Wednesday, November 05, 2008

2008 Hawk & Owl season totals

(Thanks to Kyle for pulling this info together & authoring this post ....)

Hey all,

Just a quick sum up of the 2008 hawkwatch and owl banding programs, which ended on the 31st and 28th of October respectively. For those of you who just want the numbers, they are found at the end of this post.

The hawkwatching season ended on a pretty slow note, with daily totals for 9 of the last 21 days of the count in the single digits, and a peak daily flight in that 3 week period of only 32 birds. While the overall numbers for the count were less than 100 birds shy of the long term average, a majority of these birds were Turkey Vultures. In fact, Turkey Vultures had a record breaking year in 2008, with the total of 2069 of the large, dark birds counted being almost double their long term average at the site. The other four species that normally compose the bulk of the count (Red-tailed Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and American Kestrel) were all well below their historical averages. It should be noted that the 2008 Kestrel total of 821 individuals is a huge rebound from the past two years when the species’ numbers did not break 600, and the 2008 Kestrel count is about 80 birds above the average for the five year period from 2004-2008 for the site, all good signs for the small falcon that has conservationists so concerned.

While those species that are usually most common at Lucky Peak had a poor year, it was a decent year for ‘glamour’ birds. 2008 saw Lucky Peak’s second highest count of Golden Eagles (72), the third highest counts for Broad-winged (28) and Rough-legged Hawks (8), and the fourth highest count of Swainson’s Hawks (93). The glamour bird that did not keep with this trend was the Northern Goshawk, with only 12 of the large Accipiters headed south past Lucky Peak, well below the previous low count for the species of 22 and even further below the 14 year average of 41.

An adult, light Broad-winged Hawk photographed on 9-15-08 by Jake Schas.

Of course, the counters were able to add a new species to the count, the hatch-year Gyrfalcon who flew southwest after being trapped on October 11th, but the number of species counted this year remains the same 18 that it is in most years, with Ferruginous Hawks being completely missed. While Lucky Peak counts for this Buteo have never topped 6 individuals per season, 2008 was only the third year in which the species was missed entirely.

While the hawk flight was a mixed bag in 2008, the owl banders had a stellar year. A new record for Flammulated Owls was set with the 62 birds captured besting the previous high for the site by 11 individuals. Northern Saw-whet Owls also had a good year, with the total of 178 new Saw-whets banded being second highest in numbers only to 1999’s irruption year (when 848 were banded). Two other owl species were captured and banded in 2008: a single Western Screech-owl and two Long-eared Owls. Great-horned Owls were also heard on most evenings, and while this was the first year in IBO’s history where Northern Pygmy Owls were not caught in either owl or songbird nets, a handful of the little predators were heard on various occasions throughout the latter part of the season.

A Flammulated Owl (after being banded); photographed on 9-4-08 by Kaia Colestock.

Okay, so as promised, here are the 2008 raptor numbers:

Migrating raptors seen on Hawkwatch in 491.5 hours of observation between 25 August and 31 October, 2008:

Turkey Vulture – 2069
Bald Eagle – 7
Osprey – 54
Northern Harrier – 170
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 914
Cooper’s Hawk – 532
Northern Goshawk – 12
Red-shouldered Hawk – 1
Rough-legged Hawk – 8
Broad-winged Hawk – 28
Swainson’s Hawk – 93
Red-tailed Hawk – 760
Golden Eagle – 72
American Kestrel – 821
Merlin – 32
Peregrine Falcon – 6
Prairie Flacon – 6
Gyrfalcon – 1
Total – 5844

(for those of you doing the math, the overall total included a number of unidentified raptors)

Owls Banded at Lucky Peak between 28 August and 28 October, 2008:

Flammulated Owl – 62
Northern Saw-whet Owl – 178
Long-eared Owl – 2
Western Screech-owl – 1

Thanks for an awesome season to all who helped with all projects at Lucky Peak, and be sure to head up the hill next year for more fun and excitement while observing fall migration!

Kyle Wright

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Songbird season totals (& raptor update)

We finished up the songbird migration season on Wednesday, October 15 and I just finished tallying up the #s. We captured a total of 5,158 birds of 56 species. Though this is certainly an impressive number, it's actually our lowest capture total since 2003 and the capture rate (birds per netting effort) is a bit lower than the long-term average. Much of this can be attributed to lower-than-average seasons for Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Dark-eyed Junco - our two most frequently-captured species over the duration of the migration study. On the other hand, we experienced a HUGE year for Yellow-rumped Warblers (more than double the long-term average and, by far, a new record) that included a record 9 of the 'Myrtle' subspecies (we had never caught more than 2 in a season before!).

