HawkWatch Update Archive - 2010

Below are the weekly Riding the Winds updates from the 2010 Hawk Watch season on Cadillac Mountain, written by Renee Duncan, the 2010 Raptor Intern. Earliest reports are at the bottom and later reports are at the top.


October 13, 2010

In the first grade I took up soccer and I played until I tore my ACL. I was a sophomore in high school. Before every game, we would pick a clump of grass and toss it up so that the wind would cradle the fresh blades in whatever direction it was headed. The captains for the game would use this, along with where the sun was positioned in the sky, to strategically decide which side of the field we wanted to defend first. Since playing soccer, I don't think I have given any heed to the direction of the wind, save for a couple kite-flying days. And then: Hawk Watch. Suddenly, I found myself waking up every day, wondering if we would have good (northerly) winds that day.

Yesterday marked our final "official" day of Hawk Watch and boy, was it beautiful. While most of the weekend was spent enduring frigid west winds, our last day was sunny and blue and the daintiest breeze whispered out of the north. We had 73 raptors pass through.

Our final count for the season was 3179 migratory raptors! Compare that to our 2579 yearly average-not too shabby! And, we even broke a record this year! This year took first place for the most sharp-shinned hawks seen in a day. If you recall way back in the flesh of September, northeast winds pushed 449 raptors over Cadillac and of those 195 were "sharpies"! If you're curious about any of the counts we conducted on a daily, monthly, or seasonal basis, check out our profile on Hawk Migration Association of North America's (HMANA) website at www.hawkcount.org. Also, many of our volunteers will still be watching for migratory raptors into November and this is a good way to get up-to-date information of what they're seeing.

It has been a wonderful pleasure to be a part of Hawk Watch this fall and I am brimming with gratitude to have had the opportunity to join such dedicated volunteers, rangers, and community members in an ode to such a momentous passing of seasons. We may never truly unravel the enigmas of migration but we have given witness and celebration and awe and reverence. And this is enough.

I may not be throwing grass to the wind anymore with the intention of choosing a side on a soccer field, but you can bet: on a crisp autumn day when the sun is shining, curiosity will be sparked, and instead I'll lift my eyes to the horizon, scanning for raptors that are riding the winds. A new sport has taken hold. -Renee Duncan

October 10, 2010

If you have ever had a chance to watch an osprey hunt, then you can understand the value of patience. With her "wrists" weighted into a droop, the skilled fisherman softly soars over the surface of a bay, intently scanning. She watches the glistening wrinkles of wind on water and the upturned swells of high tide heaving toward land. She watches the reflections of the clouds slinking through the blue above her and the movement of shadows slinking under the blue beneath her. At once, the angle of the light will change and the wind shifts and she spies a flash of scales below the saltwater surface. Wings tucked, hooked-talons extended, the osprey dives! With several days of strong west wind in the past week, there has been a scant passing of raptors and therefore a slow passing of hours at Hawk Watch, and I am reminded of the osprey's patience.

On Friday morning, Jan and I braved the 20mph gusts that shoved at our backs as we faced east. We calmly waited, scanning the tussling and swirling skies beyond us. Frenchman Bay blazed in the sunlight, shining like multitudes of tinsel and glass, but the stingy winds forbid any thermals to climb. Finally in the second hour we caught a glint of movement passing through the gorge below us. Our hands dove for our binoculars and sure enough it was a migratory raptor: an osprey.

Now if you have ever had a chance to watch a migrating osprey pass over Cadillac Mountain on a blustery west wind day, then you can understand the value of perseverance! First we spotted his white belly aglow with sunlight. Then as it reared closer we were able to pick out his "M"-shaped silhouette with bent wings pumping down hard and returning in line with it's shoulders but never rising above them. After almost three minutes of rigorous flapping, the poor guy slowly but surely pushed beyond the air currents above Cadillac and was able to coast toward Sargent Mountain to the west. Hopefully the osprey's perseverance will be rewarded with nourishing wintering grounds just as patience rewards hungry bellies with fish and provides inquisitive hearts with discovery!

So finally, if you ever get the chance during your busy fall days to make it up to the top of Cadillac Mountain, join us at Hawk Watch, 200 yards down the North Ridge Trail. We'll be there from 9am to 2pm. The last official day will be Tuesday, October 12th. With a lot of patience, some sky scanning and intent watching, (a wind from the north really helps too), you just might catch some good looks at these spectacular birds. -Renee Duncan

September 20, 2010

It was almost inevitable that today would be a good day for hawkwatching. Yesterday while watching patiently on Cadillac to no avail, I decided the birds were probably just as subdued by the south-southwest winds as I was, trying to recover from a bad cold. We spotted a total of five raptors in the five hours we were up there. But! With such a low number of raptors on Sunday and north winds forecasted for today, there was sure to be compensatory passing of migrants such that we could forecast more lofty numbers for our Monday tally sheet.

I felt horrible all day but finally, by about 4:30 p.m., I chippered up, wrapped on a thick sweater, grabbed my field journal and binoculars, and headed up to the top of Cadillac. The winds were pretty fierce but still the right direction for some prime hawk watching: north-northeast. I settled next to a slab of granite that was large enough to shield my huddled body from the wind and I had barely prepped my binoculars and pen when a dapper female American kestrel seemed to manifest herself from the sun and wind. At a height no more than six feet over my head, she wavered and trembled and glimmered in the heavy drafts and pressed on.

