by Dan Casey

Sharp-shinned Hawk – Photo Credit: BJ Worth

As I write this, four inches of snow blankets our Somers yard. Those glorious sunny days of early October are gone, and with them, the chance to sit on the ridge top and count passing Golden Eagles. Bj Worth braved an icy road and 16 inches of snow on the ridge on October 15th to count 10 passing birds, our 40th and final survey. We have tallied our final raptors for  the 2020 count.

And what a season it was! Our total count of 3,088 made this our third best season ever, and we had our two best days ever, including a remarkable 595 birds counted on 21 September, when we set new one-day high count totals for Sharp-shinned Hawks (351), Cooper’s Hawks (132), Red-tailed Hawks (61), and Broad-winged Hawks (21). We average more than one bird per minute all day, and one bird every 23 seconds during our best hour (161 birds).Two days later, another 390 birds were counted.

Our species totals were as follows; those in bold are new season-long record counts:

Turkey Vulture1
Bald Eagle65
Northern Harrier38
Sharp-shinned Hawk1548
Cooper’s Hawk467
Northern Goshawk36
Unidentified Accipiter41
Broad-winged Hawk43
Swainson’s Hawk1
Rough-legged Hawk17
Red-tailed Hawk17
Unidentified Buteo15
Golden Eagle324
American Kestrel87
Peregrine Falcon14
Prairie Falcon17
Unidentified Falcon6
Unidentified Eagle2
Unidentified Raptor19
Total Counted3088

As always, our success depended on a large number of Flathead Audubon members and others who volunteered their time to help spot and tally passing birds. A special thank you goes out to the 11 people who joined me by serving as primary observers for at least one day: bj Worth, Joshua Covill, Rod Wallette, Barbara Summer, Nicki Derue, Diane Lundgren, Denny Olson, Amy Seaman, Lisa Bate, Kathy Ross, and Bo Crees. Additional kudos to both BJ and Barbara, who have each now logged more than 100 days as primary observer over the history of our surveys!

We have now counted 32,767 raptors over 13 seasons at the Jewel Basin site. This year we recorded out 15,000th Sharp-shinned Hawk, our 20,000th Accipiter, and our 5,000th Golden Eagle. These data are combined with data from other sites across the West to give insight into long-term trends in raptor populations. Our annual report, due this winter, will summarize these trends for our site. But perhaps the greatest value of this effort is combination of exercise, aesthetics, and camaraderie that a day on the ridge can provide. I, for one, will always treasure those amazing days in September spent with friends, awestruck by the spectacle of migration. If there was ever a year where such a diversion was most welcomed, 2020 was it.