Our friends at the Upper Missouri Breaks Audubon, Great Falls group came for a visit and caught a great day. Here’s the word from their November newsletter:
Well, we finally made it to a hawk watch site this year. After losing out to bad weather the previous 3 weekends (rain, snow, ice and low clouds) October 20th proved to be mostly sunny, breezy enough to push the raptors south and not cold (in fact it got up to 72 degrees in Cut Bank that day). The hawk watch site in Cut Bank is literally behind the shopping center – overlooking Cut Bank Creek and the railroad trestle. “Rock Falcons” (Rock Pigeons) were constantly soaring and distracting – “is that one? No – just a pigeon”. Eurasian Collared Doves mainly sat around. The stars of the show were the 22 Rough-legged Hawks that flew over while we were there. And guess what – the single day, high count for Roughies was – October 20! There were dark morphs of both Roughies and Red-tailed Hawks. A Cooper’s Hawk went shooting by, the Bald Eagles kept circling around – or so it seemed – so the count could have been only 4 or as high as 6 or 8. It was
easy to count the young Bald Eagles of different ages as unique birds. A Prairie Falcon headed north – it was counted as a “local” bird. Indeed there are some local Prairie Falcons in the area.
There aren’t many sites for counting raptors where you could actually sit in your car and watch. We had chairs handy for when we got tired of standing. We could have had a BBQ going and made it into a “tail-gate watch party”. In addition to Silvan Laan (the primary counter) we had the company of Andrew Burmester to provide even more raptor id expertise.
We really did hit a nice peak day. As of October 26 there have been 898 raptors reported – 196 Roughies (only 2 in September), 194 Red-tailed Hawks – 155 in October, peak of 35 October 6 and 21 on both October 8 and 12. Thre were 82 raptors recorded on October 12 – the high daily total. There have been 60 Golden Eagles 21 on October 12. Sharp-shinned Hawks peaked at 54 on October 1st. You can find all the numbers at www.hawkcount.org – just click on Montana on the map and choose “Cut Bank”. On the left column you can choose to look at daily or monthly data. The birds flew right overhead for the most part – sometimes headed over town to the east, other times down along the creek (like a pair of Northern Harriers we watched. A few paused to do some hunting. One Bald Eagle photographed looked like it had recently had a large meal.
We did a little side birding to a few local “pot holes” – a quick trip up to Split Pond yielded some lingering Long-billed Dowitchers and a group of Green-winged Teal, the sewage lagoons had a couple hundred Canada Geese loafing and northern Shovelers, Blue-winged Teal and Mallards dabbling. On our way home we stopped by a pot hole at Ethridge and found 5 lingering Greater Yellowlegs (and more dabblers). The Cut Bank Hawkwatch is an easy way to get introduced to hawk migration watching. Be forewarned – it can become addictive.