HawkArtScience: Hawksaloft.com blog

(Archive: Weather & Climate)

15 October 2009, Thursday
If you're a hawkwatcher, NEXRAD is the new porn

I can't get enough of it. I watch it day and night and I haven't paid for it yet, unless you count my iPhone bill. Watching birds on weather radar is nothing short of addictive.

While hawks flights have to be concentrated to show up on the radar, those are the movements you most want to watch. When John vanDort single-handedly created the Derby Hill website, he included a nice animated section on radar with actual hawks. During the last two Springs at Derby I've showed the live flight to folks right as it was upon us, onsite, over WiFi thru my iPhone.

You must look at a lot of plain old weather to recognize biota; to tell the animate from the inanimate means looking at a lot of enhanced rain details, fog, and ground clutter (NEXRAD extracts more detail to show more weather and that's why birds, but also buildings and treelines, show up along with the raindrops that surely aren't reaching the ground). Then, after a few hundred hours of that "wax on, wax off" work, you can start looking for features that seem to have a mind of their own. In addition to John vanDort's lesson above, the Woodcreeper site is all about the biota... and the guy's got bumper stickers too! After that, it's The Google for further investigation. I'm not doing a class on NEXRAD or weather here and now. I will have many many entries on weather going forward.

Unlike others, I don't tweak the various radar settings, I just look at it. If I've got a migration question, I'm likely to look for my answer on radar. Recently I had two: first, when the August conditions aren't quite right at Derby Hill for the incredible juvenile Redtail flights in Rochester, do most of the birds continue by Derby, like it was Spring, or do they arc back South? Even on favorable conditions, Derby only then sees this dispersal flight, but only lesser numbers. On August 17th, I got my answer.

Wolfe Island ON gets huge numbers of landbirds, coastal numbers. I've had 160 Eastern Kingbirds in a day there (and I'm a casual counter of this stuff at best). Huge numbers of American Pipits too — dwarfing the numbers over on the mainland. Question 2: When this concentration of biota lifts off, where does it make landfall in New York? Answer: Sandy Pond and the greater Selkirk unpopulated area.

Now THAT is really cool! How many BW per pixel do you suppose?

That endorsement for the joys of NEXRAD came in last month when I sent out a radar image of Broad-winged Hawks having a flight past the Duluth area. The Hawk Ridge report for the day recorded 5K+ birds, but having seen a few 20-30,000 bird flights as dots, this radar looked like ten times five, but with the heaviest movement happening farther inland than the observers would be able to detect.

The image set below illustrates some birds on radar. How you I know? The dots are in the right place, at the right time, often confirmed by observers on the ground at or nearby, and from my experience so far, this is what life looks like on radar... as opposed to weather. Note that I've got three difference styles of images... NEXRAD can be both art and science. Enjoy:

Biomass1: image 1 0f 4 thumbBiomass1: image 2 0f 4 thumbBiomass1: image 3 0f 4 thumbBiomass1: image 4 0f 4 thumb


17 November 2009, Tuesday
Climate change & hawk migration, briefly

My quick and first read of the 2008 State of North America's Birds of Prey a while back had a missing link: climate change and hawk migration. Maintaining levels of coverage at current sites, maybe more monitoring locations, and trimming the line of sight vegetation were covered, but no mention of the #1 world-changing issue of the day.

Late one 1970's night at the C-view Inn, Cape May NJ, on that all-important second pitcher of beer (where each bander, hawkwatcher, and others in the pirate crew had their own pitcher), Pete Dunne leaned in (involuntarily) and said, "The history of hawkwatching is about where the hawkwatchers are, not the hawks." Derby Hill's always clean and sober founder, Fritz Scheider, was often heard turning this phrase, "Hawks don't need the wind, hawkwatchers do." So decades ago I took this as an indictment of the established importance one should place on natural amusement park rides and doorstep weather... that is hilltops and ridgelines, rivers and lakes, and today's forecast — in the pursuit of hawk migration understanding.

What is really important? Big water and big weather effect hawk concentrations to the exclusion of everything else you've been told about what moves birds of prey, statistically speaking. Macroweather is quite capable of putting up temporal geography that moves hawks in both Spring and Fall, not just one or ten miles, but a hundred miles off the course they took last year/decade. Now certainly, after the above big ideas put the birds where they find themselves, doorstep weather and natural amusement park rides come into play.

The initial results of generalized, but also localized weather (climate change) studies are coming out at an accelerated clip these days. For Lake Superior, it looks like it's getting windier as the waters warm. Lake breezes and, along the ocean, sea breezes will likely increase and adjust the movements of hawks along big water. Formation and dissipation of clouds are in the science news too. It's no matter which way the clouds go or why for that matter, just be aware of the changes and know that changes the hawkwatching picture!

Whether these changes in weather are local, regional, continental, short-term or continuing in a singular and Gore-y direction, studies around the movements and concentrations of hawks need to follow the tenets of any other endeavor, in this order... information, awareness, action. I don't see hawk migration studies even approaching awareness, at this point.


