Friday, April 18, 2014

The Hawkwatch Season Is Now Over! We Finished With One Lone Swainson's-April 15, 2014

This is the final blog for the season. On April 15th we had our last Swainson's Hawk. A full report will be available in fall. We are indebted to the volunteers that spent countless hours scanning the sky from February 15-April 15. Special thanks to the 3 Hawketeers, Wes Hetrick (from Virginia); Rose Leong from British Columbia and Pam Albers from San Diego. Our sharp-eyed returning veterans included: Steve Bier, Hal Cohen, Judy Davis, Joe Hopkins, Herb Stone and Laura Webb. Assistants this year included Richard Yates, Tommy Antel (and Stella). Thanks to several photographers we had some nice photo's. Our official staff photographer Iris Kilpatrick came through with the shot of the season, see below.

In early December we will be searching for new volunteers for the 2015 season. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, contact me at

The season started and finished on the slow side. However, for several weeks in March we had quite a show. We had great expectations going into the height of the season near the end of March. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate. Exceptionally windy days with huge sand storms might have contributed to our low count near the end of March. Our final count total for Swainson's Hawks was 4,312. Of the 12 years of records, 2014 would rank number 5.

This is the first season that we did not have any feeding activity. There were no caterpillars, grasshoppers or flying ants. Very few of the Swainson's Hawks spent more than a day in the valley. We observed Turkey Vultures every day but the majority of the sightings were of local birds. Only 361 Turkey Vultures were counted. This is the lowest TV count with the exception of 2003 (a partial count season). Strangely as I am writing my comments for the last blog, I received a call from Steve Bier at 4:45P this evening, "There is a large kettle going west over your house". Turns out, they are Turkey Vultures kettling very high and finally streaming out Hell Hole Canyon. There were 66 TV's, equivalent to over 25% of the total TV's we counted this season. And, the TV's flew directly into a thunderstorm! No, we didn't see any rain in the valley!

Here are a few of the many photo's that stand out from the season.
Thanks to the Anza Borrego Foundation and the Anza Borrego Desert State Park for continued support of the Hawkwatch. 
The "Hill", the watchers and Stella in the foreground-Thomas Antel

Last shot of the year from my roof-part of a kettle of 66 TV's-4/18/14
A kettle of Swainson's Hawks-different morphs-HC
Dark Morph SW on a telephone pole-HC
My favorite shot of the year-Rufous Morph Swainson's Hawk with a twig-Iris Kilpatrick
Streaming  Swainson's Hawks-HC
Swainson's Hawks surrounding a plane-Terry Peterson
Evening drop in of Swainson's Hawks-Terry Peterson
And finally, my favorite sunset-HC

Friday, April 11, 2014

Are Swainson's Hanging Around?-Wednesday April 9-11, 2014

Laura, assisted by Joe-April 9
Judy, assisted by Herb and Joe-April 10
Joe, assisted by Judy and Herb-April 11

Migration April 9:
Swainson's Hawks-4
Turkey Vultures-3

Migration April 10:
Swainson's Hawks-4
Turkey Vultures-2

Migration April 11:
Swainson's Hawk-1

April 9-Very hot today-80's-upper 90's. Light wind. A Swainson's Hawk was spotted roosting with TV's at the Roadrunner. I spotted a SW near my home. It appears that some hawks may be hanging around town. Below is a shot of a juvenile SW. April 10-11 once again were very hot days, approaching 100 by 11A.

Evening Watch April 11:
Only one juvenile SW was spotted near the day site. A report of around 30 Swainson's came in at 5P. However we are not sure if these were Swainson's Hawks.

Again, we don't anticipate a big migration tomorrow.

Juvenile Swainson's Hawk-Iris Kilpatrick

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Surprise Swainson's Today-Tuesday April 8, 2014

Steve, assisted by Hal and Joe

Swainson's Hawks-79

Very warm today-70's-mid 80's by 10A Wind light from the south with a clear sky. First observation of 9 SW's due south probably coming up from Roadrunner Club. First lift-off at 8:40A. At 9:20A kettles of SW's were observed above the Date Farm and to the southeast. One of the kettles had over 40 SW's. We counted most of the second group of  Swainson's Hawks moving due north along Borrego Valley Road. They exited the valley along Coyote Mountain. We believe that the large kettle probably spent the night further southeast.

Question: What is meant by different morphs? Swainson's Hawks exhibit 3 basic color forms, Dark, Light and Intermediate. There is variety in between these forms. Below are 3 closeup SW's. It is a genetic characteristic and does not change during the hawks lifetime. Data has indicated that western Swainson's Hawks are mostly represented by the dark morph. Our data (Borrego Valley Hawkwatch) has shown a possible departure from the standard of darker western hawks. Using photographs of kettles of SW's we are trying to determine the ratio of each morph type of hawks migrating through Borrego Valley.

Evening Watch:
No apparent migration this evening.

Today we had hawks that roosted much further from our local sites. So perhaps with the calm wind condition the hawks are stopping short of Borrego Valley. If so there could be a late migration around 9:30A tomorrow.

Dark Morph
Light Morph-Iris Kilpatrick
Intermediate (rufous) Morph-Iris Kilpatrick

Sunday, April 6, 2014

0Warm Windy Morning Watch-Sunday April 6, 2014


Migration Today:
Swainson's Hawks-3
Prairie Falcon-1
Unknown Raptor-1

A stiff wind from the NW at 12mph and very sunny today. Temps from upper 60's to low 80's. A Swainson's Hawk was present close to the count site this morning. All of the SW's moved low with powered flight to the west. Lift-off of the first SW was at 8:15A. The remaining two left at 8:40 and 9A. NOTE: The blog will be delayed a few days unless we have some migration.

