Friday, September 30, 2005

After two very slow days here at the hawkwatch in Tlacotalpan Veracruz we finally get some action. Below I show a satellite image from Google Maps
(this interative satellite image site of Google is phenomenal!!)
I worked up a crude map to show you the direction of the migrating raptors as they flow over Tlacotalpan (where I am currently monitoring the raptor migration) I don´t suggest that all the raptors are flying over Tlacotalpan......but enough to make it worth watching.

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The morning was slow raptor wise......I was able to "digiscope" a couple of birds here in Plaza Doña Marta. (Below is a fledgling Green heron, there are two of them, I am able to see their antics on an off during the day.
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Tropical Kingbird that I was able to digiscope today. These guys are always hanging around during the day.
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At 13:30 a slow moving group (25) of Turkey Vultures appear over the Plaza.
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Finally! After two days of famine....a nice snack! (laughs)
Between 13:45 and 14:45 I got some Broad-winged hawk movement. (Yesterday here was zip for BW´s) Some nice lines/kettles overhead.
Today, the biggest line of Broad-winged hawks was 1,560.
In one hour´s time I am able to comfortably count 4,218 Broad-winged hawks.
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Broad-winged hawks were quite high today. Photo below shows the classic
flight profile of Broad-winged hawks in glide
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Today´s report
Tlacotalpan, Veracruz Mexico
Sept. 30, 2005
Count conducted from 10 am til 16:00
light winds from the NNE, hot and humid (rained most of last night) with high of 33C

Broad-winged hawks...........4,218
Turkey Vultures........................87
Peregrine falcon.........................11
Sharp-shinned hawk...................1
Cooper´s hawk.............................3
American kestrel..........................2


Resident raptors spotted...Black vulture, Lesser (yelow-headed) Savannah vulture, Northern caracara, Snail kite, Roadside hawk, Great Black hawk (sub-adult).

A solid day albeit a bit slow.........tomorrow should be better.

David McCauley
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Slow day here at the hawkwatch Sept. 29, 2005
Here is a satellite view at 16:00 We are kind of boxed in with some moisture to the north and south.
Tlacotalpan Veracruz
Sept. 29, 2005
Observation time 10:00a.m. til 4p.m. Hot 34C muggy, light breeze from NNE
first migratory raptor of the day appeared 12:11 pm (7) Mississippi kites)

Mississippi kites.........7
Cooper´s hawk............1
Peregrine falcon..........2
Zone-tailed hawk........1
Turkey Vulture...........4


There you have it.
Two slow days now.
I am hoping for some movement tomorrow.

David McCauley

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Rita´s effects felt here today.
September 28, 2005
Plaza Doña Marta
Tlacotlapan, Veracruz
I get up ready for hawkwatch. The imprints of yesterday´s migration are with me and I am ready for more of the same. I check the most current satellite image....things look good.
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I start observation at 9:30 am, The skies are mostly clear and conditions weatherwise are seem to be ideal for raptor migration.
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I stopped observation at 16:00....the results?

Broad-winged hawks........60
Turkey Vultures................15
Cooper´s hawk....................4
American kestrel................5
Peregrine falcon.................3
Hooked-billed kite.............1

After yesterday´s flood of raptors, 84,579..... (it was the most density I have ever witnessed and I have spent last 5 migration seasons in the Cardel/Chichicaxtle/Paso de Ovejas area)
Today was a pause...I surmise that it is the effect from hurricane Rita in Texas and Louisiana.
It would be nice to see a report from PRONATURA VERACRUZ as to what their counts were like.
But for some reason, for the past couple of years they share their data in December.
If anyone from Pronatura reads this, just remember....its nice to a timely fashion.
So thats it for today.
I was able to digiscope a Groove-billed ani that was here in the Plaza Doña Marta today as well as a dragonfly and a photo detail of a red tiled roof. Enjoy.
I look forward to tomorrow´s watch.
David McCauley

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I must admit I am a little nervous about making this post.....after a record day counting raptors here in Tlacotalpan on Sunday September 25, 2005 (59,005)
Yesterday was a rain rained steady most all day and most of the night.
I got up early and looked at satellite images and tried to see if conditions would be right to observe raptors. I headed for the hotel Reforma and set up shop and observed
from 10:30a.m. til 12:00p.m.