16 December 2009, Wednesday
The Daily Show: Copenhagen intro

[Hulu.com embed has expired, so click here or on image to go to Comedy Central page.]

As the climate conference gets started, Jon Stewart covers the coverage. No show does it better... in their own words. It is a bit PG-13, but that's The Daily Show, and worth every second.

In the network coverage, we hear from a cavalcade of deniers: Lord Monckton, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, the usual suspects in their own words. Googling any of these characters along with "global warming" is so much fun. Stewart has fun with the international bureaucrats as well.

What's amazing is how little the arguments have changed. The new non-issue is of course the hacked emails from climate scientists in England. The BBC's article is entitled "Show your work"; Fred Pearce covers the cover-up — always a good lesson — and has links to many other sources and stories related; and here's a retelling of the AP-London analysis, close to the story.

You simply cannot be deeply interested in birds and not know the importance of this issue, and what more important news source to track this than The Daily Show (in 2010).


29 December 2009, Tuesday
Old weather v. the new

I had another weather-related — macroweather — entry set to go this morning until some old Westchester(NY) friends put up a neato/animated weather map by Arthur Green. Okay all weather, and their maps of any kind, interest me greatly... I watched their animation of September-past a dozen times, and thought about weather and hawks.

[Trudy Battaly, Drew Panko and I knew each other back in the day hawkwatching, birding, and generally doing our part to protect a fairly wild Westchester County and its airspace. I've never met Arthur Green, but we are kindred spirits, as he counted hawks at Chestnut Ridge in 2009, while I watched there in 1979... starting it up, building a platform to see over a six-foot chain link NYSDOT fence. This fence was being climbed over by three thirteen year olds who wanted a better view of the hawk flight. One of my first tasks on that site was to order the tresspassing teens — John Askildsen, Rodney Olsen and Frank Nicoletti — back onto the Conservancy side of the fence... and build them a platform. That would be the abridged version of the story.]

Climbing back out of my time machine... their animation has every day's weather for September 2009, plus the BW (tight bimodal) spike for Hook Mt. NY. Again, this is fun stuff, especially if you have your own notes/site and think about your birds as you watch September... yes, I said "your birds"... even though I espouse taking the opposite POV for understanding hawk migration.

Taking it back a decade, let's start with a Birdhawk discussion that began after another season and get into POV in terms of taking the hawk's view, rather than hawkwatcher/site. This was amongst Michael Gochfeld and John Hansen and quotes others (see 11/13/99: "An added problem for modelers of hawk flights" and go on from there; also use overview page to hunt down this thread into the next week; btw, this "overview" is your gateway to any/all past Birdhawk posts).

Kirk Moulton's BroadwingSEPT (use the Birdhawk archive link) and my K-April projects begin with the assumption that hawk migration only makes sense if you combine sites while you observe the weather systems over the breadth of that picture. For my little K-April study — Kestrels in April — I used data from three sites that I thought might track the same waves of birds. It's a table of numbers "plotted" from south-west to north-east, so you can see the waves, really! At the top, each date links to a weather map. I have two seasons of this online at my old site. BTW, the El Nino (and/or La Nina) pattern normally develops in mid-Winter, and in 2002 generated the best Kestrel numbers seen anywhere that Spring east of the Rockies at Plum at Plum Island MA!

Questions and answers about hawks, hawk food, and weather pop up online with every season, somewhere. Here's another Spring train of thought concluded nicely by Clay Taylor on the CT birding listserv. He uses a surfing analogy which you can often hear me riffing on, both online and in the field.

Re: [CTBirds] Two Hawk Questions and More
From: "Clay Taylor" <ctaylor AT att.net>
Date: Tue, 8 Apr 2008 23:25:55 -0400

Zellene -
Greg(Hanisek) is correct about the south winds, but in fact SW or WSW winds are better conditions for finding migrating raptors, and West winds can be the best for seeing migrating raptors in CT.

Imagine a surfer on a wave - surfing straight down the wave front will make for a short, wet, trip. Riding diagonally across the wave face and traveling in the same direction as the wave moves utilizes more of the wave's energy, and if the rate of descent and the wave's forward velocity are juggled correctly, the surfer can travel a long way. The same thing for a migrating hawk and wind directions.

Looking at a map of the Eastern states, hawks that "surf" the southerly winds will travel north, but surfing across the face of the SW winds will give the maximum amount of Northerly velocity - they get to the breeding grounds more quickly.

A SE wind would take birds already in PA and NJ and drive them away from CT, probably toward western NY - the two biggest Spring hawkwatches in North America are Braddock Bay in Rochester, NY, and Derby Hill, north of Syracuse, NY. The south shore of Lake Ontario serves to concentrate the hawks, exactly like Long Island Sound does in the fall. They have been having 1000+ bird days recently, and if you time a trip up there for the arrival of a warm front anytime in the next few weeks, the spectacle is truly amazing.

