by Shanti Edwards
Every year around this time — as the big leaf maples turn gold and begin dropping leaves, the reddish haze from distant fires fills the air and signs of the shifting seasons appear — I notice raptors abounding in the rolling grasslands of our coastal preserves. In addition to the dramatic influx of Kestrels, Red-tailed Hawks, Kites and Northern Harriers, we are visited by migrating raptors such as Cooper’s Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks and Ferruginous Hawks, all of whom bring their annual dance of migration and predation with vivid displays of exquisitely patterned wings.
Birds of prey migrate to more temperate climates to take advantage of a larger prey base during the winter season and are often funneled along coastal areas because high mountain ranges and large bodies of water can be obstacles. Some raptors are migrating through the region along the Pacific Flyway, while others, such as the Ferruginous Hawks, are migrating to coastal preserves like the Jenner Headlands for overwintering habitat. Our Sonoma Coast landscape is prime viewing territory for observing these majestic predators of the sky.
Along with the raptors comes a dedicated group of birders to the Jenner Headlands Preserve Hawk Overlook to track migration numbers and celebrate this ancient instinct that brings birds of prey along the coast to their southern hunting grounds each fall. The program’s leader is Larry Broderick, aka The Raptor Magnet. Larry has dedicated his hawk identification expertise for Sonoma Land Trust raptor walks and raptor ID presentations every fall for over a decade. There is no one more enthusiastic and knowledgeable about raptors than Larry. Instructed by notable leaders like Allen Fish, Jerry Liguori, Peter Leveque and the late Betty Burridge, Larry is a part of the lineage of expert birders who help us to better understand and appreciate the natural history of the North Bay.
Larry is heading up a group called West County Hawk Watch at the Jenner Headlands Preserve on Wednesdays and selected weekend days. Using Golden Gate Raptor Observatory protocols and tracking sheets, Larry and his team count birds per hour and submit the information to a larger citizen science effort to better understand how birds of prey are affected by land use issues and climate change, as well as study their migration patterns and overwintering distributions.
Last year, Larry and his team counted 3,000 raptors, including a Northern Goshawk and a handful of broad-winged hawks. Larry’s most memorable day was in mid-October 2016, when the Hawk Watch team counted 120 accipiters (Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks) in one day!
To join the West County Hawk Watch, please email Larry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shanti Edwards is a stewardship project manager at Sonoma Land Trust.
Sonoma Land Trust is a local nonprofit based in Santa Rosa, CA, that conserves scenic, natural, agricultural and open lands in Sonoma County for the benefit of the community and future generations. This blog focuses on SLT's stewardship team, whose members do hands-on work to directly protect, restore, and safeguard the land for generations to come.