Monday, March 24, 2008

The Next Big Hawk Flight

Yeah -- like I could really predict when that will happen! But here are some notes on how to predict it for yourself.

Hawks and vultures move north across Ohio on a broad front in spring, and in this part of the state they mostly move northwest to go around the west end of Lake Erie. Under most wind conditions they are widely dispersed, but when there is a light to moderate breeze out of the southwest, they concentrate in a fairly narrow band within a mile or so of the lakeshore. Such a flight happened this Sunday. BSBO maintains a regular spring raptor count from the hawkwatch tower east of the Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center on the road in to Crane Creek - Magee; I stopped up there Sunday afternoon and in less than an hour I saw more than a dozen Red-shouldered Hawks and more than 200 Turkey Vultures, plus a few Rough-legs, Red-tails, harriers, Bald Eagles, and others, all moving strongly west-northwest. The official counters had over 500 birds total for the day.

As late as midnight on Saturday night, the online weather data that I checked were predicting light north winds for the next day. But I was out Sunday afternoon and when I realized that the breeze was from the southwest, I headed for the hawk tower. At the level of the tower the wind was only about 5 mph, so it doesn’t take much to concentrate the raptors on this flight line.

Looking ahead, the weather predictions don’t show another ideal hawk day for a while. They’re calling for WSW winds on Tuesday March 25, but with strong winds (gusting to 40 mph) and a strong chance of rain, the raptors may not be moving (but I could be wrong, so I may check Tuesday anyway). Currently they’re predicting west winds on March 26, east on March 27, northeast on March 28, and north to east over next weekend. Beyond that, the predictions are too unreliable to count on anything. In short, I don’t know when the next good flight will occur.

Best bet: If you’re out in the general area anyway, watch the weather. If it’s not raining and there’s a light wind from the southwest, consider going to the hawkwatch tower. BSBO will have counters up there every day through early May, and they’ll be able to tell you whether there’s anything happening.

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