By Dan Casey
This fall season marks the 9th year of full-time surveys at the Jewel Basin Hawk Watch, and the second year with Flathead Audubon as the primary sponsor of the effort. Thursday, Oct. 13th marked the 31st survey of the 2016 season, bringing us to 2,417 birds counted. We were on a record pace through the end of September, but the frequent storms in early October put a damper (dampness?) on things. We can only hope that a break in the weather will let us experience the Golden Eagle migration that characterizes the late season flight, and help us reach or exceed our 8-yr average of 2,618 raptors per season.
Regardless of how the season ends, we did reach several benchmarks this fall. This was only the second time that we have had four days with >200 birds counted. The first was Sept. 16th (210); the peak of the flight was three consecutive days late in the month (Sept. 25th – 27th), when observers counted 255, 244, and 294 birds, respectively. The latter was our fourth best day ever at the Jewel Basin. Our season-long passage rate (through Oct 13th) of 12.8 birds/hr is our highest to date. We have counted above-average numbers of Cooper’s Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks, and Prairie Falcons this year, including new one-day high counts of 71 Cooper’s Hawks and 11 Broad-wingeds. And we have now recorded >10,000 Sharp-shinned Hawks, >15,000 Accipiters, and >1,000 falcons over the nine years of surveys.
Of course, all of this would not be possible if not for the continued efforts and dedication of the few paid observers and many volunteers. A total of 28 people have served as “primary observers” over the years, and this year BJ Worth surpassed Jewel Basin Hawk Watch founder Dan Casey as the all-time leader in surveys conducted, with 75 since 2008. And Barbara Summer, who first served as a primary observer in 2010, is close behind (72). Dan, Diane Lundgren, Kathy Ross and Lisa Bate also served as primary observers (through Oct 13th), and no fewer than 44 other people assisted during 2016 surveys.
The table below summarizes the totals from the first 30 surveys of the 2016 season. We will include a final season summary in the December Pileated Post.