I had visits from two enthusiastic folks today. They expected lots of Swainson's Hawks. They did come out early enough however there were few hawks to observe. We don't have a big migration number every day. Also, the season is quickly coming to a close (only a little over a week left for the official hawk count). We do however have Swainson's flying into May. We encourage folks to check the blog before coming out. Details concerning the number of hawks observed the evening before migration day will help to decide whether it is worth the effort to drive a few hours to the day site. The blog is and usually is posted before 8P every evening. You also can be part of the ALERT system. When we get lots of hawks in an evening I will post directly to now over 100 email addresses. All you have to do is contact me with your email address and indication that you want ALERTS.

Evening Watch:
Nice evening but not apparent migration into the valley:

Light wind tomorrow and hope for some migration but.......

Dark Morph SW near the count site-4/6/14

Rufous Morph (Intermediate) SW-Iris Kilpatrick

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Very Windy Today-April 5, 2014


Migration Today:
Swainson's Hawks-2

Discussion-NW wind steady above 12 mph and gusty to 17. Partly cloudy and temps ranging from 50-low 70's. Lift-0ff from the Roadrunner at 8:30A.

Where do the hawks go after leaving Borrego? That's a very difficult question. First, we don't get much feedback when our hawks leave the valley. We are the only hawkwatch in California in spring. Occasionally we see a post of a few Swainson's Hawks in southern CA. What happens to hundreds of SW's leaving here? A survey in 2006 indicated that California had a little over 2000 breeding pairs of Swainson's Hawks. We have had almost 9,000 SW's migrate through Borrego Valley (2011). So many of our hawks are on their way to other states. Some of our hawks probably are on their way to Nevada, Washington, Oregon and Canada.

Evening Watch:
Only one Swainson's Hawk was observed this evening. It came out of the Date Farm low and then returned to the Farm. I believe it is a hawk that is lingering in Borrego and is not migrating yet.

Light wind tomorrow so any hawks that might have come in very late this evening will take off between 8 and 9A.

Nice close view of a light morph-Iris Kilpatrick-4/4/14
Another nice shot by Iris Kilpatrick-4/4/14

Friday, April 4, 2014

Great Migration Today-April 4, 2014

Joe, assisted by Judy, Herb and Hal

Migration Today:
Swainson's Hawks-172
Turkey Vultures-23

Light wind and 90% clouds with temps in the 60's-70 today. Swainson's Hawks were in the Date Farm and on Mesquite dunes east of the Date Farm early this morning. At 8:40A some of the hawks began to lift-off. Kettles formed over Ellis Farm and to the south. The hawks provided great views of kettling and streaming until 9:20A. Check out the youtube at:

Evening Watch:
Only 2 Swainson's were counted this evening.

Not much to predict unless we have a surprise tomorrow. NW wind at 8mph predicted. Hawks will be up between 8 and 9A.

Kettling over Ellis Farms-4/4/14
Closer View
Adult Female Light Morph-4/4/14

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Another 0 Day At The Hawkwatch-However Around 130-150 Swainson's Came In This Evening April 3, 2014

Judy, assisted by Herb, Joe, Hal

Migration Today:

Where have all the hawks gone? A good question. There are many alternative routes that the Swainson's Hawks can take in the Borrego Valley area. We don't know what the determining factors are. Wind might play a big part. Food perhaps but we have had good migration without a food source.

Some good news from up north. Debi Shearwater posted this comment: "Elsewhere in the county, I was thrilled to see a returning SWAINSON'S HAWK today in the area where they nested last year. Last year's nest was the first, ever documented nesting of Swainson's Hawk in San Benito County. Let's hope they are successful this year as well. I am unaware of any modern day or historical records of Swainson's Hawk in April. As some folks have noted, this raptor nested for the first time in years in Santa Clara County and a few other places. Most folks seem to think they are "reclaiming" their former range."

We are always pleased when we hear of new nesting territories. 

Evening Watch:
Three Waves of Swainson's came in and settled into the Date Farm. The totals are anywhere from 125-150 SW's

Light wind and overcast predicted for tomorrow. So lift-off might be delayed to around 9A. Best viewing from the evening site on Borrego Valley Road to begin with. 

TV from the Hill-4/3/14

Toro Peak with snow from the hill 4/3/14

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Another Blustery Slow Day-Tuesday April 2, 2014

Laura, assisted by Joe

Migration Today:
Swainson's Hawks-2
Unidentified Raptors-2

Looking at past data we should have some nice migration stats for the beginning of April. 2003 had over 1,000 hawks in April; 2004 over 700 hawks; 2005, 2006 and 2007 over 200 hawks each year; 2008 over 300 hawks; 2011 well over 1,000 hawks. Only 2009 and 2013 had poor numbers for April.

The photo below shows how difficult it is to count during windy/sand blasting days.

Evening Watch:
Once again no apparent hawks at the evening watch.

The wind should die down tonight. We'll be monitoring with hope.

Turkey Vulture in a sand storm-4/1/14

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Few Migrants Still Coming Through-Tuesday April 1, 2014


Migration Today:
Swainson's Hawks-12
Turkey Vultures-1

Despite the lack of birds yesterday evening, 12 Swainson's Hawks migrated today. As the season winds down, some SW's will continue to migrate. The optimistic view would suggest that in the past we have had some days with a few hundred SW's in April.

Evening Watch:
Once again no apparent migration into the valley this evening.

Wind should be picking up again tomorrow. No prospects for migration but a late arrival this evening might have been missed.

Looking East-In the foreground grape stakes and the solar farm. In the background Fonts Point to the left and Anthill to the right. The trees between the solar field and the mountains is Ellis Farms.