This past week at Montclair Hawkwatch has been great for seeing raptors, as well as a variety of other migrants.
On the 22nd and 23rd, warm weather with limited winds increased all insect activity, including that of butterflies. Some monarchs flew southward mere inches above the platform, while others flew so high that visitors and I noticed them only while scanning the distance for raptors. Even as the wind picked up on the 24th, almost thirty monarchs passed through. The 25th brought a steady all-day stream of them, with just under 100 individuals flying over from 9:00 to 17:00. The following day, over 200 monarchs flew over in the morning, but their activity died down as winds and rain arrived in the afternoon.
Common nighthawks have also been a more regular sight. On the morning of the 19th, four individuals flew northward together over the platform, and circled back to the vicinity shortly thereafter. Unusually, several nighthawks made regular overhead appearances throughout the day, silently maneuvering after flying insects even in the middle of the day. I assumed they were the same four individuals I first spotted due to their circling flight patterns. On later days in the week, small groups were seen flying southward together in the mornings and late afternoons.
On the morning of the 25th, several notable migrant songbirds stopped in the trees of the grove in front of the hawkwatch platform. A Black-throated Blue Warbler and Palm Warbler offered fleeting but close views before disappearing into shrouding vegetation, and a Scarlet Tanager stopped by for a few minutes before flying across the ridge. Notably, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo has been lingering in this grove the past week. I have only seen it once, but hear it on a near daily basis making soft repetitive clucks from the trees.
In regard to raptors, American Kestrel and Sharp-shinned Hawk activity has increased noticeably. The Sharpies frequently appear overhead in their distinctive form of compact, flying mallets. On occasion, they glide low over the east and west sides of the platform, giving closeup views. The hawkwatch had 20 and 18 Sharpies on the 21st and 25th, respectively.
Unlike the Sharp-shinned hawks, the kestrels — more often than not — have been zooming over the platform with low, purposeful flight, and diverted onto a careening path by any unfortunate airborne insect close enough to warrant a detour. However, some are located circling high in thermals above the platform, or gliding from high altitude. Scanning around thermals being ridden by the easily-noticed Red-tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures often reveals a nearby kestrel or Sharpie also taking advantage of the free lift.
Ospreys and Bald Eagles have been the other most common migratory raptors at the viewing platform; at least a few have passed through daily this week. Broad-winged Hawks have not been as common, and those that have passed over have been flying quite low, in solitude.
Until next week!