“I have a kettle!”
On a hawk watch, few phrases have such an electrifying and immediate effect. Before the echo of the scream passes the hill, the counters are in position, their binoculars up and ready, and their clickers wrapped around eager fingers.
As the sky fills with falcons and other observers and visitors point their binoculars and spotting scopes at the incoming flight, the response is the same for all: admiration and deep appreciation for a true spectacle of nature, which is played on a large scale. annually at the Corpus Christi Hawk Watch at Hazel Bazemore County Park. I’ve been a surveillance coordinator there for 11 years.
Located along the Nueces River in the northwest corner of Corpus Christi, Texas, the site hosts the largest concentration of migrating raptors in the United States or Canada each fall.
The average number of 720,000 is more than three and a half times that of the second-largest hawk-watching site — enough for the author of a guide to hawk-watching in North America to classify it as a site world-class observation facility.
And since 30 species of diurnal raptors have been recorded at Hazel Bazemore over the years, the site can also be called more diverse.
Organized sightings on picket lines in and around the 77-acre park began in the mid-1970s. Volunteers conducted 10- to 14-day counts during peak season between 1988 and 1996, following protocols from the Hawk Migration Association of North America. HawkWatch International then began funding monitoring as a season-long raptor migration project, in an ongoing effort to monitor long-term population trends. The site is now staffed daily, except in the event of inclement weather, from August 15 to November 15.
More than 300 species of birds have been recorded in the park. Green jays, kiskadees, Couch’s flycatchers, buff-bellied hummingbirds and many other southern species surprise visitors, and the woods, river, pond and wetlands attract Neotropical migrants, ducks and shorebirds and the less common green and ringed kingfishers. Groove-billed anise and wood storks are highlights of the first half of the hawk-watching season.
The richness of birds is so great that veteran blocker Dane Ferrell was inspired to exclaim, “Hazel rocks! — and that was before construction of the park’s 1,700-square-foot falcon viewing platform, completed this year.
It sits on a cliff 93 feet above sea level. That might not seem high to you, but in this mostly sea-level part of Texas, elevation is considered territory where he’s bleeding from his nose.
In addition, the platform offers a 200 degree view to the north; it has water, electricity and Wi-Fi access; it deters annoying insects; and it provides shade and catches breezes to keep things cooler. (It’s cooler, not cooler.) Plus, there’s no bad seating in the house.
Hundreds of thousands
Hawk watchers at Hazel Bazemore in 2007 counted nearly 650,000 raptors, including over half a million Broad-winged Hawks. The eight species marked with an asterisk below have been found in record numbers.
Broadwing Hawk 569 838
Red-headed Vulture 46,505*
Mississippi Kite 27,286*
Sharp-shinned Falcon 1,725
Cooper’s Hawk 1,222
American Kestrel 851
Unknown species 419
Swainson’s Falcon 412
Black Vulture 309
Peregrine Falcon 247
Hen Harrier 224
Forked Tail Kite 168*
Red-tailed Hawk 122
White-tailed Hawk 33
22* Area Tail Nozzle
Red-shouldered Hawk 15
crested caracara 13
Bald Eagle 7*
Harris Hawk 7
Prairie Falcon 7
Aplomado Falcon 5*
Ferruginous Hawk 3
White-tailed Kite 1
Short-tailed Hawk 1
golden eagle 1
Total raptors 649,795
Source: Texas Hawk Watches
Each year’s migration follows a predictable pattern: the first three weeks, in August and early September, are for kites. The last three weeks of September are dominated by Broad-winged Hawks and Peak Migration. The first three weeks of October bring the most diversity (accipiters, falcons, Swainson’s Hawks), and the last three weeks are the time for two species of vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, and usually a few surprises.
Without a doubt, the maximum flight of the Broad-winged Hawk, North America’s largest migratory raptor, is what attracts most hawk enthusiasts to Hazel Bazemore. During the last eight days of September (September 23-30), the average number of broad-winged individuals exceeds half a million individuals, or 70 percent of the season total, and counts in a single day of more than 100,000 individuals are not uncommon, one to three times each. autumn.
A sky filled with migrating falcons is truly one of nature’s most spectacular sights. In 2004, a total of 520,267 single-day visits paved the way to the million mark for the season for the first (and only) time and put us in the company of just a handful of sites worldwide at have reached this milestone.
