October Update

As the end of October soon approaches I have found myself surprised at how fast the time has gone by and how quickly the composition of migrants has shifted. The skies here are no longer dominated by the somewhat chaotic, but absolutely beautiful kettles of Swainson’s hawks. They are now filled with the elegant, arctic-breeding rough-legged hawks. Many rough-legged migrants have been taking their time to hover hunt the nearby fields and coulee in hopes of a convenient meal while passing through, showing me a lovely display of their gorgeous plumage as they fan their tails and wings wide as they stay locked in place midair. 

There were a few exciting days earlier this month where the red-tailed hawks took flight in great numbers (many taking their time and frequenting the local fields or perched on poles waiting for the perfect moment to take flight). I hope to still see some more Harlan’s hawks as well; we have seen a fair number, but usually no more than a handful or so in one day. 

It was interesting seeing the waterfowl start making their way south as well. The tundra swan and sandhill cranes have been some of my favorites to learn with their unique bugles and calls that can be unmistakably recognized in the distance and overhead.

I’ve had a small sample of the charismatic winds and chilly temperatures of Cut Bank. I know they are nowhere near a Montana winter yet, but definitely a good enough taste for a Virginian that loves the heat. I experienced my first snow in October which did not stay for too long in Cut Bank, but has kept the mountains in Glacier with a beautiful snow-cladded appearance.

I am looking forward to what the last week or two has in store for the migrants!

September Update

The first month of counting hawks and living in Cut Bank, MT is coming to a close with at least a hundred new experiences and hopefully many more to come. Raptor identification has been a great skill and process that I feel myself becoming more comfortable with every single day, all thanks to the great mentors and birders that have passed along knowledge, skills, and experiences here in Cut Bank.

I remember on the drive out I tried using my Sibley a handful of times to identify any raptors we spotted along the interstate. Driving by the thousands of telephone poles and rolling fields of Ohio and Indiana almost all birds looked the same; I would end up puzzled as the features that I did pick up on pointed to a number of different birds, and frequently concluded “maybe a red-tail?” and sort of moved on – except for turkey vultures. They have a special spot as they were the one raptor I knew before applying for a position with HawkWatch International for the season.

Since the first day I stepped foot at the count site here in Cut Bank, I can feel my identification skills develop with each spotted raptor. It is so interesting how each bird begins to take on its own “look” and “personality” forming a fluid profile that helps make an identification with the fleeting moments or miles between the observer and bird. 

It has been a treat to see the hundreds of Swainson’s Hawks come in waves and kettles across the horizon, seemingly disappearing and appearing out of thin air. The Red-tailed Hawks are also a beauty in flight, the past few weeks I have been welcomed each morning by one calling across the way to the north. One of my favorite local birds has been the Osprey that hunts the coulee on a nearly daily basis for the past month. It always feels like a victory being able to see it come back with a giant fish!

I am excited for what the next month holds here at the watch and can’t wait to view some Rough-legged and Harlan’s Hawks!

Welcome Megan Barlowe!

Hey there, hawk migration fans! The 2022 season is underway in Cut Bank. Co-founder Tom Magarian has been counting since August 15, and the migrants are so far trickling through. We’re hoping to see lots of Swainson’s hawks pushing in the next week and into September, but what we’re really excited about today is our 2022 counter, Megan Barlowe!

Megan is a recent graduate from James Madison University located in Harrisonburg, VA where she studied Biology with a concentration in Ecology and Environmental Biology. Her background has been mostly involved with amphibians and reptiles, and she is excited to broaden her experiences in the avian world. Megan completed her thesis work on the red-sided garter snake, investigating seasonal variations in genes involved with hormone synthesis. This summer Megan worked at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory located in Gothic, CO where she assisted with multiple projects involved with assessing acclimation abilities in thermal physiology of the Arizona tiger salamander populations nearby. Megan is very excited to start working as the counter at the Cut Bank Hawkwatch and can’t wait to learn about raptor migration and view some beautiful raptors!

Megan will arrive in Cut Bank to learn the ropes with Tom in early September and will keep the count through November 15 – through the last hot, still days of late summer to the cold winds of autumn that give the migrants pushing through Cut Bank a wild ride south for the winter.

None of this is possible without our logistical partners and friends at Hawkwatch International, our sponsors and friends at the Upper Missouri Breaks Audubon Society, and of course the stewards of allll the migration data and friends at the Hawk Migration Association of North America.

Keep up with us on our facebook page, on our hawkcount page, and on ALL the fall migration tallies at hawkcount.org.

Let’s go hawkwatching!

All Seasons Summary Table

Updated comparison table for all years at the CBHW. We’re sitting on site-to-site comparisons until the folks up the Front in Canada post their results (Rocky Mountain Eagle Research Foundation). Not sure if they even counted at Vicki Ridge? But I eagerly await their juicy PDFs.

Turkey Vulture201100
Golden Eagle1021975823812
Bald Eagle96193649647
Northern Harrier155104774509
Sharp-shinned Hawk130752753113
Cooper’s Hawk351102561
Northern Goshawk7010112
Broad-winged Hawk37041170
Swainson’s Hawk1075714263810
Red-tailed Hawk3303420520014544
Rough-legged Hawk77638156243271236
Ferruginous Hawk13455822482
American Kestrel91272991
Peregrine Falcon101130
Prairie Falcon912523208
Unknown Eagle001212
Unknown Raptor3162951
Unknown Accipiter2081400
Unknown Falcon003110
Unknown Buteo9521202611
Effort (hours)71558.5431.523309934.75


Wonders never cease. This essential thing, there is always something new to learn, is one of the things that keeps me walking out the door and right back out observing the natural world over and over again. And while it is our friend Arthur who is standing in that space at the CBHW, in this time, drinking in what there is to learn, I can at least make tables at a distance and wonder as well – and wonders never cease!

What started as a thing that seemed interesting because of rough-legged hawks is simply revealing what is interesting about that thing for what it is, which is, through September 30, 2021, this:

Turkey Vulture201100
Golden Eagle31975823812
Bald Eagle29193649647
Northern Harrier92104774509
Sharp-shinned Hawk84752753113
Cooper’s Hawk221102561
Northern Goshawk2010112
Broad-winged Hawk37041170
Swainson’s Hawk1073714263810
Red-tailed Hawk1083420520014544
Rough-legged Hawk038156243271236
Ferruginous Hawk6255822482
American Kestrel84272991
Peregrine Falcon101130
Prairie Falcon42523208
Unknown Eagle001212
Unknown Raptor1162951
Unknown Accipiter1081400
Unknown Falcon003110
Unknown Buteo2521202611
Effort (hours)358.7558.5431.523309934.75

A glaring highlight here is obviously the Swainson’s hawk flight (clear evidence that starting August 15 to better capture this flight was well worth it), but there are little tidbits of interesting across the board.

We’re delighted to have a seasoned counter well-versed in the raptor ecology of the immediate area who we were super lucky to drop on the coulee for the season, and this certainly is a contributing factor to how the 2021 column is stacking up, but don’t let the overall larger numbers distract from the play here with (1) starting earlier and (2) annual variability and (3) things we just don’t yet know. The project is young for a hawkwatch, and the practice of open country hawk migration observation is also young.

I’m going to just let these numbers simmer out here and let it play…

Enjoy October and may your wonders never cease!

– Kate

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