American kestrels, formerly called sparrow hawks, are some of the most beautiful birds I have ever seen. When I was younger, probably pre-kindergarten, I used to tote around a Birds of North America "golden guide" in my prized neon-pink belt bag and this is a bird I remember distinctly from the guide. The illustration of the kestrel was tinted with extraordinary color: slate-periwinkles along the wings (only the males), rufous on the back and tail, and a striking black and white face. They are the smallest of the falcons, the smallest of all of the eastern diurnal raptors for that matter, and are commonly seen, swift and wind-swept, passing over Cadillac Mountain on their journey south. Although hawk watch numbers from around the country have shown an increase in many of the birds of prey populations, the kestrel population is one that has steadily declined in the northeastern United States. This may be largely attributed to habitat loss.

I watched the skies around Cadillac for a solid hour before the warmth in my hands completely faded and sailed off with the brisk winds. I made my way back to the parking lot. In that hour I saw 22 kestrels, 2 northern harriers, 4 sharp-shinned hawks, a merlin, and an osprey. Added to the 344 raptors spotted earlier in the day, it certainly was a good day for hawk watching. Join us for more good days of hawkwatching when the winds are from the north, northeast, or northwest. We'll be at the top of Cadillac everyday (weather permitting) from 9am-2pm. -Renee Duncan

September 13, 2010

The air has a bite to it. The mountain berry bushes are blushing burgundy and crimson. The other day at the grocery store there were macintosh apples from a nearby orchard, shelved on a cart. In the little garden I dug behind the gatehouse, the blossoms of the zucchini plants have finally come to fruition and are donning little elongated capsules of squash. All are signs, little bells, announcing autumn's embrace of Mount Desert Island. Perhaps the gong of these signs took place Saturday, when we observed the passing of 444 raptors on the top of Cadillac Mountain. One, sometimes two and three, after another zipping by over our heads on the favorable northeast winds. Peace-out summer breeding grounds, hello Florida and Lower Antilles and South America! Being witness to this momentum, the feeling you get watching the birds of prey as they pass over with such intention-as if you are somehow at the very heart of their migration-is something I have never experienced before.

Most migration seems to take place almost by magic. We don't see it happening, partly because so much of it goes on at night when we're fast asleep in warm beds; suddenly one morning the whole yard is covered in robins and everyone is griping about having to wash the car. But on Cadillac Mountain, at this unlikely spot about 200 yards down the North Ridge Trail, a snippet of the raptors' journey is visible, and on a good day, a flow of birds gives an inkling of the breadth and depth of movement involved.

There is more to it than just the passing of raptors, though. At 1530 feet, the rest of the island and Frenchman Bay and the Maine coast to the north spreads itself before you and invites your senses to drink it in. You feel the ancient upthrust of mountains, the polish of immense glacier on granite, the endurance of jack pine in the rhythms of weather and wind, the autumn color and passing migrants; the rock outlines of islands, the bar, the breakwater, all being lapped up by high tide. You are able to attune your smallness with measures of time in a community that is immeasurable…

Bring your binoculars, warm mittens and hats, and join us everyday (save for rain and heavy fog days) from 9am-2pm for some hawkwatching! -Renee Duncan

September 6, 2010

Why do they do it? Where do they go? How do they know how to get there? What stirs them to leave? Do they take the same routes every year? How far will they go in a day? We revisit these same questions year after year, in decades past and probably for decades to come. They are the questions that stem from the great mystery of animal migration. Lobsters, butterflies, caribou, sea turtles, whales, zebras, bats, and reindeer are some of the creatures that migrate, but perhaps most notable are the birds. Since 1995, Acadia National Park has held a Hawk Watch to observe the migrating birds of prey in efforts to supplement the fund of information working to unravel some of the aforementioned curiosities. The end of August snuck up on us, a brisk cold air has been whisked into the warm lull of our sweet summer nights, and the birds are on the move. At least they're trying to get a move on-it seems that since we started "hawkwatching" on the 22nd of August many of the predominant winds that we've been experiencing on top of Cadillac Mountain are from the west. For raptors following the coastline of Maine which veers west as they're heading south, headwinds from the west are not so helpful. We've had quite a few "slow" days, and yet we have already seen just under 300 migrants: 124 sharp- shinned hawks, 3 cooper's hawks, 2 red- tailed hawks, 34 broad- winged hawks, 16 northern harriers, 14 osprey, 20 merlins, 49 american kestrels, 5 bald eagles and 4 turkey vultures. We're especially surprised to have seen the migrating eagles and vultures this early in the season since usually these larger birds will wait until later in the fall to take wing. Might they know something that we do not? Only time and counting will tell. Hawk Watch is everyday (if weather allows) from 9am-2pm on the top of Cadillac Mountain about 200 yards down the North Ridge Trail. Join Us! Especially be on the look-out this week for the long streak of west and southwest winds to switch ones from the north. Then we should see a spectacular passing of all of the raptors that were smart enough not to fight the winds but instead wait for the right conditions to ride them. -Renee Duncan

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