October 22 2016 . RBG Hendrie Valley, Burlington, ON. A couple of days of rain courtesy of a malevolent storm system streaming up from the south has been followed by strong west winds and a steep drop in temperature. It was enough to prompt autumn’s later stragglers to get moving.
I took on a census walk in my favourite wet and wooded valley and was soon surrounded by White-throated Sparrows, and with them a beautiful, rich chestnut-brown Fox Sparrow. A happy coincidence because yesterday, looking back over my photos, I saw that late October is their time to show up; and here it was, back from the far north where they breed. Perfect.
The census was very productive, I tallied thirty-five species including Carolina Wrens, a small flock (43) of young Cedar Waxwings, three or four (heard but not seen) Eastern Bluebirds, a Red-breasted Nuthatch, Ruby and Golden-crowned Kinglets and a Hermit Thrush.
What really caught my attention was the numbers of Turkey Vultures passing over, and the more I looked the more I saw, and looking closer I realized there was a major migration of vultures and hawks underway. I added two Northern Harriers, five Red-tailed Hawks, a Bald Eagle and a Red-shouldered Hawk to my census tally – and those were just the ones I could identify with any measure of confidence. There were many more birds circling and streaming past me, but too high and wind-tossed to feel sure of their identity.
Turkey Vultures in an October sky
I spent two hours on the census and walked out more than satisfied with a productive morning. But I wasn’t finished; there was too much going on in the storm-torn skies above. So I headed to a nearby cemetery which has the benefit of generally open vistas and a strategic location along the fall migratory track. There I found another birder and between us we spent an hour or so captivated by the steady flow of raptors. Among numerous Red-tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures we also positively identified three Red-shouldered Hawks, a Bald Eagle, a fast moving Merlin, two Cooper’s Hawks a handful of Sharp-shinned Hawks and, triumphantly, a Northern Goshawk.
The Goshawk swept past us fast and low (dodging between tombstones), we had maybe two or three seconds to take it in. Tom was quick to identify it as a Goshawk, I was slower. It is one of only three hawks in the accipiter family found in North America, making the identification a rather limited process of elimination. As I said to him, “Had I been alone I would have puzzled over it. I would have thought, obviously too big to be a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Probably not a Cooper’s Hawk – still too big – and muscular. So probably a Goshawk on account of it’s size and sturdy build. I probably would have recorded it as – Northern Goshawk with a question mark. But yes – Goshawk, I agree. I haven’t seen one for several years. What a bird, Bird of the Day!” Tom agreed and was happy to accept it as best bird although he’d been hoping for Golden Eagle. Another Day.
Northern Goshawk. Photographed in spring not far from its nest site