12 Sep 2013, Wekiwa Springs State Park
Here I am, sitting on a lawn chair at Wekiwa Springs SP, gazing up into the heavens looking for high altitude migrating raptors flying thousands of feet high. A shadow zips by me followed by a woooosh and I am then staring at the rear end of what I thought was a Merlin flying no more than 15 feet above the ground--it went right over me.
As it neared a dead snag by the equestrian area, it spread its wings as it rose up to land and the wings were so long I said to myself, "Cool, another Peregrine". I walked over to the equestrian area and got this photo:
I was surprised--it actually was a Merlin. See that dragonfly buzzing overhead? That's what this Merlin did to me.
A short time later, while looking at some Black Vultures, a dark morph Short-tailed Hawk entered the scene.
Look at the leading edge of the wings of this Short-tailed Hawk above. See how smooth they are? In the next picture below, the Short-tailed Hawk starts kiting and the alula extends out from the wing ...
You could not even see where the alula was in the first photo. Like slats on an aircraft, the alula assists in providing lift when the raptor slows down to kite and when it lands.
This has been a great time for raptor watching here recently--a Peregrine Falcon migrating at high altitude, Bald Eagles, Red-shouldered Hawks plentiful, Red-tailed Hawks, a Cooper's Hawk the previous week, a migrating Merlin trying to take my head off, and a Short-tailed Hawk kiting right overhead.
There is nothing special about this location that draws raptors here. It simply has some big open sky where you can see good distances. No matter where you live, find some "big sky", some shade to keep you cooler, pack some cold drinks and snacks and go hawk watching during the next few weeks.
Better yet, go to a real hawk watch site where raptors funnel through in concentrated numbers. The closest site for many of you would be in the Keys--the season is Sept 15 to Nov 15. I'll likely go to Hawk Mountain, PA for a while (the grandaddy of American hawk watch sites) then head down to the Keys at our Florida Keys Hawkwatch at Curry Hammock State Park.