Wings In Nature has been actively monitoring the hawk migration this season. Flathead Audubon is coordinating the Jewel Basin Hawk Watch and WIN is helping co-sponsor this year’s project along with Flathead National Forest, and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Unique about the Jewel Basin site is that is it located on top of a 7000 ft. ridge, resulting in very close views of passing raptors using the updraft to propel them almost effortlessly down the flyway.
Starting this year, the Jewel Basin team, led by WIN Chairman Dan Casey, is embracing 21st Century technologies for its surveys. We are using a cloud-based service and app provided by Dunkadoo to directly record and submit observations online. Not only is it easier than pencil and paper, and less time consuming at the end of the day, those who are not on site can follow the survey online as the birds are being submitted in real time.
Immature Northern Harrier
The online submissions are funneled to the Hawk Watch Association of North America, so the data from all 191 hawk watch reporting sites in North America can be combined and scientifically analyzed. This data is openly shared via HawkCount and Birdhawk. HMANA’s Raptor Population Index is prepared and presented through collaboration with Hawk Mountain, HawkWatch International, and Bird Studies Canada.
Although smoke from regional fires was excessive early in the season, the cloudless-skies and consistent SW winds led to the strongest start of the migration in this site’s ten-year history. During the first few weeks, 1000 raptors of 14 species made close passes on their journey south. Of particular note, the numbers of Northern Harriers was nearly double from an average year.
A foot of snow in mid-September coupled with a ten days of NE winds significantly interrupted the flight – at least along Jewel Basin’s ridge. Many raptors, however, were seen flying around the valley; so presumably, the birds intent on migrating were pursuing alternative tracks.
Jewel Basin’s peak migration period has just passed. The dominant concentration of accipiters will soon give way to the late-season eagle flight. On average, 500-600 Golden Eagles pass through the site each year. If the mountain snows allow access through early November, more than 3500 raptors will be recorded passing through Jewel Basin. While this is not a huge number compared to some hawk watch sites, the thrill of seeing a string of majestic eagles 10-30 meters away is a truly memorable experience.