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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

How to ID Migrating Hawks, Migration Is Now!

Broad-winged Hawk, adult. Has thick, black-and-white tail bands.

The hawks are coming! The hawks are coming! We're entering prime hawk migration time for birders in the northern and eastern half of the U.S. Some hawks, such as Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks, Merlins and American Kestrels, will move by flapping, but Broad-winged Hawks, an abundant migrant, travel by using rising thermals. Weather conditions of clear and sunny, with mild north or northwest winds, should produce ideal conditions for Broad-winged Hawk migration. The Hawk Migration Association of North America runs a large website where all the dates and numbers of migrating hawks are recorded. Go there to keep track of migration or to find a hawkwatch site in your area. Most of the Northeast hawkwatch sites will seen many Broad-winged Hawks this fall as well as many other raptors.

Here are some tips for watching hawks:

1. Prime Broad-winged Hawk migration in the North is Sept. 11 to 25, in the South (TX) it is Sept. 25th to Oct. 10.

2. Prime Sharp-shinned Hawk migration in the Northeast is Sept. 1 to Oct. 10, in the Mid-Atlantic States it is Sept. 10 to Oct. 20, in the West it is Sept. 11 to Oct. 31.

3. Hawks usually move most under sunny skies with mild northwest, north or northeast winds. Broad-winged Hawks require thermals to move.

4. Go hawk-watching at one of the many "official" hawk-watch sites here. Or find your own by going to a hill, mountain, or tall structure available to you that has good views to the north, because that is the direction the hawks are coming from.

5. Bring binoculars that are at 8 power, or even 10 power if you have them. Scan slowly back and forth across the sky at different heights to find the hawks. Most hawks will be fairly far away and some may look like specs. Learn hawk shapes at a distance to identify them. Many hawkwatchers also use spotting scopes to locate hawks.

6. Here's a brief look at the most common hawks you will see:

Broad-winged Hawk, adult

Broad-winged Hawk, juvenile

* Broad-winged Hawks. These are medium-sized hawks, 16" long, with broad wings, and soar together in groups. Look for the broad black-and-white tail bands seen on the adults, usually visible even at a distance. Juvenile Broad-winged Hawks have thin tail bands and dark streaking that is usually heaviest on the sides of the breast.

Red-tailed Hawk, juvenile

*Red-tailed Hawks migrate a bit later than Broad-winged Hawks and here in NH, we can see them all the way through Oct. or even later. People may confuse juvenile Broad-winged and Red-tailed Hawks. Note on this bird, the dark mark, called the patagial bar on the leading edge of the wings, a great clue, also the dark belly streaks form a "belly band" another great clue.

* Sharp-shinned Hawks. These are small, about Blue Jay-sized, 12" long, hawks in the accipiter group. They migrate mostly singly with flap-flap-flap glide flight and have short rounded wings and a somewhat long tail that has a squared end.

* Cooper's Hawks. These are extremely similar to Sharp-shinned Hawks, and are a tricky ID challenge, but are somewhat larger, 17" long, with a longer, rounded tail and larger, longer head and similar flight pattern.

* American Kestrels. These are a type of falcon. They are smaller than a Sharp-shinned Hawk, about 10 1/2" long, with pointed wings and a long tail and fly mainly with continuous flapping.

* Merlins. Very similar to a Kestrel but darker and larger, about 12" long. Has broad, pointed wings and a somewhat shorter tail than a Kestrel. Flies swiftly and strongly. See yesterday's blog entry for details on Merlin vs. Kestrel ID.

* Turkey Vultures. Very large, about 27" long, all black birds that constantly soar with their wings held in a V.

7. Keep track of your numbers and turn them in to your local bird or hawk-watching organization.

8. For more complete information on identifying hawks see our all new national photographic guide, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. It has 3,400 images and is the most complete photo guide available.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Wet Catbird Loving the Bird Bath!

Splish Splash, this Gray Catbird is loving our bird bath in this unseasonably warm weather here in southern NH and really getting into it, splashing and dunking its head underwater. This is the ideal bird bath in that it has a non-slip surface, a fountain to recycle the water (birds love fountains) and it is just the right depth. This is the time of year that birds are molting their feathers, they may also have feather mites, so a nice good cleaning is just what they're after. Provide them with a really good bird bath, some daiquiris and monogramed towels and they will line up!
See our Stokes Bird Gardening Book for more great tips on bringing birds to your yard.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are migrating, bye-bye!

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are still migrating through here in southern NH. Here's one I just photographed feeding at the Salvia Lady in Red blossoms in a planter on our deck. Note the whitish forehead, which is pollen from flowers.  Rubythroats help pollinate flowers by carrying this pollen from one plant to another. Keep your hummingbird feeders filled with fresh nectar, during this migration time and usually by mid-to-end of Sept. here, they will all be gone.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

1,234 Nighthawks in southern NH! Nighthawk migration in full swing!

Common Nighthawks

View from our deck

Nighthawk migration is in full swing here in southern NH and last night we counted 1,234 from our deck! These dramatic birds can be seen in numbers during their fall migration time. Watch for them at dusk especially along river corridors. They feed on flying insects and last night there were large numbers of flying ants dispersing into the sky. Such exciting birds!

Friday, August 15, 2014

New! Stokes Essential Pocket Guide to the Birds of North America, Coming Oct. 14th!

Announcing our new book, The Stokes Essential Pocket Guide to the Birds of North America. Available Oct. 14th. Covers 250 North American bird species with beautiful large photos and lots of identification information and more. Even tells which birds come to feeders. Perfect for beginning and intermediate bird watchers. Fits in your pocket, just grab it and some binos and start birding!

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Common Yellowthroats on the move!

Here's a young male Common Yellowthroat warbler in our garden. Look at his lower face and you can see a spot of black. He does not look like the adult male yet, but will when the rest of the black feathers of his bandit-like adult mask grow in. Look closely at Common Yellowthroats you see this fall and look for hints of black on their face, it will help you distinguish the young males from the females.
Young birds like this are newly independent and begin to wander. We are already seeing some warblers on the move here in NH and this morning we saw some Chestnut-sided and Black-throated Green warblers migrating through.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Black Guillemot, Yes! Very cute Alcid.

Black Guillemot, cute seabird off the coast of Acadia National Park

This is their habitat.

I had to climb out on the rocks and hope one would come closer.

I was in luck. Note their white underwing and top of wing.

They have red feet but who know they had a red bill!

After diving down this one caught a crab.

The white on the wings makes them visible from a distance.

Resting on the rocks.

Finally I got some photos of Black Guillemots after trying to photograph them a number of times when I have been to Acadia National Park, Mt. Desert Island, ME. Usually they are too far away to photograph, but this time one flew somewhat closer to the rocky shore. So I was thrilled but still had to climb out onto the rocky cliffs and my Canon SX 50 with its long zoom lens helped get the photo. Black Guillemots live in northern seas and breed in Maine, Alaska and along the coasts of Canada and Greenland. They forage for fish by diving underwater and can stay there for several minutes.
These are very cute little seabirds in the group known as Alcids. Alcids, which include Dovkie, murres, guillemots, murrelets, auklets, and puffins, spend most of their time at sea and breed on remote islands. Many have breeding and non-breeding plumages and the sexes look alike. Alcids use their wings to propel them during dives.