Date: 11/5/17 1:59 pm
From: Harry Armistead via va-bird <va-bird...>
Subject: [Va-bird] Kiptopeke hawk counts 1977-1985. (O.T.: Hydrogen bomb vs. Sooty Tern)

A few weeks ago Rudy Cashwell, on his own initiative, gave out 2 sets of copies of Kiptopeke hawkcount totals for 1977-1985. I appropriated one. This period was before there was continuous coverage by salaried, professional hawkcounters from Sept. 1 - Nov. 30 each year. Although the results have probably been analyzed in greater depth previously, that may have been a good while ago. It is worthwhile to look back over these pioneering years for the more interesting totals.

These years pre-dated the establishment of Kiptopeke State Park, and the building of the hawkwatch platform. Even when one considers that vultures were counted then (they aren’t now because they go back and forth so much, confusing the issue), some of these totals definitely underscore the importance of this place as a concentration point, as does William J. Rusling’s pioneering count in 1936. Throw out the vultures and at most the totals are diminished by a thousand or so, and only in the later years, much less in the earlier ones. In Rusling’s time black vultures were almost unknown hereabouts.

Some of these totals, seasonal or daily, grand or for individual species, surpass most of those attained in recent years, partially due to the then greater abundance of sharpies and kestrels. Others are way under modern times, partially because there are so many more peregrines, bald eagles, and Cooper’s hawks now. The greater presence of Cooper’s in urban areas is a fairly recent phenomena, much to the woe of some of the mourning doves in my Philadelphia yard.


1977: 11 days, Sept. 18-Oct. 31, 8,506 hawks (128 vultures). October 16, 1,780 sharpies, 40 harriers, grand total of 1,967. September 21, grand total of 1,568. Season total of only 28 Cooper’s, 0 bald eagles, 10 peregrines.

1978: 6 days, Sept. 16-Oct. 14, 2,047 hawks (33 vultures). September 30, 666 sharpies, grand total of 805 for the day.

1979: 8 days, Sept. 29-Oct. 21, 6,794 hawks (16 vultures, none of them black vultures). 1,967 sharpies and 2,048 hawks for the day, Sept. 29. 1,112 hawks on October 6, 1,380 on October 7. 453 kestrels on October 9. Season totals of 3 bald eagles, 36 Cooper’s, 36 peregrines.

1980: 12 days, Sept. 21-Oct. 26, 4,909 hawks (102 vultures). October 5 the only day with >1,000, with 2,238 birds, 1,779 of them sharpies, 242 kestrels. Next highest day was Oct. 11 with 567, 68 of them merlins. Season totals of 9 bald eagles, 29 Cooper’s, and 30 peregrines.

1981: 24 days, Sept. 1-Nov. 1, 9,780 hawks (976 vultures). Three days with > 1,000. 1,143 sharpies on September 22. Good buteo day October 7 with 580 broad-wingeds, 73 red-taileds (seems high, even if were November), and 4 red-shoulders. Cooper’s high was 96 on October 11. Kestrels peaked at 401 on September 12. Season totals: bald eagle 18, Cooper’s hawk 238 (96 on October 11), peregrine 58. Merlin high of just 38 on September 20.

1982: 23 days, Sept. 5-Oct. 31, 12,331 hawks (365 vultures). 3 days with > 2,000!! Another with 1,048. Sharpie high of 2,064 on September 25. 52 harriers on October 10 plus 670 kestrels. Season totals: bald eagle 23, peregrine 38, Cooper’s 143. On each of the 4 highest days - September 25 @ 2,420, October 2 @ 2,552, October 7 @ 1,048, and October 10 @ 2,244 - sharpie was the most abundant raptor.

1983: 35 days, Sept. 3-Nov. 19, 19,846 hawks (669 of them vultures). Six days with > 1,000, 3 of them with > 2,000. Birds that show big increases over these early years still scarce in 1983 as shown by season totals of bald eagle 28, Cooper’s hawk 142, and peregrine 49. Sharpie highs of 1,166 (September 28), 2,437 (October 3), 2,240 (October 4), 1,122 (October 9), and 2,081 (on the late date of October 22, though not late by Cape May standards, where “late” big counts of accipiters occur much more frequently than at Kiptopeke). The “best” day was October 3 with 2,582 birds, 2,437 of them the above-noted sharpies.

1984: 56 days, Sept. 1-Dec. 4, 28,497 hawks (1,163 vultures). An astounding 9 days with > 1,000, including October 6 with 4,860, 3,738 of them sharpies. Seven days with > 1,000 sharpies. Outstanding merlin days were September 25 with 130, and October 6 with 172. The 3 species I’ve highlighted above that were scarce then but in good numbers now, still that way in 1984: season totals of bald eagle 6 (hard to believe), Cooper’s 291, and peregrine 115. In later years occasional totals such as for these 3 in 1984 have sometimes been surpassed, or nearly so, in one hour, certainly in one day. Season totals of 19,823 sharpies and 4,109 kestrels.

