Every Fall Rafael Galvez, the Director of the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, and several committed volunteers descend upon Curry Hammock State Park to conduct important research on migrating birds of prey. Tabitha Cale, Audubon Florida’s Everglades Policy Associate, joined Rafael and his team of volunteers October 14th. Birds spotted during just a few hours of monitoring included Merlin, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, Turkey Vultures, Broad-winged Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Kestrels, Short-tailed Hawks, and many non-raptors such as Magnolia Warblers, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Prairie Warblers, and Northern Rough-winged Swallows.
Curry Hammock is located on Little Crawl Key in the Middle Keys – A strategic spot for watching migration since the Keys act as a funnel, guiding birds south as they try to minimize the time they spend flying over open water. Each year thousands of birds fly over the Keys on their way to destinations as far as southern Chile.
The Florida Keys Hawkwatch is especially important because it is the southern-most monitoring point for migrants in the continental United States and is one of the only sites where Swallow-tailed Kites, Mississippi Kites, and Short-tailed Hawks are recorded. The Hawkwatch also boasts the highest daily, and highest seasonal, count of Peregrine Falcons in the world. So far this year over 3,000 Peregrines have been recorded flying over Curry Hammock, and the count will continue until mid-November.
Since they are at the top of many food chains, raptors play an important role as indicators of ecological health. Up to 18 species of raptors are seen annually by the Hawkwatch, and the data collected is shared with the Florida State Park Service, the Hawk Migration Association of North America, and the Raptor Population Index Project.
The Florida Keys Hawkwach is a citizen science program and visitors and volunteers can stop by and learn more or participate in monitoring these important species. Free housing is available for volunteers, and the White Sands Inn also provides discounted rates to participants. Volunteers of any skill level are welcome and can contact the program Director, Rafael Galvez at TASpublisher@gmail.com, (305) 804-6003. More information can be found on their website at www.floridakeyshawkwatch.wordpress.com