COPPER HARBOR - After a record-setting survey last year, hawk watchers in the Keweenaw Peninsula are eager to get started with this season's three-month tally, which begins Saturday at the summit of Brockway Mountain.
However, with the northern tip of the peninsula still buried under about four feet of snow, Brockway Mountain Hawk Watch counter Calvin Brennan of Grayling is expected to need a snowmobile to get to his perch atop the cliffs.
The situation was similar last spring.
"Last year, they couldn't drive up there until mid-May," said Karen Karl, the main organizer of the count for Copper Harbor Birding. "There were some hardcore people, they skied and snowshoed up."
Each spring, thousands of hawks, vultures, eagles and falcons -called raptors- funnel their way past hawk watchers, buoyed on southerly winds, heading north along the central flyway on their spring migrations.
Since 2010, organized tallies of 16 species have been conducted.
In March, hourly counts are made daily for six hours and in April, May and June, hawk counting is done over eight hours each day, Karl said.
Last year, a total of 25,765 raptors were counted during the March 15 to June 15 hawk survey period, a figure surpassing the highest previous count from 2012, when 19,907 hawks were seen. Record numbers were posted for 13 of the 16 species in 2013.
The top five species represented included 15,653 broad-winged hawks; 2,987 sharp-shinned hawks; 2,163 turkey vultures; 2,182 red-tailed hawks and 1,441 bald eagles. Those totals were all record-setting.
Additional records included 175 ospreys; 40 northern goshawks; 21 red-shouldered hawks; 385 rough-legged hawks; 81 golden eagles; 259 American kestrels; 52 merlins and 70 peregrine falcons.
Other species counts logged, which did not set records, were 134 northern harriers; 21 Cooper's hawks; five Swainson's hawks and a single black vulture.
There were 95 birds which could not be conclusively identified and were counted as unknown raptors.
In addition to the hourly raptor counts, Brennan - a hired professional hawk counter - records various weather-related data including cloud types and cover, temperature, wind speed and direction and barometric pressure.
All of the information collected is compiled with data from other hawk counts across the country by the Hawk Migration Association of North America. The information is used for seasonal reports, journals and databases.
Karl said the Brockway count is important because it collects data lacking from that part of the Lake Superior region and supplements hawk watch results gathered from Whitefish Point in Chippewa County and Duluth, Minn.
Following hawk watch blog posts from last spring, the Brockway count started out slow with the persistent winter. On April 29, Brennan said some warm weather and south winds had finally arrived, with 2,800 birds counted over a three-day period.
However, by May 6, "several days of chilly, damp weather that effectively shut down the hawk migration" had returned including fog on some days and north winds.
On May 17, Brennan wrote, "The weather has continued to be a bit inconsistent so the hawk watch has had its good and not so good days."
Entering the final weeks of the count, Brennan wrote that raptors continued to pass over West Bluff in good numbers.
"So despite the lateness of the spring, there were some large movements of hawks when we did get the right wind and weather conditions," Brennan wrote in a June hawk watch blog posting announcing the totals for last year's count. "It was unfortunate that the road up the mountain did not open a bit sooner so a few more folks could see some of the bigger flights."
Karl said during 2012, weather allowed hawk watchers to get to the mountain top sooner and more than 5,000 visitors came to the Brockway count site over the three-month period.
The first three years of the formal survey were organized and conducted by the Laughing Whitefish Audubon Society, headquartered in Marquette, and Copper Country Audubon.
Back then, the survey was called the Keweenaw Raptor Survey. Beginning last year, the count has been organized by Copper Harbor Birding and Copper Country Audubon and the name was changed to the Brockway Mountain Hawk Watch.
For more information, visit: www.brockwayhawkwatch.org/.