Cape May Hawkwatch Update: September 24th to October 7th

The Cape May Hawkwatch, sponsored by Swarovski Optik, is already one third finished! Hard to believe the month of September is already in the books. A grand total of 8,827 raptors were tallied during the first month. To put that in perspective, the September average for the previous 5 years was 10,813. That puts 2021 a fair amount below average. However, by taking a closer look at individual species numbers, it is very easy to see why this year came in below par. Sharp-shinned Hawk totals were the lowest in history. In fact, it was the lowest Sharp-Shinned Hawk total by a wide margin. The previous record low was 1,727 in 2019. Typically, between two and four thousand Sharpies are seen each September, and historically even upwards of 10,000 were observed. Believe it or not, in 2021 we recorded a measly 665, a full thousand plus birds less than the record low. Are the Sharpies migrating later and later each year and we will not see those type of numbers until October? Only time will tell. September had plenty of bright spots, too. In fact, the 312 Bald Eagles were the highest September total in history! On September 30th, a whopping 60 Bald Eagles were counted which set a new single-day high count of Bald Eagles at the Cape May Hawkwatch!! Plus, the 19 Red-shouldered Hawks were the highest total in the last 30 years, and the 286 Northern Harrier were the highest total in the last 10 years. Overall, September was a fabulous month where the majority of species saw above average totals, but the dearth of Sharp-shinned Hawks definitely put a major dent in the grand total.

Bald Eagle numbers seem to increase every year thanks to conservation efforts and that certainly was evident this year with 2 record-breaking totals!

October is prime time in Cape May, the month with the highest totals and most diversity, the most anticipated month of the year. Unfortunately, the first week of the month was a bit underwhelming. We were plagued with warm and muggy days (dew points in the 60s) and winds out of the south and east. The conditions were not conducive to migration. However, the first 10 days of October are the peak of Peregrine Falcon migration, so even despite the less than optimal weather, we were still treated to some impressive Peregrine numbers including 43 on October 4th and October 6th. Otherwise, there weren’t any notable sightings during that week. It will only get better for all raptors as the month continues, so who knows what craziness we will see. Hopefully, the Sharp-shinned Hawks make a fashionably late entrance later this month. Check back here to see what transpired, or check each night to see the daily totals.

This juvenile Peregrine Falcon can be aged by its overall brownish color and vertical streaking on the belly versus the slate blue colored wings and the barring on the belly of an adult.

Non-raptors put on a good showing during this time frame as well. The first Pine Siskin of the fall was detected on September 29th. Approximately 11,000 Monarch butterflies were also seen migrating over the hawkwatch platform on the 29th. A Sandhill Crane put in a brief appearance on September 30th and again on October 1st. A Common Raven was observed on October 2nd. And finally, a Clay-colored Sparrow was seen on October 5th.

Becoming more and more regular, Common Ravens are now seen annually from the hawkwatch as their range expands southward. Their distinctive silhouette is always a highlight whenever I see one.

-Jesse Amesbury