With the thoughts of seeing a good flight of migrating raptors tomorrow soaring through my mind, I sat out on the porch with my second coffee of the day, (Friday September 5th). It was 11:45 am, and the humid air was cooled some by strong breezes, so a nice balance of late summer heat with good airflow. I suddenly heard the familiar “klinking call” of at least one or two upset starlings. As I raised my eyes to spot the offending raptor, I was somewhat surprized not to see a Cooper`s or Sharp-shinned Hawk, but instead a Peregrine passing just out in front of me in very fast level flight, speed being maintained by quite stiff and shallow strokes of the wings.
Flying directly away from me – it must have just passed straight over the porch where I sat – I looked on ahead of the falcon in time to see three or four pigeons on my neighbour`s barn roof peak. I was surprized at how close, (appeared to be ten meters or less), that the falcon actually got to the closest pigeon before they, and nearly 30 previously un-seen others, took to the air and immediatly balled up. During the second swipe of “the ball” of pigeons, the falcon managed to pry one bird from the tight group, and the chase was now one of focus and determination. The distance between the two was kept to about 20 meters, but interestingly, (and somewhat typical), the falcon closed the distance to about only two or three meters once the pigeon began to climb.
Just as one would expect to see the pigeon ripped and transformed into a descending comet of feathers, it twisted, dropped sharply, and managed to wind up flying back the other way. (The kind of move that would have torn the wings clear off of a WWI bi-plane!!) My hat is off to this skilled pigeon. It often winds up going the other way, once the falcon closes the gap that much, and that quickly. The defeated, (though now wiser), falcon left the area after the “flying lesson” given by the pigeon, and headed out over the trees and eastward towards where it must have come from only half a minute before. The Peregrine was a HY (hatch year, or immature) bird. I`m guessing that the pigeon may have been somewhat older based on the impressive way it “handled” the situation. Either that, or it took one very risky chance, one that for now at least, has payed off.
Next day, (the 6th), I had got up a little later than I had hoped to, having stayed up half the previous night enjoying the storm.
I took a chair out into the field to spend some time hawk watching, as migration was now on and we had just had a sharp cold front which would enhance conditions for raptor migration. No sooner had I sat down, and along came a Sharp-shinned Hawk which pulled up to land in a large, isolated ash tree in the field. It sat for about 20 minutes preening and looking around the surrounding countryside. I had plenty of time to watch it closely and determine that it was a second year (sub-adult) female with her pale orange eyes and fairly dull, yet nearly complete adult plumage. It was easy too, to see that she was on the larger end of the Sharp-shinned scale, especially when she flew. I stayed in the field for only 90 minutes before I had to get on with daily chores, but before I left, I had counted 14 monarchs. Most were flying overhead from 10 to 20 meters up, but a few were low, and visiting New England Asters and goldenrods. The only other “raptor” I saw was a turkey vulture as I walked through the field back home.
So, off to the store and the local dump I went. Though they were in pockets, thicker in some places and absent in others, I ended up counting a day total of 48 monarchs, (16 more than I saw during all of 2013!) While out driving, the best spots seemed to be anywhere where there were lots of goldenrods and other yellow flowers, New England Asters, and damp sandy spots with puddles left over from the rain the night before – I saw 11 at my local dump alone, and all were hanging around damp sand there.
Well, my predicted “big hawk flight day” was somewhat of a bust, but for monarchs, I will not complain. I saw another 8 on Sunday, and 8 again on Monday, but have not seen another since then, (and it is now Thursday morning.) And so, at this time, my 2014 monarch total stands at 148.
two Monarchs on Helianthus giganteus – Tim Dyson