What a strange few weeks we’ve been through and the turmoil surrounding the coronavirus will continue if many predictions are correct. Still, the natural world continues its spring revelations — migrating and nesting birds, emerging butterflies and other insects, budding trees, and blooming flowers. Thankfully, the coronavirus has not affected spring's natural rhythms.
Just as the College Creek Hawkwatch, near Williamsburg, is beginning its 24th late winter/spring season, an analysis is out from the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA) about how the hawks are doing. We get asked that question a lot at both College Creek and at Kiptopeke Hawkwatch in the fall. These hawkwatch sites all across the continent send their data to HMANA for statistical analysis. The Raptor Population Index study is an ongoing effort to track trends.
The answer about how the hawks are doing is not simple as hawks are spread out over a very large area. Still, there are trends, which are significant. In the latest edition of the journal "Hawk Migration Studies" there is this to say about the 2019 spring season for the eastern flyway, from editor Brian Wargo:
"...the flyway is represented by 28 hawkwatch sites in 9 states...the most northern is Cooper, Maine, the southernmost is College Creek..."
There is an "unmistakable rise in Bald Eagle numbers...unmistakable decrease in Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks....Northern Harrier numbers have dropped significantly..."
For three mid-Atlantic sites, which includes College Creek..."Northern Harriers were at a record low...Sharp-shinned Hawk levels were the second lowest value in 15 years...markedly negative trends for American Kestrels..."
Long-term studies are needed, of course, which is why we continue to monitor the migrations.
It should be no surprise as habitat is lost that bird numbers for many species are decreasing, but information can inform conservation efforts. The data we collect helps organizations like HMANA, American Bird Conservancy, VA Dept of Game & Inland Fisheries and others to make informed decisions and to advocate for conservation actions for hawks.
For those who want to know more, HMANA has a number of resources and an excellent website for further information.
Meanwhile, seek refuge in the open spaces in our community while practicing social distancing as we are doing at the College Creek Hawkwatch. Many trails and parks are open even if the buildings are not open and staffed. We’re fortunate to have an abundance of national, state, local, and private parks and refuges in the Coastal Plain of Virginia. Take a mental and emotional health break and get outside to recharge and refresh. We’ll be together again soon. Stay well.
Other topics in this issue of our eNewsletter:
- College Creek Hawkwatch on the James River near Williamsburg is underway
- CVWO awards three Research Grants to graduate students
- Volunteers start monitoring Prothonotary Warbler boxes by April 1