Ray Little—charter member of the Mid-Coast Texas Master Naturalist chapter and birder extraordinaire who is recognized by birders all over the world—has long maintained that the best day each fall to attend a hawkwatch is his birthday. To check out this claim, we met him at Hazel Bazemore County Park on his 97th birthday this week.
Ten official counters and observers occupied the platform, spotting rising kettles of migrating hawks and counting individual birds as they streamed out of thermals and headed south for the winter. The rest of us—secondary observers—stayed back in the shade and out of their way.
The Official Report for the Day
Weather: The day started with clear skies and a slight NW wind. Quickly the thermals picked up and by 10:30 we had excellent thermals developing and 50% cloud cover of cumulus. Cumulus clouds dominated skies all day as temperatures reached 31 degrees C. Around 5 pm the wind shifted from a NW direction to a straight north direction and the clouds fell away.
Raptor Notes: We didn’t have much of a lift-off this morning, but we did count 5 Northern Harriers in the first couple of hours. In the third hour of the day, we saw our first Bald Eagle (BAEA) of the season—a fairly close immature bird that we spotted to the north—this would be the first of FOUR BAEA counted today (1 juvenile, 1 unknown age, 1 adult, and 1 that was not an adult, but somewhere between a juvenile and a subadult). Numbers stayed low, but consistent through the morning until about 15:30 when the Broad-winged Hawks started to stream and we counted over 20,000 within a couple of hours, including 7 dark morphs. During the 15:00 hour, we also counted our second Aplomado Falcon for the season that was far in the west, spotted by Don Gillespie. The other counters weren’t able to see the APFA because of large, continuous streams of BWHAs that needed to be counted, but Dane was able to ID it and watch it continue southwest. Another big bird of the 15:00 hour was our 4th Golden Eagle for the season. This bird was spotted by Dane in the west and all the official counters were able to watch this large, adult eagle fly into a kettle of Broad-winged hawks and make them look miniature-sized as it parted the small, thermaling buteos. The GOEA continued southwest after breaking up the BWHA kettle. We had Broad-winged hawks taking advantage of the beautiful weather late into the day with a surge of Sharp-shinned hawks until 19:00.
Non-raptor Notes: Large numbers of Chimney swifts and swallows of all kinds continue to push through in good numbers. We saw lots of Wood Storks today with our first Sandhill Crane for the season, coming in unseasonably early.
Bottom Line: It’s not too late to check out the best hawkwatch in the country!