Posted by: 3pomjaeger3 | 8 January 2014

2013 Smith Point Hawk Count summary

bwha-juv-dark-smithpoint-10-24-13-tl-01-cropscreen-lowresThe 2013 Smith Point hawk count will long be remembered for the incredible number of dark-morph Broad-winged Hawks interspersed among the largest late-season flight of the species in the count’s history (see below for details).  All photos copyright by Tony Leukering.

My two seasons at Smith Point (2012, 2013) could be considered something of a Tale of Two Seasons, nicely illustrating both the fascination engendered by such a variable thing as bird migration and the problems inherent in monitoring a phenomenon that is dependent upon so many local-, regional-, and hemispheric-scale phenomena.  After the 2012 season, I was ecstatic about the spectacular season that I had been part of counting, in which ten annual and many daily high counts had been broken.  Compare that to November 2013 that saw few real highlights in a fairly mediocre season, but of which were the breaking of annual high counts for both Osprey and Peregrine Falcon.  Upon reflection, I believe that that contrast of mediocre season to new record counts of two species that 30-40 years ago were in real trouble is thought-provoking and a testament to the incredible amount of effort that has been focused on resurrecting North American breeding populations of both species, by professionals and amateurs alike.  I tip my hat to all of you!

2013 Smith Point summary - raptors

Above, I provide a picture of a table that summarizes the 2013 Smith Point hawk count; click on the image to see a larger version.  Among many interesting aspects of this season was the Mississippi Kite flight.  This species is an early-season migrant, usually peaking in numbers in late August or early September.  This year saw the worst, by far, August ever at the site for Mississippi Kite, with just 117 tallied (in 2012, 5998 were counted in the two-day period of 27-28 August, more than were tallied during all of 2013).  However, despite a very poor overall September raptor showing at the tower, Mississippi Kite staged, by far, its best-ever September flight, and that pushed the season’s tally to the third-best ever!  Contrast that result with that of Swallow-tailed Kite, the other very-early-season migrant, which posted its second-lowest seasonal tally ever, and I wind up scratching my head.  Joe Kennedy and I both believe that Swallow-taileds departed early and were essentially gone before the beginning of this year’s count (1 August; first actual count day, 3 August); we did, however, lack a counter for most of the first ten days of the season, a time in which at least a few Swallow-tailed Kites must have passed.

The Broad-winged Hawk show provided one of the other, and probably most, interesting aspect of the 2013 season.  This species typically peaks in numbers in late September, usually in the span 18-28 September (inclusive).  In fact, many years see one-day flights of just Broad-winged Hawk that surpass this year’s September tally of all raptors combined!  The first half of October usually sees still fairly large, but dwindling, numbers of the mid-season bread-and-butter species — Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, and Broad-winged hawks, but this year, numbers in early October continued September’s miserable quantities.

The 19th of October, though, changed everything, as it provided the beginning of what became the largest late-October hawk flight past Smith Point since the inception of the annual count.  Sharp-shinned Hawk numbers made a huge up turn.  Cooper’s Hawk posted its season peak 23 October, some three weeks later than typical and exactly three weeks later than the 2012 peak.  The American Kestrel flight, which had been lackluster (at best!) before the 19th, peaked on that date, some two to three weeks later than typical.  The real show-stopper of the late-October raptor flight, though, was Broad-winged Hawk, which posted its season peak on the 19th, three to four weeks later than typical.  That was exciting and different enough, but along with the late-season Broad-winged push came those nearly mythical dark morphs, with 28 on the 19th, 29 on the 20th, and 25 on the 23rd.  Ten other count days saw at least one countable dark-morph Broad-winged Hawk, with the last of the season’s incredible tally of 113 being notched on 10 November!  The normal seasonal tally of dark Broadies ranges in the low single digits and is occasionally missed entirely!

While this season’s Bald Eagle tally of 20 pales compared to last year’s 38, it was still nearly double the previous high of 11.  Both Osprey and Peregrine Falcon saw their seasonal totals squeak past the respective record counts, with Osprey being recorded in triple digits for the first time ever.  The record Peregrine count was highlighted by a new record one-day tally of 20, eclipsing the previous record of 19.  While the Swainson’s Hawk total did not approach a seasonal record, the tally of 76 on 17 August made for not only one of the largest one-day counts at Smith Point, but the earliest such count by some two months!  The Smith Point hawk count usually sees the Swainson’s Hawk peak in late October or, even, in November (as in 2012).

With that, I’ll leave the rest of the interesting nuggets for you to find, either by perusing the table above, or by visiting Hawkcount for this year’s and all previous year’s data from Smith Point.  I want to thank Joe Kennedy, Tad Finnell, and Sue Heath for covering the count on my days off.  I’d also like to thank the “regulars” for assistance in counting, pleasant conversation, great food and treats, and/or helping to while away the slow times.  Among these, I particularly thank Marcy Brown, Winnie Burkett, Dave and Jan Hanson, Cliff and Sharon Peterson, and Jana and John Whittle.

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