Our top ten were:
  • 1) Ruby-crowned Kinglet 797
  • 2) Yellow-rumped Warbler 632
  • 3) White-crowned Sparrow 458
  • 4) Dark-eyed Junco 334
  • 5) MacGillivray's Warbler 274
  • 6) Dusky Flycatcher 254
  • 6) Nashville Warbler 254
  • 8) Western Tanager 253
  • 9) Chipping Sparrow 245
  • 10) Yellow Warbler 221

The only new species to grace our nets this year was a Varied Thrush captured on October 13. This is a species that I observe one or a few of in most years at Lucky Peak during late September and/or early October but we just hadn't caught one before. Given that Varied Thrushes are known to consume fruit and our nets are placed among fruiting shrubs, I've been a little surprised to have not caught one yet. On the other hand, our nets are more designed for the smaller songbirds and many robin-sized birds likely escape ....

Immature male Varied Thrush (photo by Kaia Colestock)

Other highlights from the season included a Blackburnian Warbler (Sept 2 - our 3rd ever at Lucky Peak and a 6th state record), an American Redstart (Sept 14), a Magnolia Warbler (Sept 21 - only our second at Lucky Peak), 2 Golden-crowned Sparrows, and 2 Broad-tailed Hummingbirds (only the 2nd & 3rd we've ever caught).

On October 9 we captured our second Savannah Sparrow of the season (and only our 9th in 12 years - see below). It looks like one of the darkest subspecies and, in some ways, resembles a Lincoln's Sparrow.

Savannah Sparrow on 10-9-08 (photo by Mike McDonald)

In contrast, check out the Savannah Sparrow we captured on 9-18-08 (photo by Jake Schas) - note that the lighting is different in each photo but, notwithstanding, there is a noticeable difference in coloration (& if you click on each photo, you can get a better look at each bird)

In other news, the diurnal raptor flight has really slowed down since the big storm of Oct 10-11. Even though the raptor #s tend to be lower from Oct 10 on in each season, we usually see some decent flights (50-100 birds/day) on good weather days and the numbers this year are much lower than usual for this time of year. That said, this is the time of year when we see some 'sexy' species or subspecies including Rough-legged Hawks, Harlan's race of Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Goshawk, and Merlin.

The owl crew is still catching a handful of Northern Saw-whet Owls and we did have a record year for Flammulated Owls (at least 60).

I will post final tallies for the raptors after the season finishes on Oct 31.



Saturday, October 11, 2008


My apologies for the long delay between posts ... migration has continued in full swing for songbirds, owls, and hawks and I'll try to post more details soon.

BUT, the big news is that today during hawk-trapping, I was fortunate enough to capture and band an immature gray phase Gyrfalcon at Lucky Peak. This is the first we have ever seen or captured during the 14+ seasons of raptor monitoring in the Boise Foothills. Thus, it was a pretty special experience to watch the bird for a few minutes as it worked through the trapping station before finally getting captured! The early date is also amazing as it seems that late October/early November are when migrants tend to arrive to this region. Presumably the strong cold front (see snow in background) has something to do with it.

The bird was in fantastic shape (weighed over 1600 grams) and was last seen flying W over Boise so keep your eyes peeled!

In other news, winter finches are around in big #s - esp. including Evening Grosbeaks and, lately, Red Crossbills. There have even been a couple sightings of apparent Common Redpolls (seems early too) that I have yet to see or hear ... hopefully soon.

OK, more soon ... enjoy the few pics below .... (in case you're wondering, the blood on my finger is mine - not the bird's - from where it punctured my finger with it's very sharp bill!).



Friday, September 26, 2008

HUGE raptor flight at Lucky Peak today!

Kyle left me a message saying that the hawkwatchers counted 895 raptors and vultures heading S past Lucky Peak today!! If my memory serves correctly, this is a 1-day record for the site and this makes close to 2000 counted in the last 4 days! Highlights from today included ~650 Turkey Vultures and 5 Broad-winged Hawks (including a dark-morph adult).

With a long stretch of nice weather forecasted, it will be interesting to see if these great flights continue!


Lucky Peak migration update & Magnolia Warbler

Hi Folks

We've had a run of busy days since last weekend's storm front. In particular, yesterday (Thurs, Sep 25) was likely the biggest combined songbird & raptor movement of the season. In addition to hundreds of raptors and Turkey Vultures, the hawkwatchers estimated 600+ American Robins as well as numerous finches (including increasing numbers of Evening Grosbeaks and Cassin's Finches), swallows, bluebirds, etc. Our songbird captures were dominated by Yellow-rumped Warblers (including one of the 'Myrtle' subspecies - Harry Krueger also saw a Myrtle at Kathryn Albertson Park in Boise yesterday) as well as RC Kinglets and WC Sparrows. A single Golden-crowned Sparrow was seen today.

