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CAPE MAY HAWKWATCH UPDATE – Nov 20th to 30th

That’s all she wrote. The 2020 Cape May Hawkwatch, sponsored by Swarovski Optik, is officially finished and in the books. Stayed tuned to the end of this post for the full season total! The final 10 days of the count were what one would expect at this stage in the season. Migration is even more highly reliant on NW winds and abundant sunshine. And any movement is usually only visible during the middle chunk of the day when the temps are warmest and the sun is highest in the sky. All these factors came together on November 24th which was the highlight day during this final stretch. An incredible liftoff of buteos in the morning was a spectacular sight to see with about 80 hawks in the sky at once. Red-tailed hawks led the charge with 121 counted, followed by Red-shouldered Hawk with 79 counted, and even a single Broad-winged Hawk was detected. The third and final Northern Goshawk of the season was seen terrorizing the ducks on Bunker Pond before perching on the bunker!

The holy grail of hawkwatching, Northern Goshawks, make the frigid temps and blustery winds worth it, just to catch a glimpse of this northern beauty.

November 30th was the final day of the count, and it was a very 2020-esque day. Pouring rain in the morning and very gusty winds out of the south in the afternoon. I only counted 1 raptor, a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk. That one Cooper’s Hawk brought the season total to 31,595. A whopping 6,584 more raptors than last season. A total of 19 raptor species were observed this season, a bump up from 16 last season. One notable total was 635 Bald Eagles which represents the third highest total in count history.

Much to my enjoyment, we did crack 1,000 Northern Harriers this season; 1,013 to be exact.

The final leg of the season ended on a high note with multiple impressive non-raptors, too. A Common Raven made a brief appearance on November 20th. A Lapland Longspur flew overhead giving its rattle-like call on November 22nd. A flyby Western Kingbird was a welcome sight on November 23rd. A White-winged Crossbill flew past on November 26th. An American White Pelican glided across the sky on November 28th. A trio of Sandhill Cranes joined a kettle of vultures on November 29th. The hawkwatch platform was definitely the place to be during the final few days of November!

I wanted to take time again to thank the naturalists, Erik and Emily, for an amazing year on the platform. Their camaraderie made this unique season feel just like any other fall in Cape May. I also wanted to give a big thanks to all visitors who brought me snacks, hot chocolate, and conversations to make my life much more enjoyable on the platform. In a year where almost nothing felt normal, it was a bit of fresh air to be able to witness bird migration continue on like usual and made me feel grateful to have a job where I could soak that all in.

-Jesse Amesbury

New Jersey Audubon