Sunday, April 11, 2004

Report on the Spring hawk watch 2004 Tlacotalpan Veracruz
Plaza Dona Marta
Tlacotalpan Veracruz
April 10, 2004

This is my second year conducting the spring hawk watch here in Tlacotalpan. One of the most frequent question that am asked is WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS?
When I am sitting on the porch of the house alone, 90+ degrees, 95% humidity , hardly a breeze ,zero raptor movement, scanning the scorching hazy blue sky, "Why do you do this?" seems like a perfectly valid question. On last years count with no tally board or explanation of what I was doing, I am sure that many of the locals thought "Well, it looks as though the gringo has lost his mind completely", they were kind though, they would smile and wave as they passed by. I have to admit that at first glance there is something rather "Kafka" about the whole hawk watch scenario.<
OK so back to the "WHY" of the hawk watch. My justification for observing raptors in migration or even birding for that matter is about making a connection.
Let me give you an example, the other day 12:00 p.m. (hotter than the hubs of hades) I am relentlessly bino scanning the nearly cloudless sky and a catch a faint glimpse on the horizon of a swirling "kettle". I spring from my tlacotalpan stlye rocking chair (rocking chairs are great for hawk watches) and grab the scope. I focus in and instantly see that good things are cooking in the distance, a good sized group of migrating broad-winged hawks is about to make an appearance over the small plaza called Dona Marta in Tlacotalpan Veracruz. I make a quick mental check of my data entry sheet, temp. wind direction, make sure that the clicker counter is ready, I step inside the livingroom, sling the digital camera over my neck and am back to the scope. I now can see that there are three independent "kettles" in the same area.
Now this is the moment that I call "raptor anticipation", the adrenaline has kicked in and I am ready. I quickly scan with the binos to the east and I pick up a small (150-200) "kettle". When you are conducting a hawkwatch by your lonesome and you detect multiple "kettles" this is what I refer to as a "situation". I call into the house to my partner of 10 years who is a gifted painter, "Rafa VEN!" Rafael comes quickly out of his studio with binoculars in hand, (you see , the "Rafa VEN!" command is reserved for special raptor movement sightings and is used sparingly.) I point in the direction of the small "kettle" and instruct him to tell me when they "stream" or break into a line as they leave the thermal so I can count them.
With Rafael focused on the movement in the east I return to my first large kettle which is breaking and a line forming headed directly for the Plaza Dona Marta. I make a quick mental note that the approaching line is approx. 15 abreast. I am able to count the first group with individual rapid clicks. The line ends and a see a break of empty sky. A quick glance at the counter 523. I scan back to the horizon and with one kettle counted I discover that a new kettle has formed, I now have three more to deal with.
Note: when "kettles" break or start to "stream" a counter had better be paying attention as raptors in glide don't dawdle. I have timed the movements of a breaking stream if raptors on the distant horizon, from that point until they pass over head 35-45 seconds. Of course there a few hard and fast rules as to raptor movements as winds, temp. can change quickly.
OK back to the task, I am now looking at a fair sized kettle, (in Tlacotalpan Veracruz that means1,500 to 2,000) I quickly jot the last line count 523 on my scratch sheet and reset the counter. As my next "kettle" breaks I note that they are approximately 20 abreast, grouped closely together, as they move out I am carefully watching the movement , each click of the counter represents 20. I am clicking at the rate of about one click per second, when this line ends, I quickly glance at the counter 76, I make a notation 76X20 on the scratch pad. At the end of the hour I will do the math and get a total for the hour. What the 76X20 means is that in 76 seconds I counted 1,520 Broad-winged hawks!
The next kettle has already broken and is almost over the house! Quick. Regroup and get the count!................... Perhaps this will give you an idea of a good "push " of raptors at a hawk watch and counting them. On this day at one moment I counted 7 active "kettles" at one time in the sky. The end result this day, 90 minutes, 11,000+ raptors. There were moments where these lines or streams kettled again directly over the plaza, filling the sky with thousands of swirling Broad-winged hawks! So this is why I observe raptors. I think that is one of nature's most awesome spectacles.

Results for April 10th 2004
Turkey Vulture 86
Osprey 12
Mississippi Kites 101
Sharp-shinned hawk 8
Cooper's Hawk 3
Broad-winged hawk 2,300
Swainson's hawk 407
American Kestrel 13

Resident Crested Caracara passing over the plaza
turf dispute between social flycatcher and grey-breasted martin

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