Each Fall, 21 species of raptors fly southward across North America, as food supplies diminish in synch with the oncoming winter season. These hawks, eagles, falcons, vultures, and kites migrate along well-established flyways in great numbers – diversified in relation to the populations of each species at the northern end of each flyway.
Scientists, technicians, and volunteers have been monitoring raptor migrations for decades, first with paper and pencil, and now often by sophisticated electronic means. Every year, new flyways are identified, volunteer training is improved, and observation dates are tweaked, in order to maximize the accuracy of the annual raptor count.
The Hazel Basemore Hawk Watch, 17 miles west of Corpus Christi, TX, records an additional 7 species that are not seen at other North American Hawk Watches. The HBHW, coordinated by Hawkwatch International, also records the highest number of migrating raptors, often exceeding 1 million birds per year – primarily Broad-winged Hawks.
In the Fall of 2007, WIN Chairman, Dan Casey, identified a new flyway in the Columbia Mountain Range bordering the Flathead Valley to the East. Selecting a reasonably accessible observation point on a ridge at 7,000’, Casey established the Jewel Basin Hawk Watch in 2008. A key benefit of this Hawk Watch site is that the raptors often make very close passes at eye-level. During the following decade, enthusiastic technicians and volunteers have spent ten weeks each Fall recording an average of 3000 passing raptors, representing 17 species.
WIN members Dan Casey, Craig Hohenberger, Barbara Summer, Lisa Bate, BJ Worth, and Joshua Covill serve as technicians throughout each migration. The season starts in late August with temperatures in the ’70’s and ends when the snow is too deep to safely reach the observation site. The early season birds include more than 1000 Accipiters, primarily Sharp-shinned Hawks. Later in the season, Golden Eagles are the most common migrants gracing the sky.
For the first seven years, the American Bird Conservancy supported the Jewel Basin monitoring efforts, until Flathead Audubon took up the cause in 2015. The annual migration data is submitted to the Hawk Migration Association of North America, where it is compiled with the data from dozens of other hawk watches.