Image hosted by Things were slow......I scanned the sky for all I was worth...I had only observed 9 Broad-winged hawks.....1 Mississippi kite......6 Osprey........3 Turkey vultures, 1 Amercian kestrel and 1 Peregrine falcon.
By noon the sun was beating down pretty hard and having no shade I left the rooftop of the hotel and headed back to the Plaza Doña Marta (in front of my house which was 2 blocks away).
I scanned from 12:00p.m to 13:00 and nothing....I noticed that some dark clouds were beginning to move in from the northwest and thought that rain was reason things were so slow.
At 13:00 I pick up a forming "kettle" of Broad-wings, the flow coming into the "kettle" is 10 raptors wide, I count it easy 765. I resisted the temptation to take some photos as I wanted to give priority to the count.
I do a quick scan and pick up (what for me) is a monster line coming in from the NNW, ( I take a deep breath and tell myself...."you can do this".....) the breadth of the incoming line is at least 200! I get off 30 clicks on the line (6,000) I make a notation get back to business and spot another equal width line coming in behind the one that I had just counted. 200 wide....35 clicks and the line ends... 7,000 counted. I make the notation.
By this time the two groups had joined into a dark swirling cloud, as much as I wanted to watch the migratory magic I got back to business and scanned the sky.
I pick up a new incoming line 100 raptors wide....I scan the line to the horizon and the line has no end! I glance at my watch 13:20, get back to the front of the line and start to count ( the speed that they are moving is awesome! I am making a click about every 1.5 seconds, I constantly monitor the width of the line and it remains consistent.
The Broad-winged hawks are coming in quite low...I am able to see better without the aid of the binocular and continue the count without a this point the BW´s fill the sky......people walking on the street begin to make note and are shouting and pointing to the sky. Meanwhile the wind is moving the line I am counting further to the west......I walk to the west ( I continue counting) to keep the line clearly in sight.
Finally a break in the line.......the flow of raptors has stopped. I glance quickly at my watch 13:40.

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I had been clicking for 20 minutes without interruption! My clicker registered 813, even though I estimated the width of the twenty minute flow to be 100 raptors wide, I have chosen to use 85 wide just to be on the conservative side.
813 clicks X 85 = 69,105 raptors counted in a 20 minute period.
I get back to scanning the sky ......I pick up another line moving directly over the river Papaloapan...much smaller line 10 wide....163 clicks later I make a notation of 1,635 Broad-winged hawks...

The tempest has passed.....I pick up 37 more laggers/slackers.
The interesting thing is that I am so focused on the count that the numbers counted don´t register with me until later.
The sky is empty of Broad-winged a 40 minute period I have counted 84,542 southward bound Broad-winged hawks!
The curious thing is that after the fierce flow of raptors was as if someone had shut off the spigot.......the sky was nearly devoid of migratory birds for the rest of the day ( I picked up 16 more raptors from 14:00 to 16:30) I only saw a handful of swallows in the last 2.5 hours....very unusual! (Could this be the break created by hurricane Rita?)
Wow! The migration day is over, the dust has settled and I still have to pinch myself to believe it really happened.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the post I am a little nervous as I know there will be some naysayers and people with alot more counting experience than I have who may doubt my findings.......sobeit.
I only wish that there could have been hundreds of birders/hawkwatch enthusiasts here today to experience this marvel of nature!

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I am sitting back with a cold beer, reflecting on what has been one of the most special days of my life, the magnitude of the migratory energy has made me feel small and above all, grateful to have been a witness and participant in this incredible migration story.

