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Cape May Hawkwatch End of Season Update – November 30th

Where did the season go? Hard to believe that the 2019 fall season is already over. Those three months flew by! Stay tuned to the end of this post for full season totals and stats.

Merlin doing its best impression of how fast the 2019 season flew past. Merlins are known for their speed, and one useful ID trick for this species is the fact that by the time you shout out the words ” incoming Merlin” it already flew past and is behind the platform!

The last chunk of November turned out to be fantastic. For the first time all season we had multiple strings of consecutive days with NW winds. November 13th-16th all boasted triple digit day totals each day and produced 4 more Golden Eagles during that span. A season high of 157 Red-tailed Hawks as well as a season high of 74 Red-shouldered Hawks were both recorded on November 13th.

Adult Red-tailed Hawks like this individual are the staple of late November flights in Cape May.

More NW winds on November 20th and 21st manufactured additional great flights with more diversity than expected this late in the season. On the 20th, 116 Sharp-shinned Hawks were tallied which is a very notable total for that date. The diversity was evident with a lingering Osprey on the 20th and all three falcon species on the 21st.

Fast forward a few days to November 24th, a dreary and cold day with winds gusting to 30mph out of the W, a jolt of excitement got all the dedicated visitors on our feet when a large accipiter went barreling through the dunes. Closer inspection revealed it was a Northern Goshawk. The first and only one of the season! It eventually made a second pass allowing for long extended views of this northern beauty as it flew over Bunker Pond terrorizing every bird in its path in typical Goshawk fashion.

Northern Goshawks, like this juvenile, are a holy grail for hawkwatchers in Cape May, and make the frigid temps and blustery wind all worth it.

We also had favorable migration conditions from November 28th-30th to close out the season on a great note. Those three days produced a total of 583 raptors which is a fantastic total for the last days of the season which often have very little migration. Buteos and both vulture species led the charge these days along with a late push of 25 Bald Eagles on the 28th. The last raptor counted this season was a Northern Harrier.

A kettle of Turkey Vultures gains elevation in a thermal until they are so high it seems like they are in the stratosphere before making the journey to points south.

The grand total for the 2019 fall season was 25,047 migrating birds of prey. This total is a bit below average. That speaks to the lack of cold fronts and above average temperatures throughout the first half of the season resulting in many raptors delaying their migration, or migrating further inland, away from the coast. Some of the highlights included 10 Golden Eagles, 1 Swainson’s Hawk, 4,870 Ospreys (2nd highest total in history), and 618 Bald Eagles (3rd highest total in history).

Intermediate morph Swainson’s Hawk from back on October 4th, my personal favorite moment of the season.

I also want to give a big thanks all the people who came to visit me on the platform to help me scan the skies, as well as bring food and hot drinks on the cold days, and all the camaraderie that helps makes Cape May such a special place.

– Jesse Amesbury

New Jersey Audubon