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Master Naturalists: Fall migration busy time for Coastal Bend

Nov. 18, 2010 at 5:18 a.m.

Anywhere from 300,000-700,000 broad-winged hawks fly over Hazel Bazemore Park near Calallen,  each year in their 4,500-mile migration to Argentina. They can be distinguished from the larger red-shouldered hawks by their large black-and-white tail bands, and the absence of rusty-red wing linings on the red-shouldered hawk. Those linings are only seen in flight. This bird could be either; the tail is behind a branch and the wings are closed. Both are recorded in flight at Hazel Bazemore.

Fall Hawk WatchingWho - All ages including kids

Where - Hazel Bazemore Park, near Calallen

When - Mid-morning to afternoons, Mid-August to Mid-October peaking in September

What to look for - Observe thousands to 100's of thousands of 20+ hawk species in flight

What you need - A chair and binoculars

What you will say - There's nothing like this anywhere else in the U.S.A.

Species of Raptors at Hazel Bazemore Park

Species generally seen Sept. 18-30:

Mississippi kite

Broadwinged hawks

Swainson's hawks

Anhingas

Wood storks

Other bird-of-prey species seen:

Turkey vulture

Black vulture

White-tailed kite

Northern harrier

Sharp-shinned hawk

Cooper's hawk

Red-shouldered hawk

Red-tailed hawk

White-tailed hawk

Harris's hawk

Osprey

Crested caracara

American kestrel

Merlin

Peregrine falcon

Species rarely seen:

Golden eagle

Bald eagle

American swallow-tailed kite

Ferruginous hawk

Zone-tailed hawk

Prairie falcon

By Paul and Mary Meredith

All sorts of birds - from many different summer territories, headed for many different winter territories - pass over Coastal Texas each fall and spring. Some migrations are well-known, like the hummingbird migration. Others aren't so well-known but are amazing.

WHAT HAWK-WATCHERS CAN SEE

Visitors to Nueces County's Hazel Bazemore Park on the Nueces River near Calallen can watch hundreds of thousands of raptors migrating each fall. Fall migrations are more spectacular than spring ones. Spring migrations include sporadic flights over the park.

Another hawk-watching location is Candy Abshier WMA on Smith Point on Galveston Bay's eastern shore. The numbers of hawks migrating over that area isn't as large as those over Hazel Bazemore.

RAPTOR MIGRATIONS

In northern and mid-northern North America, raptors spend summer months spread from western to eastern coasts. They migrate each fall to their wintering grounds, some as far south as southern South America. Migrating means many flights of birds "funnel" over Mexico's "narrower" land mass. For example, flights from farther east in the U.S. move westward, closer to flights from farther west, to travel over Mexico. However, some eastern birds continue flying along the East Coast, through Florida, across to Yucatan to reach their wintering grounds.

Hundreds of thousands of raptors can be viewed roosting and flying over Hazel Bazemore Park, where the funnel narrows as birds approach Mexico. The funneling provides spectacular viewing for folks in the park. Large flights usually arrive from mid-August through mid-October. The largest number of raptors arrives during the second half of September. One hawk-watch organization's data shows over 700,000 hawks passing over Texas's Coastal area.

The most common species funneling over Mexico is the broad-winged hawk. Estimates say up to 95 percent of broad-wings migrate over Hazel Bazemore headed to Argentina

FLYING HOW-TO'S

Raptor groups fly using thermals of warm air, called "kettles," helping them save energy by gliding as much as possible. Morning hours' warming of air forms kettles; and birds rise within them - like vultures do - then glide southward as they descend through the kettles. Some broad-wings rise to 5,000 feet on a thermal. A single kettle has reportedly contained a thousand birds.

WHAT YOU SEE

One wildlife photographer reported sighting 300,000 broad-wings migrating in one day, and a 40-mile-long flight. At Hazel Bazemore single kettles of 10,000 hawks are routinely reported. And single flights of 100,000 or more have been reported. Reported single day's total sightings have been 100,000 to 400,000. Reportedly, 750,000 broad-winged hawks once roosted there overnight because of a "monster" cold front.

Like hawks? Hazel Bazemore is a good place to set up a lawn chair and watch the raptor migration. Binoculars are useful, but not necessary, for bird identification.

Paul and Mary Meredith are master naturalists. Contact them at paulmary0211@sbcglobal.net.

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