For the first Spring in all my 14 Springs here at Cabot Head, I am sad, very sad: I will not see a Golden Eagle this Spring. I know that it is not quite the end of season, with 10 more days to go, but I am almost certain that it is now too late to see this majestic species. I have previously never missed Golden Eagles in the Spring, even though it is quite a rare species, in Ontario and on the Bruce Peninsula.
It is rare indeed, with only 10 to 20 breeding pairs in the province, according to the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas. But, every Spring, I have seen from one to four different birds, from April 16 to May 29. There are usually just one or two sightings in most Springs. Exceptions were in 2007 and 2009 with six sightings each and in 2011, with a record of ten sightings, including one in May 25 and one in May 29, the latest on record.
Almost all the birds detected are juvenile, as adults tend to migrate much earlier, as early as mid-March. Even though it is a rare species, it is a large, soaring raptor, which makes it easy to detect: it sometimes joins groups of Turkey Vultures, it sometimes flies by itself, but it almost always takes its time to pass through Cabot Head. It is usually possible to gather the staff for everyone to enjoy the observation.
Except maybe for the bad weather, I am not sure what to blame for the lack of observations this Spring. I believe we have watched the skies and the horizon as intensely as before. As a crude gauge of observation pressure, we can use two other species of birds of prey, Osprey and Peregrine Falcon, which are also relatively rare at Cabot Head. They also tend not to linger much, making their sightings even more challenging. Curiously, Ospreys seem uninterested in the waters of Wingfield Basin and nearby Georgian Bay, likely due to a lack of suitable fish prey for them.
This Spring, we have detected Osprey on six occasions, from April 18 to May 29 and Peregrine Falcon on ten occasions, from April 17 to May 24. It is reasonably well within the range of Spring observations for these two species. Ospreys are detected from three to 12 occasions every Spring (with a median of 7) and Peregrine Falcons from one to ten occasions (median of 4.5).
It wasn’t for lack of watching, but maybe missing was other essential ingredient in seeing rare species: luck! And the season is not over: surprises are always possible, like the first detection of a Golden Eagle in June. Who knows? We will keep our eyes wide open.