Hawk watch at Beechey Head – Sept. 28, 2019

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On Saturday September 28 ten Nature Nanaimo members went to East Sooke Regional Park to participate in the annual spectacle of watching the raptor migration. Hawks, falcons, and vultures gather at the southernmost part of Vancouver Island, where they wait for favourable conditions to brave the Juan de Fuca Strait on their migration to warmer areas for the winter. We had arranged to join the Victoria Natural History Society outing in order to take advantage of experts leading their outing on the same day. I would like to thank Agnes Lynne, who helped coordinate with us so we could make contact. I have promised to reciprocate by letting her know when our next Harewood Plains flower outing will take place. Incidentally (or perhaps not), the day was also a Capital Regional District event, so by the time we left in the afternoon the parking lot was full of cars. The early birds from the two naturalist groups numbered about 30 or so.

Even before we arrived at the parking lot at Aylard Farm we saw roosting Turkey Vultures in the trees along the road. Once we got out of the car we saw a large aggregation of these large birds “kettling” to the south. Led by the VNHS people, we walked a hundred meters or so, where we spent about half-an-hour watching birds come in from the north.

Apart from Turkey vultures, these included Red-tailed Hawks, Ospreys and Sharp-shinned Hawks. In addition, Daniel Donnecke, one of the experts with an incredible knack of seeing, hearing and identifying birds, pointed out the calls of a Common Yellowthroat and some Red Crossbills. We then continued on the trail towards Beechey Head, but stopped short and climbed up the steep trail to the customary hawk view point. The view point allows you a view across the Juan de Fuca Strait and more importantly for hawk watching a ridge to the north. Before we arrived, someone had seen orcas on the strait, and a humpback whale was spotted while we were there.  I had hoped for some water fowl on the strait, but unfortunately it was very quiet, perhaps because of some pretty impressive riptide along the shore. Also, the water was quite a distance from the view point, so small birds like murrelets and other alcids would have been difficult to see. A Yellow-rumped Warble made an appearance, a Hairy Woodpecker landed in a nearby snag, and some Cedar Waxwings and a Bald Eagle flew by as we waited for the hawks. Also, flocks of Vaux’s Swift raced by us on several occasions. Most of the hawk sightings occurred in the first hour or two, after which not much happened. The highlight for the day was a Broad-winged Hawk. It was so far away that most of us would likely have missed it.

After lunch, six of us walked out to Beechey Head proper. It turned out to be a somewhat more trying hike than anticipated, and one member decided not to go all the way. There was little to see except another lovely view over Juan de Fuca Strait. In summary, we had a successful outing, likely to be repeated in future years.

All photos by Lynda Stevens unless otherwise noted.