A SW wind would bring the eastern edge of the migrant stream closer to CT, but we really need a westerly component to the wind to drive the birds around the "corner" of the Hudson River and into Fairfield and Litchfield Counties. So, if there is a warm front coming up through the South into the mid-Atlantic states, then the winds shift to West, we could get some decent hawk flights in the Western part of CT and probably up the CT River Valley.

Clay Taylor
Moodus, CT

On the dark side, I suppose you need to see this... yet another, "here's what we think is true, now let's publish a paper that supports that" paper. And yes, peer-reviewed journals do publish that stuff, along with good science. This Auk PDF essentially says, "If you've seen one hawk migration handout cold front, you've seen them all... and that's extra-true, if, like us, you are wedding to one site and want your data to mean something all by itself." Save it for Sunday.

In the meantime, go watch (you know) it again.


30 December 2009, Wednesday
Climate change, some basic references

Hawk migration patterns, if not the actual populations of birds, are right now under the immense influence of everyday/seasonal weather patterns and outright climate change dynamics. Bold statement? Provable statement? You mean, like one way or the other?! Of course not... because it's just not being investigated. As far as that opening outrage goes, I'm sticking with that until I learn otherwise.

Over in the right hand column under "Topical archives" you'll find one for Weather & Climate. As my entries on this wide topic accumulate, you'll find them there, in chronological order. Already there is a NEXRAD post with some maps and a link suggesting we should be watching the hawks we can see and also those we can't. There's a first climate change offering that busts another hawkwatching myth remaining in our way (if we want to work on raptor conservation): that the birds travel over our established sites, just because they do. Multiple sites and adjustments due to seasonal weather patterns and change in patterns over time must be factored into our work, if it is to be more than entertainment... "not that there's anything wrong with that." (I feel some Seinfeld Science coming on.)

For openers, let me share a few solid references on the subject of climate change.

  • If you haven't watched or read An Inconvenient Truth, do that.
  • The New York Times gathers their articles on this subject on a page, like they do their evolution articles... neither topic is controversial, in its science.
  • If you're a news hound, this is an oldie but a goodie about print coverage, circa 2004.
  • New this week, Information Is Beautiful dot net has a, well, beautiful guide to all the key skeptics' points, with counterpoints. And their homepage has a series of nice graphical representations on how many and what kinds of scientists are skeptics.
  • New Scientist magazine is a tad more hardcore, but has a beginner's guide addressing common questions; also a running topics page.
  • If you're already a weather buff, and what experience hawkwatcher isn't, then you're ready for RealClimate.org and their RC-wiki page. This is information and discussions by actual working climatologists! Just the "Topics" links on their wiki page will keep you reading and thinking for some time.

Red-winged Blackbirds are undergoing a recent decline in Ontario and a biologist has made a link to a short-term weather cycle know as the North Atlantic Oscillation. Climate change aside for the moment, NOA is an example of how weather can affect birds in the near-term. Remember hawk migration data is all really new and therefore short-term too.

When Patrick Weatherhead put his 25-year data about the red-winged black bird alongside climate records, he found a direct correlation with the North Atlantic Oscillation. The NAO is a dominant cause of winter climate variability in the North Atlantic region ranging from central North America to Europe and much of Northern Asia. It has been on an upward trend for the past 30 years.


11 January 2010, Monday
AM Weather

Weather concentrated. In the olden days, before cable, it only took fifteen minutes for three nerdy NOAA meteorologists to cover the jet stream, coast-to-coast current conditions, temperature gradients for the country, include the VFR conditions for pilots, and put together a forecast that essentially made for a five-day long-range forecast on the east coast. Before The Weather Channel, there was AM Weather on your local PBS affiliate. It wasn't showing in primetime like Masterpiece Theater... more like the 6 a.m. slot, right after the test pattern got tested. But for hawkwatchers who were weather watchers, this was the must-see TV!

AM Weather came out of Maryland Public TV — within the beltway — and was marketed to and funded by the aviation special interests (when that was a term of more positive influence). But, in season, they also provided info for farmers. Professional travelers (before George Clooney) also benefited from this morning infusion of what to expect, weatherwise. POV: Hawks and their watchers too.

There is only one episode of this program archived online — the last one — but I offer it up for your viewing. Unlike the 24-hour news cycle weather today, the various analyses come so rapidly in succession that you can't help but see the components overlaying in your mind and making sense, holistically. When the first YouTube segment finishes, skim over the videos along the bottom for the rest of the show, or click here, if that doesn't work. In the second part you'll find the meteorologist covering "winds aloft." I always waited for this to get a true picture of the hawks aloft. Think about the 5, 10 and 18,000 foot images: the 18K is pretty much the jet stream(s), but the other two measure the weather for the winged organisms.

VFR conditions, while intended to give pilots a heads-up for instrument use versus eye balls (Visual Flight Rules), showed me areas soaring birds would avoid... thus being squeezed, or not, and gliding into other areas. Watching this aviation weather from the mid-70s onward, is my first recollection of thinking about hawk migration as creating optimal corridors — from narrow, to wide, to too broad to really get excited about. I was starting, in my hawkwatcher's mind, to shift my point of view from here to there — from the hawkwatch to the hawk.

