Posted by: jkennedy366 | 3 October 2013

Hawk ID and flying weather

Occasionally, one comes across a good opportunity for a quick id of a zooming hawk on the internet. This bird will be seen doing some of the same acts from the tower for much of the season

The weather this season has been a little strange, even for Smith Point. There has been a general lack of fronts so far and the fronts that did arrive did not arrive with many birds except of Tuesdays.

I had thought that with the advent of really good internet apps for wind, rain and general accepted signs of good migration that it would become easier to pick days with flights of hawks and if not many hawks other land birds. And at least swallows and gnatcatchers.

Our local CBS TV station has a new weather app called Weathercast that has great radar for the area and by county or region in the area. AT home on the computer, I could use it to track the smoke from a marsh fire say 8 miles east of the tower past the tower and over the bay. If there were lots of hawks and storks kettling, they would be visible but then I would not want to be at home to watch. The small screen of a phone makes it a little less useful for hawks but still great for seeing if the rain is going to get the watchers or pass by.

The windalert app keeps getting better for wind and weather detail. It lets you pick any weather station and get the detailed current and forecast weather for the spot. The station at Robbins Park would have provided true weather information for the hawk watch but the station wind gauge broke a week after it was discovered last year and has now been dropped. The station in Crystal Beach provides better local info for the tower than the one at Anahuac refuge or the town of Anahuac.

The wind map site gives a zoomable wind picture for the whole US but is not real good for tracking fronts. The desktop version lets you look at wider areas better. The windalert map shows wind shifts much better on the local level.

Even though those on the tower or on the way can see and forecast the weather much better than in the past, that does not mean that one can forecast hawks and other large water birds over the tower.

The smith point site is somewhat unique as it is off the main soaring hawk migration route which goes west over the area near I-10 and then curves around to the west of Houston to go down to the coast at Hazel Bazemore. Accipiters, falcons, harriers and some kites are less wind dependent and are tending to follow the shore and then the bay past the tower so do not need a northerly wind to drift them down to the site. Many of the accipiters etc use the large numbers of land birds and dragonfly migrants to feed on the way whereas the larger hawk flocks mainly do not feed although individuals do.

What makes a good day at the tower.

A north wind is great. Northwest works fine as does northeast. Each of these produces different effects as does wind speed. This means cold fronts as the prevailing coastal wind is southeast which tends to keep hawks north of the tower even when they do pass by.

Rain of course keeps hawks grounded. Most of the migrants are coming from the north and east so if the weather did not clear in those directions even though the front passed the tower there are only local birds to come by. So there is a spurt in the am and then dullsville all day except for eagles and peregrines.

Fronts in this part of the world often stall at or near the coast giving a north wind but still low clouds, drizzle and other miseries for hawks. No rising air currents to let them kettle. Smith Point itself creates weather as the land breeze can change the wind direction or greatly increase the wind speed inimically to hawk flight. It is very discouraging to sit on the tower and watch the nice blue sky off the west and north all day and get few birds knowing that they are going by just up there by I-10.

Even with northish winds, the wind tends to become westerly with weaker fronts as it comes down the bay and then channels toward the gulf. The sea breeze across the bay in Texas City can be 180 degrees different as inland there is to the south as the balloon fest people have discovered when they start blowing over the bay.

There have been a couple of fronts this year that all common knowledge would guarantee lots of hawks but they did not really produce. In contrast, August 11th had a swainson’s hawk flight that was half a season’s worth almost 2 months before they should have arrived.

This weekend and the changing forecast for the front will make for a great opportunity to forecast and then come to the tower to see how your forecast works.

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