The 2017 Hawk Watch Season Has Begun!
The Cape Henlopen hawk watch is up and running, and we are fortunate to have the skilled eyes of Jen Ottinger once again scanning the skies. Sue Gruver has been a dedicated volunteer since the early days of the hawk watch, and we also have the benefit of her (almost) daily presence. At Cape Henlopen, birds approach the hawk watch from more than one direction, some coming across the water from Cape May and others coming down the Delaware and approaching from the North and West. With birds being possibly observed in any direction, all volunteer birders are welcome and needed to help search the sky.
This year, the site had 2138 raptors pass by as of Sept 22, with Ospreys (1089) making up the bulk of the migrants. Sharp-shinned Hawks (273) and American Kestrel (238) were also in high numbers. The high counts of Ospreys were on September 10th (149) and September 22 (168).
Are Osprey Numbers Declining?
Last July at a gathering of Pennsylvania and Delaware hawk watch counters, it was noted that Osprey numbers were declining across sites in Pennsylvania, none of which are coastal. I was curious to see how Osprey have fared at Cape Henlopen and whether coastal sites were holding steady or growing as inland sites were declining. In mid-September 2017, Jen noted that there appeared to be fewer Osprey in the first 2 weeks – fewer migrating and fewer hanging out and fishing. In the first two weeks of September, Ospreys were the most common migrant, but their number (663) were a full 26% below the 5 year average of the previous years.
Much of that changed after Hurricane Jose passed off of the coast. After 2 days of stormy weather, the number of migrants Sept 20-22 were quite high. Total Osprey by Sept 22 was 1089. Despite Jen’s early impression, Kate Fleming of the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) stated that the number of Osprey by September 15 were statistically in line with the average. Over the past decade, the average number of Ospreys over the entire Fall has ranged from 2039 (2012) to 5340 (2010), and the average is 3,098 (standardized by number of observation hours). The Pennsylvania hawk watches might be dismayed by their decline of Osprey, but along the Delaware coast, their numbers are right where they should be for this time of year.
If you want to check out the migrating Osprey, along with large numbers of falcons and accipiters, take yourself to Cape Henlopen Hawkwatch. If you don’t feel confident on your identification skills, spending time with the experts at the site will get you there.
Sally O’Byrne, Hawkwatch Oversight