We’re currently gearing up for the 2021 season after a pause in 2020. We’ll update the blog with a long, long overdue summary of the 2019 count soon.
For the 2018 and 2019 seasons, we made t-shirts via Ink to the People with a little help from our wonderful friends.
Cut Bank isn’t the only place to watch hawks in Montana. You can of course watch hawks all day long in Montana if you know where to look, but here’s a rundown of both established and experimental hawk migration study sites across the state.
Image courtesy of HMANA – see map here:
Bridger Mountains Hawkwatch
Montana’s original massive autumn Golden Eagle-heavy hawk watch site not too far from Bozeman. HawkWatch International has really useful information about visiting this site at the link provided above.
GEMS (Golden Eagle Migration Survey)
For another huge Golden Eagle flight right in your face with a stunning view – and some tough, tough hawk watchers – visit this site in the Big Belt Mountains in the autumn season. This site is coordinated by our friends at Montana Audubon.
Jewel Basin Hawk Watch
Operated by the Flathead Audubon Society, Jewel Basin Hawk Watch is Montana’s premiere Accipiter monitoring site, perched on the crest of the Swan Range in the Jewel Basin Hiking Area on Flathead National Forest. Surveys run from the last week of August until access is limited by snow, usually in late October. Reached by a hike of a little more than 2 miles and gaining 1400’ in elevation, the views from this site alone are well worth the trip. Mountain goats often accompany the counters, and bear spray is recommended!
A rare spring and fall migration study site, operated within the large, robust umbrella of the MPG Ranch. With more than 15,000 acres of conservation property in Western Montana, MPG Ranch stewards large, undeveloped landscapes for wildlife habitat and the enjoyment of future generations. They conduct research and collaborate with other local organizations and researchers that design and implement outreach and public education events.
Camp Baker Hawk Watch / Eagle Watch
A pilot autumn count site along the extremely scenic Smith River, in the southwest corner of the Little Belts.
These folks are in Alberta, Canada, but really, it’s not that far…
Rocky Mountain Eagle Research Foundation
Home to the closest migration sites the north of Cut Bank, since 1992, Rocky Mountain Eagle Research Foundation (RMERF) volunteers have performed annual raptor migration counts at the same site location in the Kananaskis Country, Alberta, spring and fall; significantly providing data to the understanding of and amazement in watching Golden Eagles. Of particular interest to us, RMERF is studying the flight at Vicki Ridge, near Beaver Mines, a little off the Front – with tantalizing similarities to the flight at Cut Bank.
I’ll be traveling around mostly the Eastern Front next week, and posting frequently to facebook with updates and pictures – friends, birds, adventures, and the stunning vistas of the great state of Montana! There’s something magical about the prairie in the springtime…
Here’s where you’ll find me.
Monday May 13:
- Upper Missouri Breaks Audubon meeting at FWP on Giant Springs Road, 7pm. I’ll give a general update on last year’s effort, and the outlook for Fall 2019. Really looking forward to seeing our friends at this one!
- For more about this group, check out: https://www.facebook.com/uppermissouribreaksaudubon/
- Tuesday, May 14: Last Chance Audubon Society meeting at FWP MT Wild on Broadwater Ave. I’ll be mostly hanging around with some handouts, catching up with some new and familiar faces, and listening to a really neat talk by author Sneed B. Collard III.
- More here: https://www.facebook.com/lastchanceaudubon/
- Thursday, May 15: Cut Bank Brewery, 5-7pm. Slideshow and hangout. Hope to cross paths with just about everyone here!
- Saturday, May 17: Cut Bank Pool Park, Bird Walk, 9am. Meet me to comb the park for spring migrants. 149 species have been documented at this little bitty park on the Eastern Front. Maybe we’ll find species # 150?
See the Cut Bank Pool Park species list here: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L2884763
As we ramp up for the second season on the Cut Bank Coulee, we realize we owe y’all a Fall 2018 summary! Not everyone keeps obsessive track of the stats over at hawkcount.org like we do, so rather belatedly but with great joy, here it is!
