CAPE MAY HAWKWATCH UPDATE – November 13th to19th

Wind was the name of the game this week at the Cape May Hawkwatch, sponsored by Swarovski Optik. Almost every day saw sustained winds at 20mph and even up to 30mph on a few occasions. The wind direction varied greatly making counting this week either very rewarding or very frustrating. But, that is the weather one expects in November in Cape May.

The cast of migrants this week were obvious signs of the season. Falcons are becoming few and far between, Ospreys are no longer being seen, and buteo numbers are steadily on the rise. November 14th saw favorable conditions for migration and produced 306 total raptors, a very respectable total for the date. Although, that was just a foreshadowing of things to come. Some of the highlights that day included a lingering group of 8 Broad-winged Hawks, 26 Northern Harriers, and at the time, a new season high of 43 Red-shouldered Hawks.

As I mentioned in last week’s post. We are closing in 1,000 Northern Harriers counted this season. The current totals sits at 986. With 10 more days remaining in the count period, I am liking our chances to reach that milestone.

Fast forward a few days to November 18th. The weather in between the 14th and 18th consisted of vicious westerly winds, but curiously, not many raptors were counted. Looking back, it seems like those birds were just taking their time migrating from the areas far north of Cape May. It wasn’t until the 18th when those birds all arrived by the boatload in Cape May. Raptors were in the air from sunrise to sunset. A new season high was set for Red-shouldered Hawks with 145 and Red-tailed Hawks with 408. When all was said and done, a staggering 1,082 raptors were counted on November 18th. The last day with over 1,000 raptors in November was 11/06/2016. However, the biggest highlight of the day was the 19th species of raptor observed from the hawkwatch this season, a juvenile dark morph Swainson’s Hawk. Thankfully, this bird made multiple loops around Cape Island allowing for many people to see this Western stray at close range.

Aside from South Florida, Cape May continues to be the premier location on the East Coast to witness this denizen of Western North America in migration. Swainson’s Hawks come in a light morph and a dark morph. This beauty is a dark morph. (Photo by Tom Johnson)

November is often known as rarity month in Cape May, and it was living up to that hype this week. Some non-raptor surprises included an Ash-throated Flycatcher, Common Redpoll, and a flock of 56 (not a typo) White Ibis. That total represents the highest count of White Ibis ever seen in New Jersey at one time!

By Jesse Amesbury