A Celebration of Flight, a free public festival featuring live raptor programs and expert talks, takes place during peak season each year. But the real stars are the raptors themselves.
Keep in mind that the actual peak day(s) may vary from year to year. Director of the Cape May Bird Observatory and Bird watching Editor Pete Dunne spoke at the inaugural celebration. On the first day, he was treated to a flight of 306,991 raptors, which was then an American single-day record. That’s the only time I’ve seen Pete at a loss for words!
The following year, however, became known as the Celebration of Fear. Fewer than 3,000 birds were counted in the first three days – more people than falcons – and on the fourth day a front came in. It was raining.
Of course, the next day, when few visitors were still present to observe it, we counted 231,277 birds of prey.
My favorite time of year is the first three weeks of October. Cold fronts bring cooler weather and strong northerly winds, and the raptors are just passing through. It’s Sharpie… Sharpie… Coop and Kestrel… Kestrel… Peregrine! The action starts early and lasts all day.
You can still count a few hundred to several thousand Broadies, but the huge diversity – up to 19 species in a day – is the draw. Record single-day counts during this period include 39 Ospreys, 60 Hen Harriers, 222 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 258 Cooper’s Hawks, 17 Red-shouldered Hawks, 8,756 Swainson’s Hawks, 184 American Kestrels and 37 Peregrine Falcons. Although we did not set an overall single-day record, we counted 55,066 Broad-winged Hawks, including 184 dusky morphs, on October 9, 1998.
Every monitoring site that monitors migrating raptors is important. Some sites do a superior job of monitoring eagles, accipiters or falcons, species that we do not count in significant numbers. Others have a much better idea of where their raptors are coming from, which gives them a better idea of the number of raptors per area. Hazel Bazemore is ideal for monitoring two species: the Mississippi kite and the swallow-tailed kite. Their numbers peak from August to early September.
In 1997 and 1998, our swallow-tail kite counts were seven and six, respectively. In 2006 and 2007, the numbers had increased to 99 and 168. Likewise, our Mississippi Kite average increased from 3,000 to 5,000 to 14,073 in 2006 and 27,382 in 2007.
The questions raised by the increases were so intriguing that we started monitoring last year on August 1, two weeks earlier than usual, to see if we were missing any significant part of the early kite migration. And wouldn’t you know? Two of my top 10 watch days were last season: August 24, when a group of nine swallowtail kites soaring on a thermal soared overhead, and August 31 , when I saw 12,261 Mississippi kites, more than I did. I had never seen in a single day. Our tally has beaten every two years but one.
Rarities and locals
The last week of October and the first two weeks of November bring thousands of vultures and a peak of Red-tailed Hawks. This is also when you are most likely to see the two species of eagles, Ferruginous Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk and Northern Goshawk.
Other rarities may appear at any time during the season. We only recorded black hawk and hook-billed kite once. Each occurred at the end of September, at the time of the peak of passage. Counters have counted the Aplomado Falcon six times (two falcons were spotted together last season), but the records have been scattered, as have our 11 Short-tailed Hawk sightings. We’ve counted the Area-Tailed Falcons 37 times in the first 10 years, but last season’s total of 22, another result from the start of the count two weeks earlier, came as an unexpected surprise to everyone. except for John Economidy, who served as surveillance coordinator for HMANA. for nine years. He had predicted it before the start of the season.
White-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks nest in or near the park and can be seen on any lookout day. A pair of White-tailed Hawks have nested successfully nine of the last ten years. Since our Red-shouldered Hawks belong to the subspecies Buteo lined jeans, we call them “Tex”. Adults and their offspring provide surveillance by alerting observers to the arrival of raptors.
Crested Caracara and Harris’s Hawk are often seen throughout the season. Many other species reside or become winter residents, including red-tailed vultures, snout-shinned vultures, Cooper’s hawks, osprey, harriers, and American kestrels.
Birds like this just add to my already long list of reasons to love Hazel Bazemore: wonderful volunteers, generous supporters, new facilities and hundreds of thousands of raptors. No wonder so many park visitors say, “Hazel rocks! »
Joel Simon is the surveillance coordinator and official observer for the Corpus Christi Hawk Watch at Hazel Bazemore Park, as well as a frequent raptor author and speaker. He has also worked as a tourist guide, ecotourism consultant, representative of a large optical company and field biologist.