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Volume 14, Number 21
November 11, 2008

nature

Also in this section:
Raptor migration
Traditional medicine
Hurricane Paloma sweeps across Cuba and weakens
Forest for climate initiative




Raptors over Paitilla

We're into a busy season along the Meso-American Flyway, with many sorts of birds escaping from the cold northerly climes, some of which are making their way from Canada's north down to Tierra del Fuego. Most don't travel that far, and some winter right here.

Particularly impressive are the millions of soaring raptors that pass through here, circling and soaring high on updrafts, then gliding down to the next updraft on their way toward points south.

A particularly good place to watch the migration is Ancon Hill, as winds coming off of the Pacific Ocean hit that hill and are deflected upward, creating favorable conditions if you are a glider pilot or a bird. There is also some of that effect where winds come off of the Pacific and hit tall buildings, as in Punta Paitilla, pictured above.

Most of the raptors that come through here are of one of four species: 
broad-winged hawks, turkey vultures, Swainson’s hawks and Mississippi kites. The Audubon Society and Birdlife International monitor the migrations, taking censuses and keeping careful records over the years. Despite this, there are things that we don't know with much certainty, such as the precise destination(s) of the turkey vulture migration(s). The birders who participate in these surveys are the front-line sentries who detect the effects of bird habitat destruction, and no doubt they will be among the first people to document how climate change affects migratory bird habits.

The raptors need to get through here before dry season kicks in. Blue skies, the absence of rain and the arrival of masses of tourists may be the things that people notice the most about the change of seasons, but one of its most unequivocal natural expressions is a shift in the winds. When the wind starts blowing steadily out of the north, that's the beginning of dry season. That also changes the flying conditions for birds, most notably the locations of the updrafts.

Photo by Eric Jackson

Also in this section:
Raptor migration
Traditional medicine
Hurricane Paloma sweeps across Cuba and weakens
Forest for climate initiative


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