Today’s Count: 73
Today’s highlights consisted of a Bald Eagle, 24 Dark Ibis, 28 White Pelicans, 33 Forster’s Terns, an Olive-sided Flycatcher, a Brown Thrasher, and a small increase in Northern Rough-winged Swallows.
Apart from the Zone-tailed, September has been an unbelievably disappointing month for raptor numbers to say the least. Here’s a look at some of the records broken-records no hawk counter ever wants to break. All numbers refer to full seasons.
- Worst raptor season ever at Smith Point for the period of August and September with 5,478 raptors counted so far
- Worst September ever for raptors with 3,740 raptors
- Worst number of raptors per hour recorded for the period of August and September with 12.13 raptors per hour over the course of 61 days
- Fewest number of 100+, 200+, 300+, 400+, 500+ raptors in a day in September ever
- First September ever without a 1,000+ raptor day
- First September ever without two 1,000+ raptor days
- First September ever without at least five 650+ raptor days
- Lowest September and August/September Broad-winged Hawk totals ever
- Lowest September and August/September Osprey totals ever
- Lowest September and August/September Sharp-shinned Hawk totals ever with 212 in September, 24% fewer than the next lowest September season of 278 Sharp-shinned Hawks
- Lowest ever September for American Kestrel with just 22 birds, 77.1% fewer than the next lowest September season of 92 American Kestrels
- Lowest September and August/September ever for Merlins
- Lowest September and August/September ever for Peregrine Falcon
- 2nd lowest September and August/September Northern Harrier totals ever
- 2nd lowest September and August/September ever totals for Cooper’s Hawk
- Tied for 2nd lowest Red-shouldered Hawk September and August/September totals ever
- 2nd lowest August/September Swallow-tailed Kite total ever and tied for 2nd lowest Swallow-tailed Kite September ever
- Fourth lowest August/September Mississippi Kite total ever
- Total number of August/September raptors (5,478) is 55.3% lower than the previous worst August/September season ever (12,250 raptors)!!!
- Total number of September raptors (3,740) is 64.4% lower than the previous worst September ever (10,512 raptors)!!!!
Those facts above are incredible in so many ways. Yes, there was always the possibility of a lower season happening for August/September and yes, the possibility of having some fewer numbers of certain species always exists in any given season. However, the manner in which it has been done will be nearly impossible to duplicate ever again. Ok, maybe this was going to be the lowest August/September ever but you would think that this number would be close to the previous lowest August/September ever of 12,250 raptors for this period. Maybe 12,000 raptors recorded, maybe 11,000 was possible or even very drastically only 10,000 raptors for the period. However, 5,478 raptors is a number no one could ever have imagined to be possible for this time period. In fact, there have been 4 Mississippi Kite seasons for the period of August and September that are more than the total number of raptors, 17 species, recorded this season so far!!! Certainly this will be a record that’ll never be broken for Smith Point. While 100,000 raptors has only been broken once at Smith Point, with 117,517 raptors recorded, it is a very realistic possibility that Smith Point will one day have a 150,000+ raptor season. With the right conditions, i.e. a tropical storm/hurricane in the right location(s), Smith Point could easily have an even more incredible number than 150,000 raptors (look at hawk counts further north whose totals have been drastically impacted by hurricanes). These are conditions that, though rare, are certainly something you can expect to eventually happen at Smith Point, probably going so far as to say this will happen within the next 10 years. This just gives way to showing how crazy today’s current season totals are. I’m no expert and I don’t have any statistics for this but am willing to bet that a 150,000+ raptor season at Smith Point is probably at least 100X more likely than having an August and September with less than 5,500 raptors recorded. That shows how rare of an event this current season is and the fascination that is associated with it.
The same facts and fascination can be said for the September total as well. Over 60% fewer raptors than the previous historic low September. That’s incredible! In my opinion, this lowest September total ever will never be broken.
Let’s go back to species that have August/September and September lows. Again, you can expect to have some poor Septembers for some raptor species in any given season and the lowest September ever for a species or even possibly 2 species in September in a season. It happens. What does not happen is having 6 species with the worst ever August/September and September totals in one season!!! That is unbelievable, made even more unbelievable with the fact that this is the 2nd worst August/September and September totals ever for an additional 4 species. So 10 species that have had at least their 2nd worst August/September and September totals ever. In one season. Words cannot describe how crazy this is or the odds of this happening either.
Of course it is very disappointing to have this kind of raptor season with such few numbers but I have nothing but admiration for this season. It’s tough, but knowing that I’ll never have a season like this no matter where I go the rest of my life makes one embrace this season in some regards. Simply incredible.
So what will October bring? Who knows with this kind of season. I had only actually intended on comparing the total number of raptors thus far with other seasons and a few species but once I started looking at other species’ September totals, hope quickly drained away for October. I thought some species were having slightly below average Septembers, not some of the worst September totals. However, now that the facts are known, October looks to be very scary and bleak, as far as numbers go. The last 10 days have seen good to great days weather-wise but have resulted in little raptor action for such good conditions and time of year. While a good number of species have their seasonal peaks in October, I expect these peaks to be much lower than normal. If the conditions we’ve had these past 10 days existed in a normal season we would’ve had above average numbers of many species for September, and possibly even a few record Septembers for some species. As you can see, this hasn’t been the case. If the raptors aren’t moving with these recent conditions one wonders why they would do so in October. Every indication points towards this being the lowest season ever, or at least one of the 3 lowest seasons ever.
However, the last two Octobers have been the best in the history of the count with over 28,000 last year and over 31,000 in 2013. Excluding these past 2 seasons, the average number of raptors in October is an enjoyable 13,300 (nearly 2.5x this season’s count thus far). So perhaps it’ll be third time’s the charm with just as good or an even better October than the past 2 seasons. Still, even with the less than stellar numbers, most people have been satisfied with the prolonged views of raptor throughout the week and diversity of species. Additionally, an Osprey that’s wintering here provides daily views over the tower bringing a fish to feed on at the motte by the tower. Passerines and non-raptors have been very slow as well but they can be great in October too. Thousands of geese should pass by the tower this month, with the first 7 Greater White-fronted Geese passing by on the 28th. No matter what happens, it’s still a great month to be on the tower!