Big day at Hawk Ridge; another coming?

Just a quick heads-up. More than 5,000 raptors were counted at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory on Monday, according to Debbie Waters, education director at Hawk Ridge. That’s by far the largest count of the fall season. I didn’t get details of the account, but it’s safe to guess many of the hawks were broad-winged hawks or sharp-shins. Also, the first goshawk of the fall migration was observed Monday.

Strong westerly winds and good thermals made it a good day. Waters expects tomorrow to be even better, as west winds are forecast again.

West winds often make for good migration days at Hawk Ridge. The westerly winds push migrating hawks east, toward Lake Superior. Because the lake is cool and the birds have trouble getting lift over the cool water, they avoid flying over the lake. So, they follow the North Shore as far as Duluth — and Hawk Ridge — where they can clear the end of the lake and continue on south.

Prime hours for hawk-watching are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the warmest part of the day. If you have a chance Tuesday, swing by the ridge and see what’s happening. The main overlook is about 1 mile east of Glenwood Street on Skyline Parkway.

For more information, check out the Hawk Ridge website here.

A handful of hawk

Sebastian Zarkower, 6, of St. Paul, ponders a sharp-shinned hawk. (Sam Cook photo)

The west wind was pushing hawks toward Duluth’s Hawk Ridge on Sunday. Lots of folks were on hand to see a few kettles (spiraling groups) of broad-winged hawks, a few bald eagles and lots of sharp-shinned hawks. The banders captured many sharpshins, and naturalists brought them to the main overlook where visitors could get a close look at them.

The family of 6-year-old Sebastian Zarkower of St. Paul adopted one of the sharpshins for $20, so Sebastian got to release it. He carefully took it from a naturalist and held it for a few photos. It was an immature sharpshin, hatched just this year. At 3 months old, it was embarking on its first migration. Sebastian said he had some concern about holding the hawk.

“I felt like it was going to bite me almost,” he said.

At a count of three, he tossed it skyward and let go. The bird quickly lifted over the shrubs and small trees at Hawk Ridge and headed southwest.

“I thought it was going to dive-bomb,” Sebastian said.

Any day with a westerly wind is a good day to visit Hawk Ridge, and the peak of the migration is approaching. The main overlook one mile east of Glenwood Street on Skyline Parkway.

Broadwings beginning to build at Hawk Ridge

This broad-winged hawk, captured and banded at Hawk Ridge in 2006, is ready to be released. (News Tribune file)

The hawk count is building at Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve in Duluth, where 800 raptors were counted on Wednesday. The main overlook at Hawk Ridge is about one mile east of Glenwood Street on Skyline Parkway.

The count of broad-winged hawks hit 242 Wednesday. The number of broadwings typically peaks in mid-September, and each fall this species represents the bulk of migrants counted at Hawk Ridge. A total of 456 sharp-shinned hawks also passed over the ridge Wednesday.

Counters are also noting songbirds that pass over Hawk Ridge, and more than 4,500 of these flew over the ridge Wednesday, including 3,646 blue jays. The migration is on.

Broadwings often use thermals of warm air rising along Hawk Ridge to gain altitude before continuing southward. Here’s what count interpreter Eric Bruhnke had to say about kettles in his post today: “Kettles…are flocks of migrating raptors. When you see a distant kettle of raptors, the distant dark specks viewed are spiraling higher and higher in the sky. When the raptors reach the top of the thermals (where the thermals begin to dissipate into the cooler, upper air), they begin to stream away from the peak of the thermal and form straight lines of birds that stream southward. Side note… thermals are warm rising columns of air, created when the sun heats up the ground. Once the raptors hit another thermal, they begin to spiral upward again in another thermal, and it is through these series of ‘escalators’ and downward ‘elevators’ that raptors make these magnificent migrations happen! How cool is that?”

Mississippi kite observed at Hawk Ridge in Duluth

A Mississippi kite, like the one shown here, passed over Hawk Ridge in Duluth on Wednesday. This is only the 11th time that a Mississippi kite has been observed at Hawk Ridge. (Ohio Department of Natural Resources photo)

A Mississippi kite flew over Hawk Ridge at 1:45 p.m. Wednesday, just the 11th time that the species has been observed at the hawk migration station.

The bird appeared to be an adult, but it was extremely high as it came directly over the hawk platform, according to official counter Karl Bardon. The kite was viewed by Cameron Rutt, Andrew
Longtin, Aldo Raul Contreras Reyes and Bardon.

“It really was a perfect kite
day today — thousands of dragonflies in the air, a good flight of falcons (kestrels and merlins)
and persistent south to southwest winds during the last week.”

Considered rare in the upper Midwest, the Mississippi kite is usually found in the southern part of the United state. The species has become an “expected rarity” over Hawk Ridge, Bardon said. All kite records at the ridge have occurred between Aug. 30 and Sept. 15.

Other non-raptor sightings at the ridge on Wednesday included 47 white pelicans in a single flock, more than 1,500 warblers, 1,222 red-winged blackbirds and more than 1,800 bluejays.