At the dawn of the 90s, cable TV was just over a fifty percent saturation nation-wide, bringing The Weather Channel with it, and the end was near for AM Weather. (There is another show preserved, a special: the AM Weather primer. Belated season's greetings.)

But, of course, all the resources that those professionals gathered up every morning is available today... and then some! I may have been worshipping at the glow of an ancient idol, but the wind gods are the true ones. I'm just sayin', I had my weather epiphany when the NOAA high priests brought it to my door in tornadic fashion first thing in the morning.

Second time through, he said wishfully, notice the program begins with the jet stream undulating track and then see how the fronts, precipitation and temperature color patterning overlay along it and reinforce the warm and cold frontal edges as the program races toward Sesame Street. The program uses winds aloft as a bookend to finish off the day's look at the weather. The presentation flies at you so fast that the dots connect themselves, he said hopefully.


12 January 2010, Tuesday
Doorstep weather & other things that don't work

Similar to any other survey where you can see the questions coming (about drinking and driving and cellphone use and watching public television vs. reruns of Three's Company), you stop a hawkwatcher on the street and ask about hawks and weather and most will offer up some reasonable basics on weather systems and wind direction.

Using the Birdhawk archive though (Septembers' past), and reading the weather or comments section at the close of a frustrating day of Broadwing watching, you get something else: no wind, too much wind, the wrong wind, no clouds, too many clouds, the clouds were across the valley, or maybe just the right conditions... and still, where were the birds?? You can find the opposite — surprising number of hawks without classic conditions — as well. Something isn't working right.

And while the Broadwing migration in Fall is as simple a situation as there could possible be, hawkwatchers, in real time, expect hawks to be overhead when the weather conditions above are suitable.

MEDIUM NW WINDS, GOOD THERMALS--only 14 Broad-wingeds

That's an actual quote — short and sweet — from a Fall report (9/18/09); many many more like it can be found in the archives, old and recent. On the ground, hawkwatchers readily discuss the current cloud formations, winds, and claim to know why there aren't any birds. On the other hand, troop a thousand Broadwings by, and all is right with the world (and the weather is vindicated). Slot machines work much the same way.

Trying this another way: A hawkwatcher goes to see his doctor and he says, "Doc, I've got this cough, what's wrong with me?" The doctor, knowing his patient watches hawks, explains, "A cough is like the winds today, it's just a symptom. We'll need to look at the bigger picture, run some tests and then we'll know more."

So, even for the simplest case scenario —Broadwings in the Fall — doorstep weather doesn't work as a predictor of hawk flights, anymore than a cough is indicative of a cold or cancer, on the face of it.

What does work (or at least works a little better)? Like with medicine, you need to consider more factors in order to create a bigger picture. With weather, the fronts and winds as you walk out the door on your way to a day of hawkwatching may or may not lead you to a big day (or pay off) because those conditions are a symptom, just like having a cough. Watching the conditions where the birds are, several days before you expect them by way of the five to fifteen day forecast, is a start.

Consider too, the hawk flight — not just the BWs, but all species and their subsets — as a living, breathing organism. The weather is its breath, but the hawks are the heartbeat. Divining the rhythm and pace of the two, well. That requires as much information on both the weather and the birds as you can put together — before and after the hawkwatch.


14 January 2010, Thursday
Temporal geography, short course

Hurricane season is the classic season to see the effects of weather on (Broad-winged) hawk migration as the two collide in mid-September. If, however, you think the movements of hawks in migration are unalterable (accepting a few miles one way or the other) then you might not have noticed this outdoor laboratory experiment increasing in frequency and effect over the last couple of decades. First and foremost, hawks are not locked onto ridgelines, rivers. etc. for the most efficient flightline out of the Northeast. They are working to avoid big water, that factor alone is key. Statistically, there is no hawk flight away from big water. Depending on the bird's size, that line will vary with the weather. After the big water and the weather play their games, the birds that are on your doorstep will take advantage of the topography and you can enjoy that.

Based on the Fall weather and a southerly flight direction, the Atlantic Ocean is, of course, the big concern. That coastline, and the deep blue beyond it, set off visual alarms for the birds hundreds of miles in advance and they adjust on the fly. The winds will alter that course of action by allowing the flight to stay right down the middle of the line formed by the Atlantic@NYC and the eastern edge of the Great Lakes(!) or bowing it to the coast on strong northerly winds. The land between the void, as the birds see it, is all that matters... big picture. The rest: amusement park rides, and projections skyward of the earthbound hawkwatcher with a point of view not that of the object of their desire.

The arch formed along the northerly edge of a tropical storm indicates a cloud deck visible hundreds of miles in advance. But there's an invisible low pressure gradient arcing out ahead of that as well. Both the clouds and low pressure are to be avoided if effortless elevation is your goal. This is a classic case of temporal geography: the birds look at the actual and the virtual as realtime obstacles and adjust... for a hurricane or its kin, big time. This bows the flight inland and farther away from the Atlantic Ocean.

