Great Egret

Great Egret

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Just before winter arrives some Cave Swallows appear

There were some quite nice days lately, albeit windy ones. But that all changed on the weekend when many of us experienced our first taste of winter for this time of year.

Some of the weather earlier in the week was conducive for the arrival of rarities such as Cave Swallows. And they did not disappoint. A handful were reported in scattered places along Lake Erie. By Friday, they had arrived in the Rondeau/Erieau area in even larger numbers. Jim Burk had 5 in the vicinity of a farm field just northwest of Erieau. Steve Charbonneau and Brian Morin had one or more at Erieau. Adam Timpf and Brett Fried reported 5 along the east beach of Rondeau, right across from the Visitor Centre. Since the east beach was relatively sheltered from the brisk SW winds, it seemed like the place to check out.

I had already been in the park for several hours in other areas and hadn't been aware of the influx of Cave Swallows posted by various observers earlier in the day. I hadn't even seen another birder during that time. Yes, I know, I'm a bit old school as I don't have the latest gadget that keeps me connected to Ontbird postings when I am in the field. I'm not against the latest technology, but I don't want to be tied to it or interrupted by it. I can enjoy being out in the field seeing what I see when I see it in a sort of serendipitous way. I know I will miss things that others report, but I realized long ago that chasing things that in some instances were only there for the moment was too I'd rather enjoy what was where I happened to be.
At any rate, I decided to check along the beach at the traffic circle, thinking that it was even more sheltered from the wind and there may be some interesting waterbirds visible or maybe even one of those rare flycatchers that we hope for this time of year. As I approached the open beach, I noticed a swallow zip along the beach heading north! I didn't have time to get my binoculars on it as it crossed the narrow gap, but I noted the square tail and rusty rump even from a distance. Cave Swallow! I continued out and looked in the direction the bird had flown. A moment later I had two more go right overhead. I looked southwards along the beach to see if any more were on the way, when I noticed another birder several hundred metres away. It was Mike Bouman, who had seen some Cave Swallows himself.

As we got together to combine our efforts, Brian Morin and Steve Charbonneau appeared on the scene a short time later. With four sets of eyes the birds didn't have a chance. We watched 5 more Cave Swallows zip by, and I do mean zip. It was still breezy and with a tail wind and the erratic flight pattern of the swallows, they were impossible to get good photos of. In a couple of cases the birds flew almost within reach, and certainly much too close for the camera to focus on. They were either coming right at us or flying directly away from us. This is the best shot I the Cave Swallow zoomed away. Now if we had been able to convince them to fly a little farther out so we could get a side view as they passed by, the results may have been more to our liking........
A few years ago, in late October 2010 to be more precise, there was an influx of Cave Swallows in the area. I had seen several one evening at Erieau at the fish tug harbour, but the light was very poor. I went before daybreak the next day, since they had been seen to roost the night before, and in the much better light, I got the following photos. They had roosted underneath the piers between the fish tugs.

Earlier this day, I had spent time along the South Point Trail (east) which has lately been a good spot for birds. But it seems that most of the lingering warblers and such were nowhere to be found. I guess the trail area was too exposed to the wind. The lake was quite riled up.

 Birds were very few and far between. Maybe those late warblers were back in a more sheltered area, or maybe they had finally left. Hopefully they hadn't perished. The most interesting birds I saw were two Red-shouldered Hawks.
My next stop was the Dog Beach, but it was way too breezy for anything of note. Even the waterfowl out in the lake were sparse. There were some nice shadows and patterns in the sand, however.

The next area to check out was the campground. Much of it was relatively sheltered from the wind, and the birds were more plentiful. Some of the usual species as well as late migrants were around. There were at least 8 Eastern Bluebirds feeding on Red Cedar berries.
Eastern Bluebird
 As many as 9 Fox Sparrows were in a shrubby tangle, and almost always backlit.
 Red-bellied Woodpeckers were quite vocal.
And a butterfly! Mourning Cloaks are known for late season flight on sunny days before they go into hibernation, so it wasn't totally surprising.
 There were several Inky Caps (Coprinus sp) visible in the grassy areas.
From there, I headed to the beach at the traffic circle, which I started off this post with. Steve, Mike and Brian had decided to continue along the east beach to look for more Cave Swallows, and wait for Josh Bouman to arrive. I heard later that there were more, not surprisingly. I decided to go to Erieau, which was my intention all along. I hadn't planned on spending the better part of an hour along the east beach, but that is the serendipitous nature of it.

It was definitely breezier at Erieau. I stopped to check out Duck Bay, and was rewarded with lots of waterbirds, probably at least 8000 birds, including a Eurasian Wigeon. It is presumably one of the birds that has been seen for the last month or so. The wigeon, with its brick red head, shows up just to the left of centre in this next photo, a greatly cropped one.
 There were several thousand American Coot. We had more than 8000 coot one year on a Christmas Bird Count, so these numbers on this day were not all that surprising. This next photo shows a very small part of the spread out mass of coot.
 Along the bay shoreline are mats of vegetation, and there were approximately 70 Dunlin seen feeding, and at least one White-rumped Sandpiper among them.
Mostly Dunlin
I continued on towards the main channel of Erieau and met up with Garry Sadler. At the channel I noted an adult Bald Eagle perched in a tree along the south beach of Rondeau. Yes there is an eagle there, but it is a loooong way away!

I watched an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull on the far breakwall, likely the same bird that has been there for at least a week. When I glanced away for a moment I glimpsed a Cave Swallow flying a little above eye level right up the channel, heading for Rondeau Bay. But by the time I got my camera out the car window, it was too far gone. I had followed the ABCs of bird photography...Always Bring Camera. However I am going to coin another rule: AHCAR Always Have Camera At the Ready :-).

I then went over to where the fish tugs are moored, hoping for some more Cave Swallow action. Gary and I watched for at least half an hour before the daylight was dimming and the temperature dropping. We saw either one bird on two occasions, or two birds. Were they the same birds that Steve and Brian had in the morning, or were they different birds? With the number of Cave Swallows reported throughout the Rondeau checklist circle that day, who knows, but Steve and I estimated that at least 18 birds were around, and likely more. Whether they survived the rather abrupt change in the weather with below freezing temperatures, brisk NW wind and snow in the next 24-48 hours, is unknown but I expect their prospects were rather dim.


  1. Looks like you lucked out despite not having the "latest gadget"! One does really wonder how many passed through the Rondeau birding area on Friday. I am sure many went unseen!

  2. Yes given how many were seen in such a widespread area there were undoubtedly a lot more than what were documented. I wonder how many survived the change in the weather.