Hawkwatch Sets Record
Last updated 4/10/2017 at 7:54am
The Road Runner Club’s “Return to Learning” lecture series was held at the Springs of Borrego Golf Course and RV Park, featuring Borrego’s own “hawkman” Hal Cohen speaking on “The Birds of Borrego”. The audience was charmed by Hal’s delightful speaking style and original photography of many rare birds that actually live on the Road Runner grounds or migrate through. Hal estimates that there are 125 species regularly seen in the RR Club and RV park, plus a total of 250 area species if you include the Salton Sea flyway. The beautiful lakes, greenbelts and lush trees of the Road Runner’s properties create an inviting oasis for both people and animals and present a visual feast for bird lovers. A retired biology professor, Hal moved to Borrego in 2003, and leads the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count in Borrego.
Cohen also launched the wildly popular Borrego Hawkwatch, one of only two in California. The group gets support from the state park and the Anza-Borrego Foundation. The hawkwatch volunteers call themselves “citizen scientists.” Each day for about two months, their hawk count and supporting data is reported to the UC Irvine Steele/ Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center, which compiles it and sends it to the Hawk Migration Association of North America. From Feb. 15 through April 15 every year, volunteers are in the field from 8 to 11 a.m. daily, counting the number of hawks passing through on their incredible migratory journey that spans as much as 14,000 miles. The Swainson’s hawk is a slim and graceful bird with a wingspan of about 52 inches. They winter as far south as Argentina then migrate as far north as the Northern Territories of Canada and Alaska. “We don’t know specifically where they are coming from,” Cohen said. “There has been some banding done, but we have yet to recover banded birds.” The hawks like to feast on the countless number of two-inch Sphinx Moth caterpillars that can be found all over the desert floor this time of year.
This year’s hawkwatch team had exciting news: the previous season record Swainson’s Hawk count was last year, with 8,917 hawks. As of March 25 this year the hawk count exceeds 11,000 and is still going! Volunteers monitor the desert every evening until sunset at a site on Borrego Valley Road to see where birds are roosting. The hawks come in over the southern mountains, very high up, out of sight to the naked eye. They may spread out all over the valley, then can be seen slowly descending into view and picking out their favorite trees to roost in safely for the night. The morning watch site is on the south end of DiGiorgio Road where, as the morning temperatures rise and the winds pick up, the birds feed and then slowly rise into the warmed air currents, eventually forming “kettles” which look like tornadoes. They fly higher and higher until the updraft ends and then they stream off to the north. Hal Cohen likes to call this migration “one of the great North American gatherings”, and yet another hidden wonder of the Borrego Valley.