October started out with a bang at the Cape May Hawkwatch sponsored by Swarovski Optik. We saw a healthy amount of NW winds, allowing the floodgates to open, and migrants to pour over the hawkwatch. Every day this week reached triple digit totals of raptors and three of those days even surpassed 1,000 raptors! October 3rd brought us a new season high of Broad-winged Hawks, with 127 counted. Despite hawkwatches further inland recording their Broad-winged Hawk peak numbers in the middle of September, it is not uncommon for Cape May to see its peak of Broad-wings in October. This week also brought us our new season high of Peregrine Falcons. Just like I predicted in last week’s post, the first week of October is prime time Peregrine Falcon migration, and once again, like clockwork, the Peregrines were right on time. Ahead of an impending cold front, 97 Peregrine Falcons raced through the skies on October 7th, setting a new season high. There are still a few days left in the Peregrine migration window and, who knows, maybe we will witness 100+ Peregrines in one day!
The largest flight of the week occurred on October 8th, when a cold front cleared the Cape May area the previous night. The NW winds ushered in over 1,427 Sharp-shinned Hawks, a new season high! The famous Cape May afternoon falcon flights was also in full effect when hundreds of American Kestrels and Merlins darted past the platform in the gorgeous afternoon light. American Kestrels also set a new season high of 1,176. When all was said and done a total of 3,846 hawks were counted on October 8th. Those are the days you dream of!
As we enter the heart of October, Sharp-shinned Hawk will become far and away the most numerous raptor tallied at the hawkwatch. This tiny raptor of the forest makes up approximately one third of the total raptors counted each season here in Cape May. Mid-October also offers the first opportunity for some visitors from the far north such as Golden Eagle and Northern Goshawk to grace us with their presence at the hawkwatch platform. So, come on and stop by and because you never know what you will see!
Sharp-shinned Hawks are the most common raptor seen from the hawkwatch, but can often be very hard to separate from its larger cousin the Cooper’s Hawk. Note the thin squared- off tail; full streaked belly; and small head. Photo by Tom Reed.
This week also produced its fair share of rare birds as well. They included a Common Raven, Western Kingbird, and thousands upon thousands of Pine Siskins. It is setting up to be a huge irruption of these northern finch species. In the non-avian department, Monarch butterflies have also been migrating past in huge numbers this week, with some days of over 1,000 seen from the hawkwatch.
A Monarch flight shot freezing the butterfly on it’s downstroke creating a seldom seen angle of this beautiful bug.
By Jesse Amesbury