 occasions (possibly the same bird)- a first record of the mountain. One Purple Martin – not quite annual at the Brad – was another good bird. Wading birds and shorebirds observed included one Great Egret (2nd count record), 3 Glossy Ibis, 4 Solitary Sandpipers, and 6 Lesser Yellowlegs (first count record).

And, finally, there’s the story of Sandhill Cranes. Ten or so years ago, only 1-2 pairs were known to breed in all of Maine. Whether colonizing or re-colonizing the state, that number is rapidly increasing. There may be as many as 20 pairs now, and with this increase, so has come a steady annual increase in the number of cranes we spot at the hawkwatch. Nonetheless, a flock of 10 Sandhill Cranes that passed by the watch on April 24th was astounding. Though by no means common, every year it seems that we see Sandhills on more and more days. This year’s season total of 12 did not include one or two south bound birds. It’s possible that a semi-local pair is now being observed from time to time from the summit.

But back to the raptors…it is a hawkwatch afterall. Prior to this season, we could only daydream about hitting the 5,000 bird milestone. “No way,” we thought. Eclipsing 6,000 wasn’t even on the table. So what does this mean? Honestly, not much. One season of hawkwatch data doesn’t tell us much – other than what the weather conditions were during the season’s count (every site has a different set of conditions that produce more or less birds on a given day). However, with seven years of solid data under out belt, we are closing in on the 10-year goal. Then, we will carefully look at trends. Will 2014 just be an anomaly? Or, are populations increasing and/or shifting north?

We are already looking forward to March of 2015, when we will begin to tally the next piece of the puzzle, and enjoy the marvel of hawk migration in the process. We hope to see you at the summit of Bradbury Mountain next year – the start of the count is only 8 ½ months away.

An adult Broad-winged Hawk circles the summit of Bradbury Mountain in Pownal, Maine.

An adult Broad-winged Hawk circles the summit of Bradbury Mountain in Pownal, Maine.