1985: 49 days, Aug. 31-Nov. 26, 21,286 hawks (1,033 vultures). Six days with > 1,000. In recent times, in spite of increased coverage, there are years when only once or twice more than 1,000 hawks are counted. Back on these early counts numbers of sharpies were in their halcyon years, before they plummeted, and kestrels hadn’t begun their near catastrophic decline. 2,168 sharpies on September 26 and 1,519 as late as October 17. Kestrel high was1,090 on September 25. Best harrier day was 85 on September 25 also. Peregrine high a mere 25 on October 11. Season totals still anemic for bald eagle (16), Cooper’s (286), and peregrine (156). Highest day was September 26 with 2,715 raptors.

RARITIES: goshawks were only reported in 1981 (1), 1983 (2), and 1984 (8); golden eagles in 1983 (2) and 1985 (2); Mississippi kites in 1985 (3); rough-legged hawks 1985 (3).

ATTRIBUTION: some of the early counters include Bill Williams (especially), Fred Scott, Paul Baker, Paul McQuarry, Chris Foster, Tom Armour, Myriam Moore, Dot Silsby, Anne & Paul Smith, Ruth Beck, Bettye Fields, Dorothy Mitchell, Emily Moore, Bob Ake, Gisela Grimm, Charlie Hacker, Zelda Silverman, John Willis, Margaret Abbott, Charles Ziegenfus, Reese Lukei, Bruce Reid, et al.

COOPER’S HAWK: I’ve heard several say that the most misidentified hawk is the male Cooper’s Hawk. I agree. I’m not saying that the early counts had this problem, just that it does complicate things somewhat even today.

IN RECENT YEARS the seasonal number of hawks recorded here sometimes is around 20,000 or slightly higher. In 2017 because of the loopy weather, it will be much less. Commentary by Eric Bruhnke in the Peregrine observer 2017: journal of the Cape May Bird Observatory (256 pages, cf. p. 200, “Summary of the 2016 Cape May Hawkwatch") may be germane also for Kiptopeke: “ … The seasonal trends show that cold fronts are becoming a scarcer occurrence throughout the Cape May area. Unless this trend changes considerably, there is a likelihood that raptor numbers will not continue as robustly as they once have … “ Among the hundreds of fascinating facts and the many articles in the Peregrine observer: in 50 years of raptor banding at Cape May 148,969 hawks have been tagged (p. 215).

The current TPO is a treasure with articles on Black Rail, Ipswich Sparrow, winter raptor surveys, the fall hawk count, fall raptor banding, the fall morning watch for songbird migrants at Higbee’s Beach, the fall seabird watch, and fall owl banding. Mark Garland also summarizes the monitoring of monarchs (the 26th year was 2016), with 3,592 tagged; over the years a minimum of 58 have been recovered in Mexico (p. 198). Also featured is an 110-page summary with much analysis, thousands of records, and maximum counts for every species seen in the county in 2016. There is much else in this issue of TPO! I couldn’t put it down. However, the often-mentioned Springwatch is not explained. The Big Sit is not written up either.

One of the ways Cape May differs from Kiptopeke is in sometimes having big flights of accipiters well into October plus bigger numbers of red-tailed hawks. Kiptopeke sometimes surpasses Cape May in numbers of merlins and peregrines.

NORTHEAST WINDS. Kiptopeke has been plagued in some of the past few years by too many consecutive days with northeasterly winds, days in a row of these. But some of the best counts at Kiptopeke are when there ARE northeast winds, but a day or so following one or two days with northwest winds. The NW winds seem to blow many raptors over to the seaside of the peninsula, then they get blown over to Kiptopeke if winds change to the NE.

Even back in 1936 Rusling summarized the direction and magnitude of Kiptopeke hawk flights, the effects of wind direction, in the manner in which we largely understand them now. But mysteries still remain. The first professional hawk counter here, Brian Sullivan, once said to me: “This place is fickle.” October 2017 is one of the worst for raptors in many years with many days with consecutive northeast winds, or to a lesser extent northwest winds. At Cape May northwest winds make for good hawk flights, but at Kiptopeke these winds blow most of the birds over to the seaside.

HYDROGEN BOMB vs. SOOTY TERN [a little off topic, eh?] “ … millions of birds [mostly Sooty Terns] were blinded, shattered by the concussion, scorched by heat and fried by the electromagnetic pulse of the aerial bombs … “ cited on p. 24 of a new and excellent book, Birds of eastern Polynesia: a biogeographic atlas by Jean-Claude Thibault & Alice Cibois (Lynx, 2017, 438 pages). The above quote concerns the island of Kiritimati, used for such weapons tests by the UK & USA 1957-1962. The Line Reed Warbler was not completely exterminated there, but the Tuamotu Reed Warbler, present on other islands that were bombed, was. One of the phenomena described that is striking in this fine book are the descriptions of many other species that became extinct due to other human meddling: the introduction of non-native mammals, habitat destruction, etc.

Best to all. - Harry Armistead, Philadelphia.

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