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(this Sol is for you Chris year!)

Here is my report:
September 27, 2005
Tlacotalpan, Veracruz Mexico
10:30 am to 16:30 observation
Raptors coming in fron the NNW
Light winds from the NNE Temp. around 32 C
Broad-winged hawks.............84,551
Mississippi kite.............1
Turkey Vulture..........10
Sharp-shinned hawk........1
American Kestrel.........4
Peregrine falcon......3
Total for the day............84,579
Non-migrating raptor species observed Black vulture, Northen caracara, Snail kite, Lesser (yellow-headed) savannah vulture.

Keep your eyes to the sky,

David McCauley

Rain hampers raptor migration.
Monday September 26, it rained here in Tlacotlapan most of the day.

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Tues. Sept. 27, it rained most of early morning, am hoping it will clear up a bit in the afternoon.

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Monday, September 26, 2005

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Raptors in flight......poetry in motion.
Today was one of those days that I live for.
Over the past six years the last weeks of September and the first two weeks of October I travel to the northwest of the Port of Veracruz to Cardel/Chichicaxtle and Paso de Ovejas to observe the raptor migrations.
This year I decided to stay put here in Tlacotalpan and surrounding areas (55 miles to the south of Veracruz) and see if I could sort out the hawk migration as it passes through the vast tropical wetlands of central Veracruz.
For the past 20 days I have been going different spots along the the road between Tlacotalpan and Cosamaloapan (see map)
Up until Sunday Sept. 25th, I have made observations at 5 different locations and the results have been rather lackluster (by Veracruz standards). I did see nice movements of Mississippi Kites and the beginnings of the Broad-winged migration.
On saturday I was here in Tlacotalpan and not able to get out for the observation.
Saturday evening a friend here asked me if I had seen the hawks that came by. I started to ask some questions and he told me that he had seen several large groups come by. My curiosity was piqued.
I got up early on Sunday and decided to spend the bulk of the day observing right here in Tlacotalpan.
I walk 2 blocks from my house to the Hotel Reforma and walk up 4 flights of stairs to the rooftop. Here are some views View 1 View2 View3 View4
My first raptor sighting of the day was a resident Bat falcon perched on the radio atena atop the municipal building.Image hosted by
I watched with a keen fascination as the Bat falcon flew out from its perch 5 times in search of food. The bat falcons aerial abilities are awesome!
I expected to see the bat falcon come back with a swallow, to my surprise with each return to the perch it had captured a dragonfly. I knew that dragonflies were the mainstay for Missippi Kites but I had never seen a bat falcon "chow down" on dragonflies before.
I got settled down in my plastic chair (in the only patch of shade that I could find on the rooftop) and I scanned the sky from 9a.m. until 12:30.
I saw some small groups of "early lift" Broad-winged hawks in addition, groups of migrating anhinga, a Zone-tailed hawk, 10 Osprey, a resident Aplomado falcon, and several Lesser, Yellow-headed Savannah vultures (residents), a high flying female Snail kite and 1 White-tailed Kite.
From 9am until 12:30 p.m., I observed around 300 migrating raptors (274 BW)
At 12:30 I left the (then shadeless rooftop of the hotel) and headed two blocks away to my house located in front of plaza Doña Marta,
(for those of you who follow my ramblings here on the weblog, you will recognize Plaza Doña Marta as the home for my spring hawkwatch (114,000+ counted this year during the month of April)
OK, I rush home (I always rush when there are raptors in movement .....LOL!) get my self a nice cold coke and hunker down in the shade of that big tree you see in the photo of Plaza Doña Marta.
At approximately 12:55 I come across a forming "kettle" of Broad-winged hawks, I do a quick scan and see that this forming "kettle" is being fed by a massive line of Broad-winged hawks with a few Anhinga thrown in. The "kettle" that I had just spotted swells into a swirling mass of Broad-winged hawks!
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In order to count the hawks in the field of view of my binocular I put the image in Photshop and blow it up 300 percent there I place a yellow dot on each hawk. SEE PHOTO**Note on the photos: most of the above photos where taken using a technique called "binoscoping" I hand hold my digital camera (Sony Mavica 250CD to the eyepiece of my 8X42 binocular) its not an easy trick , and the results are far from crystal clear, but it gives you and idea as to what I am seeing.

