Ah…fall migration, my favorite time of the year! Warblers streaming through the trees, thrushes calling from the understory, and raptors filling the skies – all while the leaves slowly change color, and with each cold front we move closer and closer to winter. I am living and working down in Delaware for the season, and have been trying to make it over to the Cape Henlopen Hawkwatch as often as I can. As someone who has done most of their hawkwatching from the ridgetops of Pennsylvania, scanning the Delaware Bay for raptors crossing over from Cape May is quite a different experience. But I have loved it so far! The raptor flight has been steady, with some exceptional days so far including a new one-day record high count for Peregrine Falcons on September 27th when 124 passed the site! Colorado native Jen Ottinger is the official counter at the site for the second year in a row, along with long-time Cape Henlopen hawkwatcher Susan Gruver who helps keep an accurate tally of the passing raptors. So far this season, Jen and Sue have tallied 4191 migrating raptors (HawkCount.org summary). By far the most common migrant raptor so far has been Osprey, followed by Sharp-shinned Hawk, American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, and Bald Eagle; followed by lesser numbers of 8 other raptor species including one stunning adult Zone-tailed Hawk that crossed over from Cape May on the 27th!
Wherever there are lots of Osprey, there is bound to be Bald Eagles doing their best to steal fish from the smaller, more successful hunters. At Cape Henlopen, the two local adult Bald Eagles make it their daily duty to try and steal as many Atlantic Menhaden from Osprey as possible, and these aerial battles are a very common sight from the watch….
Of course, hawkwatches aren’t just for watching raptors – many other species of birds have been seen from the Cape this fall. In fact, according to eBird, 108 species total were recorded this month including some highlight such as the first Snow Geese of the fall, Northern Bobwhite, 8 species of shorebirds, Parasitic Jaeger, Chimney Swifts, and 8 species of warblers. Brown Pelicans have been occasionally passing by, taking brief forays around the mouth of Delaware Bay, as well as the first waves of migrant Double-crested Cormorants including over 2000 that passed on the 30th.
The season is off to a great start, and I hope to run into you up at the site – and I’m sure Jen and Sue wouldn’t mind a few more eyes to help scan the skies for passing raptors! October promises to have more nice pushes of falcons and Accipiters, in addition to perhaps the first Golden Eagles of the season which might start to show up towards the end of the month. See you at the hawkwatch!