Thanks to our many donors and supporters, the Cut Bank Hawkwatch was counted from 15 September 2018 through 12 November 2018, for an average of 5.8 hours per day. During our focus month of October, 186.42 hours were observed overall, at 6.4 hours per day on average, achieving our first objective. Funding for the CBHW primarily supported hiring and housing a full-time counter, Silvan Laan. Silvan – artist, wanderer, life-long bird watcher – is originally from the coastal town of Zandvoort, Holland. He was Lead Counter at Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch (NY) during Fall 2017. And now, he’s our friend. Major donors and logistical supporters were Hawkwatch International, HMANA, Upper Missouri Breaks Audubon Society, and the Glacier County Conservation District. THANK YOU!
The level of effort during Fall 2018 surpassed the previous years, yielding the following results:
|Level of effort:
2016: 34.75 hours
2017: 99 hours
2018: 330 hours
For those unfamiliar with the overall flight, the diversity of the overall flight is notable, and despite low-seeming numbers, the tallies for open-country species are unique. Records of note this year include a count-first Turkey Vulture (more often seen in the single digits by local birders in the springtime), and a count-first Gyrfalcon – which sums up the CBHW in a lot of ways: by other regional standards, the most mundane bird is a remarkable observation, and the most remarkable birds are always possible! This gray immature Gyrfalcon was observed on October 24, coincident with a handful of sightings on both sides of the divide in Montana.
The standout metrics revealed by the table, however, are the 2018 season total versus the level of effort, and the total Rough-legged Hawks across all three years. Tripling the effort did not produce triple the total birds, but it seems that a major factor this season was weather. While we have not performed in-depth analysis on conditions versus flights for this small dataset, the weather remained warm, the winds gentle, and the skies blue for much of the official count. In 2016 and 2107, counters found that frequent fronts and west/southwest winds steady at 10-20 mph (and gusty enough to rattle your pickup) seem to create the conditions for good flights at the CBHW. In 2018, these conditions were hard to come by. However, the total number of Rough-legged Hawks tallied in all three years, regardless of effort, is remarkably steady.
If you’re interested in digging a little deeper into the Rough-legged Hawk results, we wrote a summary report for the HMANA journal Hawk Migration Studies. HMANA was one of our major supporters in the Fall 2018 season, and we encourage folks out there to join, and purchase the journal for a more in-depth analysis on that end. The two sites we dig into are our benchmark hawk watch study sites that consistently observe Rough-legged Hawks in the central part of North America during the fall. These are Vicki Ridge, AB, and Hawk Ridge, MN. Vicki Ridge is a sister site to Mount Lorette, best known for its impressive fall Golden Eagle flight. Counted in recon-status during 2014 and 2015, it has been counted more consistently since 2016. Hawk Ridge, one of the longest-running raptor migration study sites in the world, has been collecting migration data since 1972. For the hawk junkies out there, it’s worth digging around in the data over at hawkcount.org at Hawk Ridge, but for Vicki, you have to dig a little deeper into their blog.
The initial focus in building this project has been on Rough-legged Hawks, however the unique suite of open country prairie birds whose migration is poorly understudied does not start and end with this species. We hope to expand the season to run from August 15 – November 15 to more completely capture the Ferruginous Hawk and Prairie Falcon flights in particular.
We hope to build upon this season and towards our our second objective in the coming years, building enthusiasm for the project in the Glacier and Toole County communities. We hope to show that the CBHW could become a long-term driver of ecotourism, an educational opportunity for the schools, and a point of interest on the Cut Bank Trails. While the 2018 fall season was primarily a test of the flight itself and of the overall project logistics, in 2019 we hope to stoke the Eastern Front community’s interest in the folks with the spotting scopes by the Cut Bank train trestle.
This project would have been impossible without countless kindnesses large and small, and we are incredibly grateful for the support from all quarters last year.
What’s next? Fall 2019. Still rolling with our friends at Hawkwatch International. Stay tuned.