On a small scale, if you've been to the ocean's edge yourself, you can feel the effects of the wave even as it departs, and even if you didn't get wet in the first place. That removal of sand literally from under your feet as the wave retreats, is like the low pressure gradient trailing the storm system, even if the worst of the storm's rainshield didn't reach your watch site; even as the TS moves away. So both coming and going, this pattern is moving birds and confusing hawk counts.

I have the Hawk Mountain News, April 1980 issue saved because it has many images and remembrances of its first curator, Maurice Broun, on his passing. Recently, I noticed in the report on the '79 hawk migration, the presence and passing of named TS Frederick is duly noted but its significance on the Broadwing flight is missed.

The 8th through the 13th produced mounting numbers of Broad-wings... After three consecutive days of 1,00 plus Broad-wing days conversation shifted to September's profound attraction—"The Big Day." Many experienced hawk-watchers were quick to offer conjecture, predicting a build-up on the 13th, leaving the 14th, last year's "Miracle Day", as the big one again this year! [...]

The "Miracle Day"of '78 was not be be repeated—and may never be—despite an adamant news-article-waving fellow insisting the paper promised many thousands of birds! No, September 14th was not the day for any right-minded hawkwatcher to search the sky. Tropical Storm Frederick deluged this mountain. Several inches of rain and 50 mph winds dispelled all hopes.

Over the years on large Broad-winged days, our Curator, Alex Nagy, has observed a certain flight pattern which materalized out of the northeast. Following up on this observation, he decided to investigate the possibility of a different "leading edge" peculiar perhaps to Broadwings... Even so, we felll the evidence suggests a minor leading edge other than the Kittatinny Ridge that is apparently utilized by raptors leaving the Pocono Plateau.

Days of cloudless blue skies followed the 19th...

Flight-wise a daily routine emerged... However, numbers remained low. Even reports from New England, New York, and New Jersey, reflected the dearth of Broad-wings. By the 26th, speculation suggested that the "Big Day" had passed us by. Confirmation of this came via several Southern Appalachian hawkwatching stations, which reported outstanding numbers around mid-month. The 1,663 birds counted on the 13th were documented as this year's banner Broad-winged day, a recent low! Despite the reduced production, September offered encouraging numbers of other raptors including fourteen Bald Eagles, over 300 Ospreys, and 356 Kestrels. The watchers could be thankful.

Through the 1990s, as we watched from our alt.Wachusett (MA) nock and knew exactly why there wasn't a Big Day for BWs, the counters on the summit were still in official waiting and watching mode for their due.

And certainly in the Oughts, if you are curious at all about this idea of temporal geography, on its biggest scale, look at the numbers and look at archived weather maps (esp. the tracks of named and unnamed storms). You will easily see examples of this effect on the Fall flight in the Northeast of the Broad-winged Hawk. Beyond the Northeast, check out the numbers of Broadwings in TX and MX related to the passage of Katrina!

5 February 2010, Friday
The Tao of weather

I had coffee yesterday morning with two visiting MD's from China (mainland) who are on staff at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse for four months. This is their last week in the US.

Over the course of an hour our topics included the lack of Chinese food in CNY (compared to SF and Boston, well), state quarters (commemorative 25 cent pieces), North American obesity (a surprise for them), food as medicine, acupuncture, and the liver pulse... because mostly, we had gotten together to talk about the state of Tai Chi and Eastern medicine in the US. An odd connection? I'd taught Tai Chi for a year for members of the Greater Boston Chinese Cultural Association, and another dozen at the Cambridge Center in Harvard Square, and then... six degrees of separation.

At medical schools in China, there is coursework in the subject of Eastern medicine, but only a cursory introduction. An orthopedic specialist, one doctor associates with new students from a school for this at his hospital... a cursory introduction to Western medicine for those practitioners! Kind of like here with bedside manner and preventative care.

The more we talked, the more he began to realize his own disconnect. Each time he referred to reading about chi or how it was a philosophy one could understand by thinking, I worked in a thread about practicing it... with your body (less mind).

At one point the other doctor, a woman, dove in (I'd actually forgotten she was there, and failed to compensate in the conversation for the cultural bias... read, her silence in between two men). You see, her family's sir name is Yang — a famous family in the history of Tai Chi Chuan. She had no Tai Chi experience herself, but had a bit more knowledge bases on her heritage. She recognized my line of discussion, just burst into the conversation with both hands and arms moving, and made a reference to Tai Chi "play"... as the more direct translation of "practice." I introduce this word myself later on in classes with Western students, but avoid it early on because it just doesn't work well. After a little success in a Tai Chi course — meaning mind and body feeling happy on the way home — I find "play" comes across better, later.

So here we in Starbucks and its getting physical... let's play. To break out of mind and into body, I only did things I would do in a class to minimize the talk... and maybe the language barrier too.

