Expect the unexpected!

That could be the official motto of the Cabot Head Research Station. Even after 15 years – and counting – of bird migration monitoring, there are still surprises to keep us awestruck. That was definitively the case on the quiet evening of last Tuesday, August 18. We watched in amazement a group of about 60 Common Nighthawks foraging together over the western horizon! It is undoubtedly the biggest group of Nighthawks I have ever witnessed, at Cabot Head or elsewhere. Last fall, I dutifully did an evening nighthawk watch from mid-August to early September and I observed one (1!) Common Nighthawk (a Species-at-Risk) in all these evening. This spring, you may remember that we had a few impressive evenings of movements of Common Nighthawks, with some groups of 12, 14, or so birds. But nothing compares to the 60 (sixty!) that were present last night. The loose flock scattered more widely after a little while, with some birds drifting closer to the station, others disappearing below the horizon. After several long minutes, I watched about 30 of them flying straight south: the feeding frenzy was over for them as they continued their southward migration.

The next morning, August 19, we were treated by another unusual species around Cabot Head: six Great Egrets were flying together, fighting the strong south wind. All previous observations of Great Egret here have been of a single bird. There are a couple of Great Egret colonies not far south, one on Chantry Island on the Huron Lake side, the other one on Barrier Island on the Georgian Bay side (according to the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas). Despite this proximity, Great Egrets have been observed only three times during the course of regular migration monitoring: one in spring 2005, one in fall 2005, and one in fall 2008.

On that same morning, we got a long and good look at an immature Northern Goshawk. This bird of the usually secretive species, after flying from West to Middle Bluffs, decided to perch on a dead tree poking out the face of Middle Bluffs. In full view from the station, it stayed on its perch for a good half hour, giving us an unobstructed look!

These observations are a reminder that there is still so much to see and learn and discover.