October 10th has become a red letter day on my annual calendar each year. The “Day of the Falcon” or “Dia de Halcón” en Espanõl has become my own personal, special little holiday. I’m not certain if anyone else holds this day dear in their heart, or even recognizes it as anything special, but for me it is. No matter where in the world I am on that day. I’ll note that date and think, “oh man… today’s the day!” Over the past decade, 10/10 has emerged statistically, as the single best day for Peregrine Falcon sightings through the Florida Keys. Since the year 2000, a cumulative 2,866 Peregrines have been tallied passing the Florida Keys Hawkwatch on October 10th and the world record for most Peregrines seen at any site in a single day, worldwide has been set and reset on 10/10.
Peregrine – derived from Latin, the related word “peregrination” literally means to travel or wander, & the Peregrine Falcon lives up to that reputation. The migrant Peregrines passing through the Keys migrate from the high arctic tundra to southern South America, a global migrant sharing time in each hemisphere thus “Dia de Halcón” as well as “Day of the Falcon”
On October 10th, 2012 a mind-numbing 651 Peregrines were recorded by the Florida Keys Hawkwatch crew, narrowly edging out their previous record of 638 from Oct. 11, 2008 (dangerously close to 10/10). This is more Peregrines than most other Hawkwatch sites will count in an entire season, all passing in a single 8 hour window of observation in the central Florida Keys! However, 10/10/2015 is when the date was forever punctuated in Ornithological history! On that fateful day, an unfathomable world record 1,506 Peregrine Falcons were tallied cementing FKH as the undisputed Peregrine Falcon Capital of the World!!!
To try and put that into perspective, some of the best known falcon migration sites in the United States are Cape May, NJ and Kiptopeke, VA, both are east coast sites at the southern ends of major peninsulas. Despite long and storied histories, these two famed sites have each only topped 1,500 Peregrines in an entire 90 day season exactly once and you have to go back 20 years to fall 1997. This remains the record Peregrine Falcon annual count for both of sites: 1,793 for Cape May, 1,640for Kiptopeke. Neither have broken the 1,500 mark before or since (of note FKH was not founded in 1997 so hard to compare what their season might have looked like that year).
Unfortunately in 2017, the Day of the Falcon literally blew by without any major fanfare. The falcons may well have been streaming over en masse that day, but alas, there was no one there watching or recording so we’ll never know what the falcons do. On this day instead of giddy excitement, I just felt an awful twinge of sadness.
The 2017 Florida Keys Hawkwatch crew (Kenny Fowler – PA, Marc Kramer – FL, Jesse Amesbury – NJ, and Rafael Galvez) was among the best ever assembled and they started their season off with a vengeance and great optimism, but on their 5th day disaster struck. A mandatory evacuation of all non-Florida Keys residents was called for as the behemoth storm Hurricane Irma swept through the Caribbean as a massive Category 5 storm! The crew had no choice but to abandon their posts and move out of the Keys days before the storm was scheduled to make landfall after only their 5th full day on September 5th, 2017. Like everyone in Florida, all they could do was wait for Irma to arrive and see what she would bring (or leave behind).
Five days later, Irma finally swept through the keys carrying severe winds and a massive storm surge of 10-15 feet across the middle keys. There was little word from the middle keys over the week that followed, and the FKH crew teetered anxiously, wondering the fate of the 2017 count season. They had already missed 2 full weeks of counting of the two month season, and non-Florida Keys residents were still not allowed past Islamorada, FL, well short of the middle keys and the FKH site. Things were looking grim and the final straw fell when the Florida Governor’s office stated “All Monroe County State Parks are closed indefinitely”.
With the hawk watch site inaccessible / off-limits and their lodging unavailable, it was official, the 2017 Florida Keys Hawkwatch season had been washed away by Irma, almost before it had begun! No longer suspended but officially cancelled. Kenny, Jesse & Marc, we’re sorry we weren’t able to follow your exploits at the watch this fall season. You were robbed of an opportunity and so were we.