This late Sept/early Oct period is often characterized by great raptor diversity (with maybe a chance for the season's last Broad-winged Hawk or a rare Red-shouldered as well as increasing chances of seeing Merlins and N Goshawks) and the highest songbird abundance of the season. This has also been a time in which we sometimes see/hear Blue Jays, Varied Thrushes, and other rarer visitors.

Thus, while it's great up there all season, the next 10 days or so (weather pending) are some of the best days to enjoy migration at Lucky Peak.

Also, we captured a rare Magnolia Warbler on Sunday, Sept 21 - this was our 2nd in 12 years of work at Lucky Peak (though I gather it occurs a little more frequently in E Idaho - esp. at migrant traps like Camas NWR). The below picture is not great (I'm not a photographer by trade ;-) but other folks took much better shots.



Wednesday, September 03, 2008

IBO publications on our website

For anyone (whether you've visited Lucky Peak or not) with an interest in some of the details of bird migration and the research we've conducted, I encourage you to visit the 'publications' page of our website:

All are available as PDF files and we've recently added a few new ones, including:

(1) final (annual) reports from our Lucky Peak and Camas NWR projects,
(2) a link to an Alaska Bird Observatory newsletter article discussing a bird banded in Denali NP that we captured at Camas NWR, and
(3) several new journal articles (use the 'More' link at the bottom of the page to access more journal articles)

As a timely example, we've recently added an article published in 2007 entitled, "Status of Broad-winged (Buteo platypterus) and Red-shouldered Hawks (B. lineatus) during autumn migration in southwestern Idaho, 1995-2006." This article includes photos and a table showing timing of all Broad-winged Hawk sightings at Lucky Peak over a 12-year period.

Of course, nothing beats seeing the migration spectacle in person but I thought some of you might enjoy seeing some of the written fruits of our efforts.



Blackburnian Warbler 9-2-08

On our closing net run on Tuesday, Sept 2, we captured an immature Blackburnian Warbler! Here are 4 pictures of the bird (click on photos for enlarged versions/greater detail):

For comparison, here's a shot of an immature female Townsend's Warbler (taken by Bob Whitlach in 2007):

Key features that helped in the ID of the Blackburnian (especially in separation from Townsend's Warblers which have similar patterning but different colors) include:

- brownish-gray cast to upperparts and head (greenish on Townsend's)

- orangy-yellow on chest and facial stripes (more pure yellow on

- slight hint of a pale central crown stripe (seen on picture #4)

According to the list on, it looks like this is the 6th report for this species in the state. This is the 3rd we have captured at Lucky Peak: 9-2-01 (1st state record), 9-7-05, and 9-2-08. Thus, looks like a pretty tight window in early Sept (similar to when we have captured some other eastern/northern vagrant warblers).

We also captured our first White-crowned Sparrow and Cedar Waxwing of the season yesterday - thus, 3 new species for the season in one day!



Songbird Migration mid-season update (Lucky Peak)

Hi Folks

On Sunday evening I added up the season totals for our songbird captures through Aug 31 - which is the mid-point of our season.

Totals so far (July 16 through Aug 31):

2487 birds of 43 species

1) Nashville Warbler 240
2) MacGillivray's Warbler 234
3) Dusky Flycatcher 228
4) Yellow Warbler 212 (2nd best season-total; after record year in 2007)
5) "Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warbler 193
5) Western Tanager 193
7) Chipping Sparrow 182
8) Ruby-crowned Kinglet 151
9) Spotted Towhee 121
10) Pine Siskin 102

Willow Flycatcher (2)
Gray Flycatcher (2)
Broad-tailed Hummingbird (2)

In sum, after a slow start, it actually was a pretty impressive 1st half of the season (better than average). The 2008 totals are ~ 400 birds & 9 species fewer than at the same point of the 2007 season (see my blog post from 9-2-07) but still some good numbers of many species. And, I expect the diversity will climb as we head into September.

A few pics:
An adult female Wilson's Warbler - note the pretty extensive crown patch but with a lot of green/yellow feather tips.

An immature male Wilson's Warbler - note the similarly extensive crown patch that is glossier black (than the adult female above) and has the green/yellow feather tips mostly confined to the rear of the crown.

An immature Dusky Flycatcher - note the greenish back, greenish-gray head, moderate-sized bill, and relatively short wing extension.



Friday, August 15, 2008

Golden Eagle Audubon visits IBO (8-9-08)

This last Saturday a contingent (19 strong) of GEAS came on a field trip to view the songbird migration banding at Lucky Peak. I was traveling back from the conference in Portland that day and was bumbed to miss some great folks but I gather that everyone enjoyed the visit and Gary Robinson was kind enough to get some photos for me. I always enjoy these trips because many good questions are always asked and it's nice to catch up with some great local birders. See you next time!

GEAS folks look on as Heidi & Heriberto process birds.

Here's Bruce (center) detailing something ;-) - maybe he's explaining how bird skulls ossify!

