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Keys Hawkwatch Starts Scanning The Skies

Nancy Klingener

  The Florida Keys Hawkwatch Migration Monitoring Project opened for business Tuesday. Birdwatchers will be scanning the skies and counting birds in the Middle Keys every day until Nov. 2.

"We are counting warblers. We are counting thrushes. We are counting a lot of birds of prey, falcons, in particular. We count more falcons here than anywhere else on the planet," said Rafael Galvez, the project's director.

The project started out just counting hawks but has expanded to include any bird the watchers see. All of it helps document the population and status of birds on their annual journey from northern climes to South Florida, the Caribbean and Latin America. The Keys project has almost 20 years' worth of data, which is also compiled in national databases.

"Birds are very sensitive to climatic changes," Galvez said. "So if we want to find out about the quality of our air or the quality of our water, especially these top predators, birds of prey, are going to be the very first to show changes. Because they are at the very top of the food chain."

And then there's the fact that it's just cool to see hundreds of birds at a time. The Keys acts as a funnel for birds, especially hawks, that like to follow land as long as they can before making long flights over water.The Keys count has logged 4,000 peregrine falcons during a season — and as many 651 on a single day, Galvez said.

"Keep in mind, this is the fastest flying animal on earth. It's been clocked at over 200 miles per hour on a stooping dive," Galvez said. "So when you see hundreds of these birds flying across the sky, it is a breathtaking spectacle."

The Keys Hawkwatch will be active every day at Curry Hammock State Park near Marathon until Nov. 2. The project welcomes visitors; just ask directions at the gate.

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.
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