29 October 2010

Hawkwatch Continues at Hitchcock Nature Center

The annual hawk watch at the Hitchcock Nature Center continues its daily counts of migratory raptors along the Missouri River valley.

With strong northerly winds for the past few days, there had been several reports of peak numbers of raptors being counted each day. Notes on migratory flocks of other birds were also kept.

Recent counts made by the "official counter" and observers have been: October 28th – 197 including Red-tailed Hawks (mostly), October 27 – 316 and on the 26th- 451, according to daily reports at the Hawk Migration Association of North America website. The previous day, only five migrating raptors were recorded.

Among the typical species at this time during the season, are numerous Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks.

During a visit to the hawk watch on October 28th, Loren and Babs Padelford were excited to have seen an Osprey attack a Golden Eagle. This was their first outing to the hawk watch, "though we had been trying to get here before."

View of the Missouri River valley, looking westward from the platform of the observation tower. October 28, 2010.

Loren and Babs Padelford, at the Hitchcock Nature Center.

Clem Klaphake was an observer, helping the official counter, Ryan Evans.

Klaphake has been a volunteer since the latter 1990s, and helps once a week, if not more often. Though he was present Thursday, he will be watching raptors this coming Saturday, not football, he said.

"Big days are when birds are going past in almost constant waves," He said. "On some days, there are kettles of Broad-winged or Swainson’s Hawk going past. These two species usually past through based on the time of the migration season. Species such as the Red-tailed Hawk have movements which are influenced more by weather conditions."

"This hawk count site is known for the number of species that have been recorded," Klaphake said. "We get eastern ‘broad-wings’ and western ‘Swainson’s'."

One of the more notable species he mentioned was the Mississippi Kite. "This bird is not known to nest north of here, so seeing them moving site is unusual," adding that they are known to nest eastward at Des Moines, IA, and to the west at Ogallala, NE.

Clem Klaphake, Ryan Evans and Phil Swanson at the hawk watch.

Clem Klaphake, volunteer at the Hitchcock Hawk Watch.

The count for the season is currently approaching 10,000, representing more than twenty species, according to count summaries at the hawk count website.

"Usually about 10-12,000 are seen each season," Klaphake said.

The count will continue until December 20, when weather conditions "can get pretty tough," Klaphake said, especially when there is a stiff northwest wind.

The Padelfords were the first to conduct the hawk counts from this site on the loess hills, they said, having started the effort in 1992. They watched each day of the migration season, through 1995.

The vantage point then was the west side of the nature center, rather than the 45-foot tower with a viewing platform that for the past five years provides a view of the river valley, and across the loess hills to the east.

Mark Orsag, upon his arrival from Pennsylvania, restarted the watch in 1998, and by 1999, a group of volunteers had gotten involved, and continue to help, according to a site history available online. The Pottawattamie County Conservation Board has provided important funding.

A map to the area near Honey Creek Iowa, is also available at the hawk count website, which features count results from member sites around the United States.