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 day...it 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 Photobucket.com 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 break.......at 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 hawks...................................in 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 today...it 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 Camberlain....next 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

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