Heriberto (left) & Heidi probably discussing the finer points of Empidonax flycatcher identification as the crowd looks on.

Two Pine Siskins that are banded, measured, & weighed and ready to return to their lives.

A young male Black-headed Grosbeak is nearing freedom ....

"Adios amigos!"

Saturday, August 09, 2008

2008 Cooper Ornithological Society/ American Ornithologist's Union/Society of Canadian Ornithologist's meeting

I returned to Boise 1.5 hours ago from the 2008 joint conference of three ornithological societies (Cooper Ornithological Society, American Ornithologist's Union, and the Society of Canadian Ornithologists) that took place in Portland, OR. It was an exciting meeting with over 900 attendees .....

Many of the banquet attendees for the 2008 conference ... lots of bird-nerds!

There were many great presentations but one of the main highlights for me was that as I stood up to give my presentation (comparing stopover ecology and capture heights of birds between Lucky Peak & Camas NWR), I could see 6 former IBO field assistants in the crowd (& 2 others were also at the conference)! All cool people & it was rewarding to hear about their research, etc. I was able to catch 5 of them on film (unfortunately, I didn't come up with the photo idea until the final afternoon and several folks couldn't be found among the hordes of ornithologists):

Catalina LondoƱo and Gabriel Colorado (both from Colombia). Gabriel worked at Lucky Peak in 1999 and then both Cata and Gabriel were at Lucky Peak for a couple weeks in 2003. Gabriel is now studying Cerulean Warblers for his PhD at Ohio State University and Cata is about to begin a Fulbright scholarship supported PhD in Environmental Economics at Illinois (Champaign-Urbana).

Zoltan Nemeth (left, from Hungary) alongside some colleagues (Jen Owen, Emily Cohen, and Kristina Paxton) affiliated with the Migratory Bird Research Group at U of Southern Mississippi. Zoltan worked with us in the summer & fall of 2000 (and we hadn't seen each other since!). He's married & about to complete his PhD with Frank Moore studying social behavior of migrating birds. (Also, I worked for Jen 10 years ago on a spring migration study in Louisiana!!)

Khara Strum (left, sitting with Susan Skagen of USGS in Colorado) is from Ohio and just finished her Masters at Kansas State where she studied pesticide exposure for migrating and wintering shorebirds. Khara worked at IBO in 2003 & 2004.

Michelle Labbe and Scott Kimball. Michelle worked with me at Camas NWR in 2005 and is about to finish her Masters at UMass where she studies the post-breeding ecology of migratory birds. Scott is a former BSU raptor biology student who's about to finish his PhD at Ohio State.

Needless to say, it was a lot of fun to see all these folks (along with Dan Battaglia, Dale Gentry, and Jeremy Russell -not shown) and catch up!



Summer/Early Fall Banding Results (so far)

Greetings IBO blog-readers (anyone still out there after the loooong gap between posts??)

After a busy summer and some training of a new (& stellar) crew for our fall migration season, I'm aiming to get back on the ball and post at least somewhat regularly ....

We had a late start to the breeding season up at Lucky Peak - likely due to the cool weather in late May/early June that stalled all those Western Tanagers in the valley areas - and we've seen the impact during our breeding season banding (early June to early July). Normally we see fledglings by late June and the pulse of young birds didn't really begin until well into June. So far it appears that birds that arrived before the cool spring weather (such as Nashville Warblers) were able to breed "on time" whereas late arrivers such as Western Tanagers, Warbling Vireos, and MacGillivray's Warblers were delayed by up to a couple weeks in their breeding efforts. Thus, not sure if their delayed spring arrival will impact their reproductive success and/or their fall departure timing ....

Here's a shot of our large group of volunteers that came up for our June 26 summer banding day, including (from back left): Kathl, Gary, Ruth (visiting from UT), Jody, Mike (visiting from Portland), Heidi, & (front row, from left) Dave, Greg, Deniz, Ayla, Carol, & Sylvia.

Our fall migration season began on July 16th and we've had a great start so far. Not as busy bird-wise as the last 2 seasons (likely due to the reproduction delays mentioned above) but we once again have a great crew (see below; Marissa just arrived a few days ago so we'll get a new team shot soon ...). We've already enjoyed several visitors (including Golden Eagle Audubon Society today) and we're looking forward to more!

Early-season team shot: (from left) Heriberto, Kris, Gary, Jay, & Heidi
Heriberto is from Jalisco, Mexico (and has worked with many of the same species on the wintering grounds for many years), Kris is from southern California (and is a long-time birder & Audubon member), Gary (Mountain Home) is in his 5th year of volunteering on our project, and Heidi is an undergrad at Boise State U. who's been hooked on birds for years already.

Katie Babcock & campers from the Tumble Time program during a June 17 field trip.
Mission: to contribute to the conservation of western migratory landbirds through cooperative research and public education