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North by Northwest
More on Hawk Watching by Jim Zipp

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sept 7.  Yesterday was hazy, hot and uncomfortably humid.  Last night it turned very windy and this morning by sunrise it was only 47 degrees.  Weather patterns like this produce wonderful displays of migration from now through October and beyond.  Lighthouse Point in New Haven is one of the best migration hotspots in New England and that is where I headed.  Two small falcons, American Kestrels darting across the field were the first birds I saw as I entered the park.  They were soon followed  by Harriers, Sharpshins,  Merlin and Osprey.   But hawks were not the only birds migrating by the Point.  Flocks of Bobolinks and Cedar Waxwings flew high overhead as well as an occasional hummingbird at eye level.   Warblers also pass through the Point especially early in the morning, still moving after a night of migrating.  Their journey is equally as impressive if not as conspicuous as the larger hawks.  Take the Blackpoll Warbler that weighs less than a half ounce. As Scott Weidensaul puts it “You could mail two of them for the cost of a first class stamp”.  The Blackpoll we see may have already migrated 3000 miles across Canada from its streamside thicket home in Alaska and that just may have been the easy part. Many of them will strike out over the open ocean from our coast here on a journey that will carry them southward at altitudes of 5000 feet or more.  They will pass over Bermuda and not touch ground till they reach Venezuela some 2000 more miles!!As I watch the hummingbird hover over the feeder on my porch I try to imagine that tiny bundle of feathers weighing little more than a penny flying nonstop for over 600 miles across the Gulf of Mexico. A simple change of wind direction or weather could spell disaster. Join us for one of our trips to witness this falls migration at Lighthouse Point.   See our calendar of events for details.  


Excerpt from Living on the Wind, by Scott Weidensaul

Broad-winged Hawk Kettle -
©Jim Zipp Photography

"We had 13, 500 broadwings in that kettle", he said, his voice - like all our voices - ragged with mingled awe, stress and exhilaration. You know, when all this started, I was just thinking I needed to clean the dust off my binoculars. Then I realized I was looking at hawks, not dust, and thought, Oh my God."

There are many species of hawks which can be viewed during the annual fall hawk migration at Lighthouse Point in New Haven (as well as many other sights in North America, one of the most famous being cape May, New Jersey).

Time: September thru November (best 9/15 thru 10/30)
Weather: After a front goes thru and you have some northwest winds. The worst is usually a warm sunny day with no wind, although during peak migration there will still be some hawks going through.

Species Accounts:
Bald Eagle: Although not a hot spot for eagles every year Bald Eagles are seen at Lighthouse Point. They are on a bit of a rebound in the state with a few pairs now nesting or at least attempting to nest. Many more can be seen in the winter along the CT River and at the dam in Southbury.

Golden Eagle: Seen at the hawk watch only on rare occasions, some years none are seen.
Turkey Vulture: Although not really a hawk they are listed under birds of prey; they don't normally kill anything themselves but feed off of dead matter. These are seen at the hawk watch but not in great numbers.

Accipiters: (Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's and Northern Goshawk). Accipiters are woodland hawks with short, rounded wings and long tails which enable them to fly quickly through the forest. Their flight pattern consists of a few rapid flaps followed by a glide.

Sharp-shinned Hawk: The most numerous hawk seen. A small male Sharp-shinned is only about the size of a Blue-jay. (In hawks, the female is larger than the male). This is the most likely hawk to be hanging around your bird feeder in the winter, since their primary food is small birds. Thousands of these birds are seen each fall at Lighthouse Point.

Cooper's Hawk: The larger cousin to the Sharp-shinned. Looks almost identical but is larger. Less Cooper's are counted than Sharpie's.

Northern Goshawk: Our largest accipiter in Connecticut, not often seen at Lighthouse.

Northern Harrier ("Marsh Hawk"): This hawk is often seen coursing over the marshes along the coast or inland over farmland. It does not nest in the state but does spend the winter here. Hundreds are seen every fall.

Osprey: Also called "Fish Hawk" as this bird eats mostly fish. A rebounding nester in the state (almost wiped out from pesticides) and is seen frequently at the hawk watch (third highest total).

Buteos (Red-shouldered, Broad-winged and Red-tailed Hawk). Buteos have broad, rounded wings and short tails. These are your typical "soaring" hawks and often perch in conspicuous places so are readily observed.

Red-shouldered Hawk: A local nester and year-round resident that eats mostly frogs and salamanders. Less than a dozen are seen on an average year at the hawk watch.

Broad-winged hawk: As mentioned earlier, these birds like to migrate in groups called "kettles". Huge numbers are counted at various hawk watches along the eastern seaboard but not so at Lighthouse Point. Many are seen each year but far fewer than at other sites.

Red-tailed Hawk: This is the hawk that people are most familiar with. It's the large bird you see as you drive along I-91 that sits on top of the light poles. It is a very large bird (wingspan of 49") and varies in color on the belly from very white to ones with a lot of brown. They are a local nester and year round resident.

Falcons: American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine). Falcons are very streamlined birds making for fast flyers. They have long, pointed wings with narrow tails and are found mostly found in open areas although the Peregrine has taken to nesting in cities atop tall buildings such as the Traveler's Tower in Hartford.

American Kestrel: Our smallest falcon and unfortunately its numbers are declining in the state. At this point no one is certain as to the reason. They are a year round resident and do breed here . Their markings are just beautiful and they often perch on poles and in trees at Lighthouse so you can get a good look at them! More kestrels are seen at Lighthouse than any other hawk except the Sharp-shinned.

Merlin: Only seen here in migration, slightly larger than the Kestrel and less dramatically marked.

Peregrine: Sleek and pwerful, an extremely fast flyer, almost wiped out by DDT but is staging a comeback though slowly in the state. Pergrines are always a treat when seen at Lighthouse but are not seen in large numbers.



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