10/4/2019 Lighthouse Point Park and Ecology Park, New Haven County, CT

Juvenile male Northern Harrier sneaking in low off the beach at Lighthouse.

A slow-clearing cold-front with strong 18-38 mph NW winds meant that Friday was setting up for a good hawk flight. The rainy overnight conditions didn’t bode well for a big diurnal movement of passerines, so I opted to go in to work early and take a half-day. I arrived at Lighthouse at 10:15 am ready to do some birdspottering.  Nick Bonomo was at Ecology Park, 10 miles or so to the east and said birds were moving in good numbers. I texted him and said, “It’s a perfect day for a Swainson’s”. This buteo was a nemesis bird for both of us. Not even annual in the state, they are hard to catch up with!

The strong winds kept birds in the low airspace and great views were had of all the local suspects, and it was obvious it was a big Osprey and kestrel flight.

Today was a river of kestrels

Nick left at midday to fulfill social obligations and I decided to change it up a bit and head over to Ecology Park to see what was happening there. First I needed to stop and pick up lunch.

Cooper’s Hawks, gave some close fly-bys

A falcon “two-fer” – male American kestrel being harried by an adult male “Bluejack” Taiga Merlin

With scope packed, and coat thrown in the back seat, I was climbing into my car when I looked out over the distant trees and saw a buteo. Instinctively raising my bins, I saw the bird, a large buteo and thought, “Damn, that looks like a Swainson’s!” The bird was distant and I couldn’t make much out since it was silhouetted and side-on, so any gestalt-laden clues were off the table. I still had my camera in my hand so I rattled off a few frames for insurance purposes. It looked dark below, but the distance, and shadow made any plumage marks hard to discern. At that moment the bird kited up and hung in the wind like a Red-tailed. What?! Really?  It then flipped over and again, I registered a Swainson’s-like tail, before it rose up hung in the wind, with wings pulled in and no features visible. It ducked behind the trees, leaving me wondering which impression was right, but in those brief seconds the hovering had suggested the bird, weirdly was perhaps a Red-tail. It happened in a matter of about 30 seconds and the bird had been lost behind the trees.

I left the park to get a sandwich from the local deli. As I was leaving, I get a call from a local birder, “We just had a Swainson’s Hawk come right through the park!” Mothershirting !!@@@##$$$$. I rushed outside and being north of the park, I gazed skyward in vain. I drove to the overpass on i-95, and watched birds track up the shoreline – Bald Eagle, Turkey Vulture, Boad-wing…but no Swainson’s. Nothing.  At that point, I figured the coincidence of a bird being seen 20 minutes after I had seen what I thought was one was too much. I checked and zoomed-in on the images, and sure enough my instincts had been right. Although distant, two shots sure indeed showed the bird to be a juvenile, intermediate-type Swainson’s Hawk. Reeesuullt!

Optimized digital shots of the distant bird…check out the ebird checklist from shots 20 minutes later!

Ebird checklist with images:

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S60351089

This bird was almost identical to a bird myself, Richard Crossley and Dave Sibley had seen back in 1988 that dropped out of the sky at the Cape May meadows one September. It unfortunately dropped right into Chris Schultz’s banding station and we got to see it up close and personal.

Juv dark/intermediate morph Swainson’s Hawk, Cape May, sometime in September 1988

20 minutes later, I arrived at the top of the defunct landfill at Ecology Park. Birds were everywhere…at 3:00pm, at a time when the flight is usually slowing, birds were still going!!

360 degree view from Ecology Park

Bald Eagles came thick and fast with up to 7 in view at one time!

Red-shoulders were more prevalent here than at Lighthouse

A count of birds from 3:30-5:00pm yielded over 230 birds:

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S60381000

An excellent, bird-filled day!

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