Over the next 10 minutes, I count 36,800 Broad-winged hawks. (For those of you with some counting experience, the breadth (wingtip to wingtip) of the "line" or "stream" as the leave the "kettle" ranged from 20 to 200, I estimated an average of 75 to be on the conservative side. I registered 492 clicks in an 8 to 10 min. period.
491 X 75 = 36,825 This first big push (36,800+) was followed by four smaller "pushes" (10,338 -- 9,700--1,250--600), 58,688 raptors counted between 12:55 p.m and 14:00 !

Here is a summary of my observations for the day:
9:00a.m to 15:30 observation time

Broad-winged hawks....58, 962

Swainson´s hawks......2

Mississippi kites....6

Osprey ....10

Turkey Vultures.......14

Cooper´s hawk......3

Sharp-shinned hawk.....2


Peregrine falcon......2

American kestrel.....1

Northern harrier....1

Zone-tailed hawk....1

Total .......59,005

Well, thats it for the moment, I hope that I was able to communicate adequeately some of the hawkwatch from Tlacotalpan.

I want to add a special note of appreciation to Patty Waites Beasley and Crew of the Corpus Cristi hawkwatch....I appreciate all of your time and are my closest point of reference as to migrations from up north. I am glad to hear that you escaped hurricane Rita. Its a bummer that your festival had to be cancelled.

Keep up the good work and eyes to the sky!

And to Libby and Brock....Plaza Doña Marta says "Hi"

Friday, September 23, 2005

This is the point where I observed from yesterday (Sept.22) I am shaded by a huge mango tree. The light winds from the NNW create a rustling sound as it passes through the sugar cane. It is hot 32C - 90 F.
The raptor migration numbers were not high yesterday (235 counted in 5 hours) but the diversity of birds of prey (16 species) was well worth the time spent. Migratory raptors observed: Broad-winged hawk(79), Mississippi kite(136), Osprey (8), Turkey Vulture (11) Swainson´s hawk (1)
Non migratory raptors:
Black vulture, Roadside hawk, Northern Caracara, Snail kite, Great black hawk, White-tailed kite, Laughing falcon, Aplomado falcon, Lesser yellow-headed savannah vulture, Common black hawk and Black collared hawk. Its always a treat to see this type of diversity.

In addition to raptors observed I was able to observe 35 bird species in the patch of trees behind me. Great kiskadee, blue-gray tanager, yellow-winged tanager, Rufous-naped wren, vermilion flycatcher, melodious blackbird, wood stork, anhinga, eastern kingbird, buff-bellied hummingbird, aztec parakeet, white collared swift, social flycatcher, rufous-tailed hummingbird, ringed kingfisher, whit ibis, Ruddy ground-dove, plain chachalaca, groove-billed ani...........

A couple of men chopping wood nearby stopped to chat when they were done working and shared their "find " with me a scorpion that was underneath the bark of the dead tree that they were cutting up for firewood. (They had clipped the stinger off the point of the tail)
You never know what you are going to see on a hawk watch!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Greetings to All from central Veracruz, Mexico:
The 2005 hawkwatch is underway with the heaviest flows of migrating birds of prey yet to come. The Swallow-tailed kites and Mississippi kites have essentially moved through although MK continue to pass through.
This year I have had no takers on my fall raptor tours, so I am going to make the best of the situation and share with you some of my sightings, observations and notes as to raptor movements here in the tropical lowlands.


Photo of Broad-winged hawks