ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Recounting Raptors

Are you interested in getting a good look at some of those hawks and eagles that fly over the city on their migration routes every spring and fall? Well, now's the time to get out the binoculars and join Frank Nicoletti on Skyline Drive below Eng...

Are you interested in getting a good look at some of those hawks and eagles that fly over the city on their migration routes every spring and fall?
Well, now's the time to get out the binoculars and join Frank Nicoletti on Skyline Drive below Enger Tower as he counts the magnificent birds on their way to their nesting grounds.
"I'm encouraging people to come," Nicoletti said earlier this week, as he stood beside his Toyota pickup on Skyline Drive and scanned the sky. "The best time is mid-March through mid-May. The best conditions are warmer days with a southerly breeze."
Most of the raptors can be seen between 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., he said.
So far this year, the flight of eagles has been exceptional. As of Monday, Nicoletti had counted 1,102 bald eagles as well as 41 golden eagles.
"They're two or three weeks earlier than usual," he said. On one day, Nicoletti counted 405 bald eagles.
"That's higher than any single day last fall," he said.
Red-tail hawks, rough legged hawks, Northern goshawks and the sharp-shinned hawks have also taken advantage of the warm weather and are moving north.
"This is the third warmest winter in a row," Nicoletti said. "Each year we're seeing a different weather pattern. The birds are reacting to it."
Most of these raptors are considered short- to middle-distance migrants, since they winter somewhere in the continental United States. Long distance migrants, like broad wing hawks, osprey and peregrines, which winter in Central and South America, follow a fixed schedule for moving north, he said.
This is the fourth spring in a row that Nicoletti has been counting raptors on the hill overlooking Lincoln Park.
In the fall, one can find him at Hawk Ridge on the other side of town, where he's been following the movement of raptors since 1991.
{IMG2}
This friendly and quiet-spoken man has been counting birds considerably longer than that. "I've been watching and counting birds and enjoying birds since I was 11 or 12," he said. He's been working as a professional bird counter for the last 17 years.
Long hours on a ridge scanning the sky doesn't bore him at all, he said.
"The number of hawks I've seen, they've numbered in the millions, but I never, never get tired of them. Seeing a flight of birds in migration always fascinates me," he said.
He's also interested in discovering what triggers the birds to begin their migrations as well as comparing the numbers and species that migrate through here in the spring and fall.
By and large, raptors fly during the day and use major landmarks to guide them on their way.
"Satellite telemetry has shown they move the most efficient way from where they breed to where they winter," Nicoletti said. Mark Martell and Matt Salinksy at the Raptor Centers are leaders in this regard, he said.
Finding the time, and money, to do the bird counts is always a challenge, he said. The Hawk Ridge Management Committee, the Duluth Audubon Society and the Minnesota Ornithological Union have made the spring count project possible. Nicoletti also credits his employer, the London Road Car Wash, for being supportive by giving him the time off to do his research.
"They understand what I'm doing, they respect what I'm doing," he said.
If you would like to contribute to the spring hawk count, call Ken Huntley, president of the Hawk Ridge Mangement Committee, at 729-6765.

What To Read Next
The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.