Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Zone-tailed Hawk - AGAIN!!!

As if proof were needed that lightning really can strike the same place twice, the hallowed grounds of Cape May were blessed again with a repeat of last year's extraordinarily unlikely event, when a Zone-tailed Hawk graced us with its presence. Last year, the visitation was all too brief, when the bird breezed past Cape May Point, took a quick spin around the lighthouse, then headed straight out across the bay.

This year, we clearly had been very good and deserved a better look. This year's Zone-tail - like last year's and, let's be honest, almost certainly the same bird - had been reported previously up in New England. Just three days ago, it was photographed at Lighthouse Point, Connecticut and the communication lines were buzzing with excitement. Tom Reed, still smarting from having missed last year's visitation, was the first to pronounce that current weather trends would bring it our way this very day - Wednesday, September 23rd...

At 09:53 this morning, the text message went out - Zone-tailed Hawk over the Hawkwatch Platform. Time for the full gamut of reactions, ranging from "I can't get there in time, oh well I saw it last year", through "I CAN'T XXXXXXX GET THERE IN TIME!!" to "Waaaahhhhh". Pandemonium ensues; it's fine for those on the platform, but for the rest of us, it's a crazy chase around the streets trying to get a look at a bird that's happily spinning around Cape May Point, the Rea Farm and all points here, there and everywhere. And on trash collection day, landscape gardening day and everything else that 'ordinary' folks were doing while we needed empty roads and a generous attitude toward those random numbers on speed limit signs...

In the event, it turned out pretty good for a larger number of folks than last year. The bird was first picked up by CMBO Interpretive Naturalist Jacob Drucker, as it approached the Hawkwatch Platform from the east, way out toward Second Avenue in Cape May. As a murmur became a more excited level of interest, Tom Reed - who just happened to be working as swing counter at the Hawkwatch today - locked onto the bird and the rest, as they say, is history. The Zone-tailed Hawk sailed over the platform and headed north over Cape May Point. It then proceeded to spend a whole hour during which it was almost always in view for someone, somewhere. It wandered with Turkey Vultures as far north as the Hidden Valley Horse Ranch, before heading back to the point. Eventually it broke away from its travelling companions, gained height a little south of Sunset Beach and headed out over the bay.

For those not well versed in Zone-tailed Hawks, it's useful to know that this is a bird that one would not typically expect to see in the US north of Arizona, New Mexico and south-west Texas. To see one in Cape May is to be very lucky, to enjoy a repeat performance is nothing short of blessed. And for me, an added bonus was the fun of hearing people finally opening up and regaling us with how they missed the bird last year - now there's a bunch of stories we didn't expect to be shared!!

Zone-tailed Hawk on Bayshore Road, West Cape May, September 23rd 2015. Note the damage to the ninth primary (P9) on the left wing (the second longest 'finger'). There was also slight damage to the very tip of P6 on the right wing, which is clearly visible on the originals of these photos. These features appear also to be visible on photos of the Zone-tail taken by Nick Bonomo at Lighthouse Point, CT on September 20th and would therefore appear to confirm the two sightings as being of the same bird [photos by Mike Crewe].

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