Recent weather systems brought rain, snow and ridge-capping clouds to the Golden Eagle Migration Survey site atop the Big Belt mountains. For nearly a dozen days, the clouds obscured visibility, and only five days of successful surveys have been conducted since October 1st. One of those days, observers counted zero birds.
Thus far this season, the project has recorded 929 individuals representing 17 raptor species. The first Rough-legged Hawks showed up on the 3rd of October, and their numbers are likely to increase during the month. For many in Montana, this bird is a true harbinger of winter. We have now recorded 411 Golden Eagles, 144 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 80 Cooper’s Hawks, 79 Red-tailed Hawks, 40 American Kestrels, 27 Northern Goshawks, 31 Bald Eagles, 18 Peregrine Falcons, 22 Northern Harriers, 12 Broad-winged Hawks, 8 Prairie Falcons, 7 Merlin, 6 Turkey Vultures, 6 Osprey, 4 Swainson’s Hawks, and 1 Ferruginous Hawk. The remainder were 22 unknown species simply recorded to family. Birds continue to pass through the count site very well fed. By now, some eagles may be finding the gut piles left behind by bow hunters that have been successful in the area, but many other birds are benefitting by rodents in the valleys below.
The upcoming week’s weather shows a high-pressure system coming in, with valley-bottome temperatures in the low 60’s. Hopefully this weather will melt a bit of the recent snow that has fallen and drifted in at the survey site. Road conditions during the early part of October have been poor due to snow and ice in shaded areas. With luck the sunny weather will let us accomplish a some full, 8-hour survey days. We expect the number of eagles of both species, Red-tails, and Rough-legged Hawks to increase again this week.