Once the raptor migration really gets going, it isn’t often that we will get a new species for the season. By this time, all the species that are expected have already shown up at least once. However, I’ve learned to always expect surprises! Last week when scanning a blue sky filled with puffy white clouds, I saw a bird that looked “interesting” as some of the visitors put it. Following it as it came towards the deck straight on, I silently go through the possibilities. It looked large and it was a buteo, so that really narrowed it down! It looked fairly dark head-on, so I thought it might be a dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk or dark-morph Rough-legged Hawk, since I had seen them before. As it approached and came right over the Hawk Deck however, it looked like none of the Red-tailed or Rough-legged I had seen yet.
The bird’s long slightly pointed wings confused me as did the rufus (reddish-brown) color to its under-wings with darker, more brown colored flight feathers. The tail wasn’t right for either a Red-tailed or a Rough-legged as it was neither red nor dark with a single thick white band. Instead, it seemed to have many very thin bands almost like an immature Red-tailed Hawk does, though I knew that wasn’t what this was. I admit this bird had me stumped, but I did know of a few larger raptors that could be seen here, and I thought I remembered one that had slightly pointed wings. After hurrying to look it up, I confirmed that I had just seen a Swainson’s Hawk, and it was a dark morph! Not only was it a first of the season, it was a personal first for me!
There have been several Swainson’s at Whitefish Point over the years, though they are not common enough that I would expect another one this season. We may get lucky though and have a second one come through. Either way, I was very happy to see one and to fill the last slot on my whiteboard where I keep a tally of raptors seen at the Hawk Deck for visitors.
Spring 2019 Hawk Counter