Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Fall Migration Update, and Hawk Ridge Weekend!

Blue Jay

I was in Peru for a week, and between preparing for the trip and getting ahead on work deadlines, I’ve not been able to keep up with fall migration here. Even 4,000 miles away, in the jungles and cloud forest of darkest Peru, I was getting emails about huge numbers of Blue Jays coursing over Duluth, and could only imagine what else was happening. 

Karl Bardon, the Count Director at Hawk Ridge, wrote on the Hawk Ridge blog that, as of September 12, the counters had tallied over 10,000 raptors and over 100,000 non-raptors since August 15, with peak numbers yet to come! Sure enough, the very next day, yesterday the 13th, they almost doubled the total raptor count.

On August 25, they counted 2603 Cliff Swallows; on September 9, they counted 6651 Cedar Waxwings. These migrating birds are capitalizing on the wealth of food available to fuel their flight, such as the 100,000 dragonflies documented winging along the Ridge on August 30. That was the very day I photographed mating dragonflies in my own backyard. 

Where baby dragonflies come from

People often seem most excited about the huge numbers of Broad-winged Hawks that pass over the Ridge in mid-September. Our biggest day so far this year was yesterday, September 13, when the counters tallied 8,163 Broad-wings, but this is not yet the peak. On our biggest day ever, September 15, 2003, an unbelievable 101,716 Broad-wings were counted at the main overlook. 

Broad-winged Hawk

Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory times their biggest annual event to coincide with the peak of the Broad-wing flight.  This coming weekend, September 16-18, is this year’s Hawk Ridge Weekend. Of course, the timing is necessary but not sufficient to ensure a big flight—weather holds the final key—but no matter what happens, there will be lots of birds here in Duluth this weekend.

If the wind has any kind of westerly component and it’s not raining, hawks will definitely be flying over the Ridge. Duluth may be the best spot in the Midwest to view many migration events, but if it’s raining with winds from the east—the worst case scenario for Hawk Ridge—birders have our best chances of spotting jaegers down on Wisconsin Point.

Long-tailed Jaeger

Warblers, thrushes, and sparrows are passing through in large numbers, which are most easily tallied at observation points such as Hawk Ridge, but these birds are not just flying by—they visit bird baths and fruiting trees and shrubs in backyards, too, so even if we’re stuck at home, we can enjoy them.

Swainson's Thrush at my bird bath

Many events are planned for the weekend. On Friday afternoon, I’ll be one of the leaders of a fun and popular train ride along the St. Louis River—last year we saw quite a few cool birds on this trip, which kicked off the weekend. Friday evening’s after-dinner program will feature Chris Wood of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology talking about “Bird Migration, Birding and Conservation.” Before dinner, I’ll be there with Archimedes, the Eastern Screech-Owl—a rare chance for people to get to meet my now elderly but still healthy little education bird. 

An owl and his human

Both Saturday and Sunday there will be more field trips as well as lots of events for both adults and children at the Main Overlook. Saturday night’s keynote will be by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist Nathan Rathbun, talking about “Masses of Migrants: Visualizing the Movement in the Sky.”

For details about any of these events or more information about this year’s flight, check out the Hawk Ridge website at