Great Egret

Great Egret

Monday, 19 October 2015

Raptors and more

There has been some great weather for watching raptors on the move.....north northwest winds, a mix of sun and cloud all work together for pushing raptors down towards the Lake Erie shoreline. They follow the shoreline to southwestern Essex County before travelling across the Detroit River and continuing their way south.

These past few days, the usual hawkwatch sites here in the southwest at Hawk Cliff, Holiday Beach and across the Detroit River at Lake Erie Metropark/Brownstown have had some impressive lists and numbers of raptors and Turkey Vultures. But you don't have to go to those places to see good numbers. Anywhere along their usual route under the aforementioned weather conditions can be worthwhile.

This past Saturday I was at Rondeau and was starting to check for passerines in the campground feasting on the Red Cedar berries, but I quickly got side-tracked by moving raptors and other birds passing across the blue sky. A few Turkey Vultures were noted at first, and they were fairly low down.

Then came a flock of Gadwall heading from the lake over to Rondeau Bay.
A few Red-tailed Hawks moved through, including one fairly low.

And waaaay up in the blue were some tiny specks that warranted closer inspection. They were almost too high to identify with only binoculars, but I grabbed a few shots with the equivalent of an 800mm lens and heavily cropped them on the computer to confirm the ID.

A pair of immature Bald Eagles.

An immature Red-shouldered Hawk.
The bonus bird of the time there was this immature Golden Eagle soaring way up! But even at this altitude, the large sized dark bird with the tell-tale white patches in the outer part of the wing and at the base of the tail are classic Golden Eagle. This species is just starting to show up in southern Ontario on their autumn migration. The above mentioned hawkwatches have each recorded one or two so far, but there will be more on their way, and late October is the perfect time to see them.

I did check out other things during my time in the park, but towards the end of the day as I was getting ready to leave, I noticed a large swirl of vultures, and they just kept coming. And coming. And coming. The sky was getting a bit cloudier, and I suspect this large group was looking for a place to descend and roost for the night.
A portion of a group of ~600 Turkey Vultures
When all was said and done, I estimated there to be a good 600 birds in this group. I looked for other birds mixed in, as sometimes happens, even hoping for a Black Vulture, but all I saw were Turkeys. I did notice that at upwards of 4000 or more Turkey Vultures were observed at a couple of hawkwatch sites the next day, so presumably this group was part of that event.
80+ Turkey Vultures

In other news.....October is the time of year when gentians are in bloom, and there are two species which can be found at Rondeau: Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii) is fairly common but scattered in tallgrass prairie and old field edges. Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita) only occurs in a handful of locations in the park. Neither are particularly rare in Ontario, unlike other gentian species that are fairly restricted to high quality prairies, but great to see just the same.

Bottle Gentian
Note the closed nature of the Bottle Gentian. That is as much as they open up. They are pollinated by bees which are large enough and strong enough to cut their way through the outer part of the flower. By forcing their way inside in this way, they gain nectar and in the process, pollinate it.
Fringed Gentian
Fringed Gentian typically grow in clusters as shown in the image above. Note the close-up of the flower below, showing the fringed edge of the petals illustrating why it gets its name. They are usually tightly closed on cloudy days or during the period that they are in the shade, so if you want to see them at their finest, you have to go out on a bright sunny day.


  1. It was certainly an impressive Turkey Vulture flight on the weekend. I was hoping for a Black Vulture, but that did not materialize.

    1. I am sure a Black Vulture or two have passed by, but difficult to pick out at high altitude or great distance amidst the swirl of hundreds of Turkeys. One of these days another will show up when we are looking.......