Weather play. The practice of weather is different, from watching the weather, for: pilots, storm chasers, surfers and hawkwatchers (toss in the esoterica that is seawatching, etc.). You would hope: hawkwatchers. But I find I can only talk serious weathertalk with a handful of hawkwatchers, either in the field or online about weather — past, present, future. They seem to know the words but not the language. And language —the nuance of culture — is borne out of everyday practice/play... meaning, finding joy. Otherwise it's work, isn't it?

Weather play involves long-range weather watching: and that's macroweather. Everything else? That's what I label doorstep weather and that's all work and no play, plus, leaves you feeling unsatisfied, tired, and listless (ha!).

I use my iPhone so much now for weather, both short- and long-range, that I'm having to really to dig around, both the web and in my mind, for some current desktop links for macroweather practice. Stay tuned.

[Got seriously distracted for a couple of days during the week in pursuit of a new hawkmobile (previous vehicle at 200K miles and that's enough). I was doing fine, until Friday, when I constructed this post, looked it over for its content, self-approved it, and then failed to actually upload it! A key step in the internet viewing process.]


9 February 2010, Tuesday
Does that forecast come with wind?

Watching hawks and weather employ exactly the same metaphor for best results. I've urged you to follow hawks from as far off as you can find them. Just keep watching. With weather, it's the same; do it coast to coast. Turn, and even when others have stopped looking, and stay on that hawk or front.

Our play (and practice) for macroweather involves getting to know the pattern of the weather's flight across the continent. Any weather map of North America will do, but I recommend you start by follow weather on as many maps as you can find... and you'll notice similarities but differences too: for any given day, over a few days as a system migrates our way, and you'll also see one low pressure system become two... or more and then maybe none. Front lines — cold, warm, stationary — appear, disappear and morph. They are as different as they are the same. Play at seeing that.

If weather can't be predicted a couple of days out, while look it from every angle for a week or more? Because we are not interested in doorstep weather. We are looking at the big picture and looking to see what kinds of systems and patterns of systems are on the move, and maybe the hawks along with. At this point, the disclaimer: this blog entry should be confused or equated with a book or course in meteorology... which may or may not be of any help figuring out the movements of hawks, migration or dispersal. There are however several companion pieces on my view of weather watching, a gathering storm or not.

Weather mapping has added a ton of technology over the forty years of modern hawkwatching, but the weather model in the hawkwatchers' mind hasn't changed much.

These days, I use my iPhone for long-range weather watching, but I subscribed to Accuweather Premium for several years ($79/year). There's a free thirty day trial. Of course you can find five, seven, ten and fifteen day forecasts desktop weather for free. But I want my forecast with wind direction on top. Click on the old-school NOAA continental view above and you can see a week plus page from Weather Underground... a bit clunky, confusing but with wind, several days out. Things will likely change, but you'll know that, adjust, anticipate, react smartly... this could be a martial arts class, as I say the same things there.

What are we trying to get an internal (core) feeling about here? After the hawks have been counted, your sense of the weather and the birds will be one. Don't take my word for this, or anything else as I've said many times before here and in the field: use your favorite maps and long-range forecasts to watch the weather like you'd watch a hawk.

BTW, I have used macroweather through long-range weather forecasting as a pretty good predictor of weather & specific species/flights including Mississippi Kite flights on outer Cape Cod!

15 February 2010, Monday
Wave theory: "Condition Black"


Predicting the very best conditions for a hawk flight is exactly the same as for optimal big wave surfing. When the lifeguards raise the black flags, it is a warning... and a welcome.

For the elite surfers coming to Hawaii from all corners (shores) of the world for the Eddie Aikai big wave contest the combo of speed, fetch, and duration is as tantalizing as a Huntington Beach fish taco... been there, done that.

A strong front, with no other weather in its way, traveling across the Northeast landmass picks up a lot of hawks along the way. The key to great macroweather conditions is understanding wave theory. Watching the weather, like you watch hawks — pick up the object of your interest as far away as humanly possible and follow it in. Identifying the rarest thing at the greatest distance gives you the longest time to study, learn, and enjoy.

According to my wave theory, you are looking for the same kind of big wave conditions the surfers look for, but for hawkwatchers we want (Spring example): a strong cold front with good winds and long North-South length; we want this front moving unobstructed and with a clear path, hundreds of miles in advance of it; and this in turn sets up a full day and often two of pre-frontal conditions with a ton of birds that read just what we did. In the Fall, hawkwatchers in the Northeast want the front to clear quickly and cleanly: analogous to Spring where you want a clear path ahead, in the Fall you don't want trailing/secondary fronts sending mixed signals to the raptors as they choose a wave to ride South.

Mitigating factors — other weather — are the kiss of death to a great hawkfight. In the Spring, multiple dry lines, or warm fronts, preceding your big weather maker is not good as it weakens the pressure gradient which sustains the wind fetch. Without this the waves are for the tourists... for hawkwatchers, these are the folks who want to know where the hawks are today.

