The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Texas Raptor Migration Can be Spectacular
by Ro Wauer

It is again time to watch the skies for the abundant raptors that pass through South Texas en route to their wintering grounds south of the border. Many of the raptors – hawks, kites, harriers, falcons, and even eagles - funnel through our area from all across the northern portion of North America. Like an hourglass, coastal Texas offers a natural highway for millions of raptors each fall. A lucky observer could possible see more than two dozen species over a six week period. Their numbers usually peak during late September, but migrating raptors usually can be seen as early as mid-August.

Raptor migration occurs in many parts of the world, and formal “hawk watches” are organized at a few key sites. Many of these provide some amazing statistics. The best known historic sites include Pennsylvania’s Hawk Mountain and New Jersey’s Cape May Point. But in recent years Texas sites have produced even greater numbers. The single most productive one in North America is Hazel Bazemore County Park near Corpus Christi, where over one million raptors are known to pass over each year. Hawk watchers at Hazel Bazemore, a geographic chokepoint, have tallied up to 100,000 individual raptors in a single day. That is something very special to see!

It is estimated that 94 percent of North America’s broad-winged hawk population migrates southward along the Texas central Gulf Coast. The total count of broad-wings during the 2007 season at Hazel Bazemore totaled 596,838 individuals. Fewer numbers (in order of abundance) of Mississippi kites; sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks; American kestrels; ospreys; Swainson’s hawks; peregrine falcons; northern harriers; red-tailed hawks; swallow-tailed kites; merlins; white-tailed, zone-tailed, and red-shouldered hawks; crested caracaras; prairie falcons; Harris’s hawks; bald eagles; aplomado falcons; northern goshawks; white-tailed kites; and golden eagles moved through the area as well.

But the most outstanding spectacle of the raptor migration is a circling flock of broad-winged hawks – especially when several hundred of these hawks begin to leave a preferred overnight roost site at one time, usually about 8:30 A.M., and slowly ascend by circling to a point where they are out of sight. There are times when similar events are possible at various other sites, such as Victoria’s Riverside Park. The broad-winged hawk is a fairly small hawk, built very much like our common red-tailed hawk but with a banded rather than an all reddish tail. It is a common nester throughout the eastern deciduous forests of North America. And like many of our raptors, it is a Neotropical migrant that goes south for the winter. Broad-wings spend their winter months from southern Mexico south to Peru and Brazil.

For anyone interested in watching or participating in a hawk watch, you would be welcome to visit Hazel Bazemore County Park. It is located west of Corpus Christi. Take US 77 south of Calallen and turn west onto SH 624. The park entrance sign is one mile beyond on the right. The right day can produce one amazing spectacle!

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