A (mega) rare visitor from the West!

On May 20 in mid-morning, I was finishing extracting a bird from the first net when my eyes were attracted to a Buteo-like raptor soaring close by (Buteo comprises Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks, for example). The bird seemed different, its shape unusual enough that I put binoculars to eye and was immediately on high alert. Despite the harsh light of a background sun, I could see that the bird had dark flight feathers, which are unique characteristics of only one species of raptors in North America. I encouraged RuiLin, the volunteer who was at the net with me, to have a good look at it, not only because it was likely a very rare bird, but also to have a second opinion on what we were actually seeing. It is one thing to think one is seeing a rare bird, it is another to actually be fully confident about it. 

I will leave all the minutia of the description out of the story here (people interested could read it on my eBird record once it will get through all the hoops to be accepted). Needless to say, I took great care to calm my excited mind into recording precisely what I was seeing, the slim, pointed wings whether soaring or gliding, the arching of the wings while gliding like an Osprey, the overall dark aspect of the entire bird. I had a clear idea in mind of what it could be but consulted nonetheless several bird guides after RuiLin and I discussed our observation in length. Finally, we agreed: it was an immature Swainson’s Hawk! (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Swainsons_Hawk/maps-range) A bird of grasslands and High Plains, this species has never been observed at Cabot Head, nor in Bruce County for that matter. (Hence the careful recording) In a streak of good luck, the bird was seen again (and photographed) the next day at the Tobermory sewage lagoons by several birders.

The week in itself was mostly quiet with some bad weather precluding banding and relatively few movements notably earlier in the week. Over the long weekend, more birds were observed and captured, including many with good fat reserves, a clear sign of their migratory status. Among warbler species, adult males usually migrate earlier to establish territories, followed a week or more later by females and young birds, which are the birds we’re seeing and catching now. However, a few species have just started to move through at Cabot Head, the so-called late migrants. They are late only in relation to other species but perfectly on schedule in their own calendars. Wilson’s Warbler (FOY on May 18) and Blackpoll Warbler (FOY on May 22) are the typical late warbler species. Among Flycatchers, Eastern Wood-pewee also arrives late (FOY May 19 this spring). Philadelphia Vireo is also a late species as well, although seen too infrequently at Cabot Head to really infer its phenology. This spring, the first one was seen on May 23. 

Migration is entering its last stretch with more and more birds singing and defending their territories, hoping to attract newly arrived females and to start a new phase in the cycle of life.