Over the last twenty years, at Derby Hill, we're seeing more warm fronts, split lows, and the low center themselves taking a more southerly track. This effects the wind strength out ahead of a Spring front, setting up weaker conditions that can quickly and more consistently allow a lake breeze (Great Lakes) or a sea breeze (Atlantic Ocean) to kick in and ruin a good flight at the hawkwatch. As always though, hawks don't need the wind... hawkwatchers do.

In the Fall, weather, winds, and the pressure gradient are mitigated (weakened) by a more frequent and early tropical storm season. Again, lots of little weather systems in between the fronts waters down the weather. And all this is not the result of better weather mapping, although you see more now on a forecast map. Those of us who have watched weather, both on maps and out in it, have observed this. Bob Dylan said it, "Things have changed."

PBS Nature had an episode in 2006, Condition Black, about the 1998 "storm of the century" style weather pattern for big wave riders — that's where the excerpt above comes from. I also put a longer version on YouTube that repeats this clip and continues the discussion by adding in bottom conditions that make certain beaches the very best for big wave surfing, when the best weather comes. Hawkwatchers will see another common thread.

22 February 2010, Monday
Listen up!

"You don't need a weather man
To know which way the wind blows"

Duluth hawkwatcher Bob Dylan said it (Subterranean Homesick Blues, 1965). And, hey man, it's like Dylan, man... In addition to the weather man, weather maps, online long-range forecasts, and NEXRAD the rest of the weather is what happens when you're out there, in it.

Even with a hawkwatch on top of an obstruction-free bald mountain top, there is more to the wind than meets the hawkwatcher... right in the face. Even this seemingly unobstructed point of land is subject to diversions and misdirection, misleading us in our quest for migrating hawks, hawk food, and the true vector of the hawk wind. And it is a neverending source of amazement and amusement that the vast majority of hawkwatchers are utterly unaware of it at a spot on the ground they inhabit. Supposedly.

The sprites that carry their tiny messages of change to those who are paying attention come in several forms. The trees speak to us; so do the waves (through their sands and pebbles). Nonsense?!

Where's the science in this? Easy there, easy rider. After all, I am that material guy: the one who arrives for the hawkwatch and always has a thermometer, anemometer, clickers, pencil-paper, hats, gloves, extra binoculars etc. at the ready... and for sharing.

For example. Along the Atlantic Ocean, a sea breeze is the terminal event. The reason the birds were piling up and streaming by is the edge of the land, at least until the sea breeze overtakes the land winds. Weaken the land breeze, and the sea breeze (always at the ready) will kick in. Ahead of this raptor finale and a ten degree plus drop in the temperature, there are subtle signs of this weather rapture. At Plum Island, coastal Massachusetts, even though you've been essentially at sea level within a couple hundred feet of the ocean's edge, you don't hear the ocean. The crashing of the waves does not carry to your ears because of the westerly wind blow. The wind is not drowning out the sound, it just isn't carrying it to you. But as the favorable wind wears out, here comes the sea and its sounds — the crashing waves... hear that?

This happens on the Great Lakes too. At Derby Hill, for example, the rocks on the shoreclatter as each wave recedes. I'm sure you can hear it all the time right down at the base of the hill, at the inlet to the creek. But you can't hear it up the hill at the hawkwatch... until the lake breeze is coming.

Away from big water, these sounds tune in an angular change in the weather. You are now seeing fronts, little ones, that aren't visible to the naked eye. On detailed weather analysis this is change at another atmospheric level and some of this shifting wind (and sound) is designated by stationary fronts, secondary line/fronts, and also know as dry lines, mostly out in Hurricane Alley. You can feel 'em, but you can't actually can't see 'em.

A particular tree line that's had nothing to say all day long, maybe for many days, begins to speak up. The sound brushing by says something about a change in the wind's flightline. Now I'm not saying you know what it means even when you are aware of it. Maybe it's the end. Maybe it is the clarion call of the coming flight. A pocket of birds riding in behind and on this wind wave. Listen and watch. Take note.

Fortunately, or un-, traffic is as useful an indicator of wind change as sand, rocks, and trees. As unnatural as it is — got to go with the flow. Often a distant highway or busy secondary road, one with a fairly steady stream of trucks and cars, even many miles away, will drone in and signal the true direction of the prevailing winds. Often you can't really detect the wind direction, compass-wise, because of the various obstructions that are around your site. Even a treeline nearly a mile away can twist and turn your perception of the wind's direction. No, really. With traffic, you might not hear the highway hum until the wind is strong and true from that bearing. Until a moment ago, nothing, but now, listen, there it is, and it's out of the SE, strong... just what we're waiting for (at Derby Hill for a favorable bend in the Golden Eagles on their way).

With traffic, from roadways with a consistent flow, the same guys who've never heard the trees (right over there), let alone road noise, will insist you are hearing one really big truck... certainly not a weather phenomenon useful in understanding the hawk flight.

This is part one of a three-part "weather in the field" series.

