July 29 2016. Rockton ON. Not quite so hot today, the temperature stayed well below 30 deg.C even in the middle of the afternoon, a welcome improvement over the last two or three weeks. Given this little reprieve, I opted to walk the length of a road that bisects a large and usually bird-productive marsh, a place known for Sora, Virginia Rails, American Bitterns and sometimes Least Bitterns; but not today. It was as if a flat cloud of ennui had fallen over the place, not a bird moved anywhere. Although not terribly surprised I was a little dismayed to see that the marsh was dry, all the open water had retreated. I made myself feel better thinking it would still be a very squishy underfoot, although I’m not sure why you’d want to find out; there would be plenty of water snake in there somewhere.
The faint cough of a Common Raven registered in the back of my mind so a little later when I saw a large bird sailing low over a distant pine forest I expected it to be the raven. Through binoculars I followed its course and as it reappeared I changed my mind, not a raven – a Red-tailed Hawk maybe. Then no. Not a red-tail either, but what? Its appearance was slighter, almost trim. It wheeled in a flat turn and I could see its fanned tail had a conspicuous dark terminal band (actually sub-terminal if you were to look closely) – a Broad-winged Hawk. Then another joined it and together they flirted: wheeling, turning and passing, gaining height (though not too much) and drifting slowly north-west away from the woodland’s centre.
Broad-winged Hawks usually travel a little further north of here to breed, so today’s birds were something of a surprise; a true Bird of the Day pleasant surprise. They are a common summer hawk around some areas of the recreational, mixed and boreal forests of central and northern Ontario. But here? Today? Why not, this large woodland could well be suitable for them. I’ll be watching for them next year.
In mid September right after the passage of an early cold front, large, sometimes massive, aggregations of Broad-winged Hawks start heading south and west making their way to Central and South America. Their fall flight is a spectacle to watch for, hundreds of Broad-wings sailing high overhead as if on a smooth, straight highway. It usually happens over a very few days in mid September and if missed well, there’s always next year, it’s already on the agenda.