25 February 2010, Thursday
Read my finger

"You don't need a weather man
To know which way the wind blows"

There's an old movie cliche where the earnest observer would lick the pad on his index finger, hold it up in the air and then know something. Cowboys did it in the face of a storm front. Occasionally, the finger gets shifted back and forth, for effect. Knowingly. I haven't seen this done on film in a very long time, but I've seen older hawkwatchers try it.

It works and it doesn't work. The movie metaphor is two-fold: the character that owns the finger is also the thinker in the group, it's worked for him before and lives were saved; second, it is used to announce visually that events are about to change based on the information being gathered by the finger. Only works like that in the movies.

But the cooling effect of water evaporating off your finger will tell you the wind direction at a time and place when it is too light to detect any other way! No, really.

Here you are out at the hawkwatch on a day with a wind is so light or light and variable that no one seems to be able to size up its direction. What's the day going to be like? Is the forecast panning out? Who knows if there will be hawks? Use your finger.
(Read this paragraph again, for effect, as if you were the voice over announcer doing a movie preview... or Billy Mays.)

I'm going to start with the assumption that you or someone else in your party knows the compass directions where you are. Now, take a second to note that your index finger is not round, but a rounded-corner rectangle. In a minute, you'll use that info to orient your finger along an axis (N-S, E-W), depending. Here we go: stick your index finger in your mouth and wet the top joint, completely (all the way around). Take it out, hold it up, orient it along a compass line, hold it still, and you have a very finely tuned wind sensor — you will feel a slight cooling effect where the wind is evaporating the moisture the fastest. And that's the direction the wind is coming from; where it is hitting the finger surface most directly.

Unlike the movie finger, I usually hold my finger up in the natural and relaxed position, again: along a compass axis. I don't turn the fingerprint away from me, or aim it at the wind. Changing the compass line from the narrow to wide side of your finger will change the surface area exposure to the wind and give you differing reading due to the change in edge and long surface. Try it different ways, but always hold steady the change and feel the wind direction by way of the cooling.

So, we can use sand or rocks with wave action to detect a change in the wind. We can use trees and traffic. Your finger works too.

The weather wisdom, above, is from Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues, 1965.

26 February 2010, Friday
Get out!

"You don't need a weather man
To know which way the wind blows"

I once used my iPhone to tell the weather when it wasn't actually on. When off, the black surface is mirror-like and the tiniest droplets of rain has just begun falling. I saw the rain before I actually felt it. But today, let's turn the iPhone on for some weather apps useful out in the field. This is the third in a series of posts on hand and body weather, sort of... but I just really like that Dylan quote.

I have just enough weather apps to get me the info I want in the field, and as I'm about to get out there... there are hundreds to choose from — as in "there's an app for that." I will use these apps on my iPhone readily, even if I'm sitting right next to my desktop computer (with the 24 inch, 2ms refresh, Samsung screen).

Most of the smartphone apps are pretty things and in order to do this on the screen allotted content and details suffer. AccuWeather is an example of this. I have both their pretty app and the mobile web page on my weather screen/page. The pretty app is nice and quick and good for today and tomorrow. Sure there's a long range screen fifteen days out, but the wind in missing. AccuWeather's original mobile web page — a page with a tiny screen in mind — still works (for other smartphone users) and it has the text version of the 15-day forecast with the wind direction and speed.

The apps (and mobile web pages designed for smartphone screens) all allow you to save various locations... to check the weather there, maybe for business travel or second-home owners. With this, you can track the weather forecast from many apps for several sites, easily, in a minute. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, "Mmm, I like fast weather."

As I mentioned, there are a lot weather and weather-related apps available. Many are free. I've paid for a couple: either $.99 or $1.99. You can find a high priced app or two for weather: like $4.99 or even $9.99... I only own one $4.99 app, and it's not for weather. I'm very happy with a combo of apps and pages that I've marked with a button (you really can't easily tell those two classes of bookmarks apart on an iPhone home screen), and they work the same for the end user — you and me.

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The weather wisdom, above, is from Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues, 1965.

They've got the urge for going, and
they've got the wings so they can go.

— Joni Mitchell

Hawk•art•science blog
Truth and beauty. Art and science. Entries here will be on that flightline, although I will stray from the hawk-part on occasion, or will I? I aiming this beast at hawkheads and/or the young seasonal revolutionary biologists. It's for the flexible and young-at-heart too.
Comments, questions, excited utterances, and/or exasperated afterthoughts from you, dear reader, are welcome and will receive a reply. — Tom Carrolan
(Image above: "Recent self-portrait No.3, 2009")

Original recipe Hawksaloft.com
The Hawksaloft.com website was launched in 1997, following three years of printed handbills, plus numerous emails, all voicing my alt.hawkwatching ideas in New England. If you've been here before, the original site is archived in all its old-timey graphic glory. To navigate the old way, just click on Psychedelia the Hawk Owl and be transported back in time... trippy. Any bookmarks or links found anywhere online still work.

Not everything that counts can be counted and
not everything that can be counted counts.

— Albert Einstein