Thursday, 11 October 2012

Townsend's Solitaire!

In my last blog post, I was complaining about the lack of potential year birds. Well, that seems to have changed! First of all, a Red Phalarope was found by the crew banding birds at the Leslie Street Spit. Unfortunately, the spit is closed during weekdays, and I had work to do around the house, so I didn't chase it. The bird may have been visible from nearby Cherry Beach but I didn't really want to crawl through Toronto traffic for the slim chance at seeing that bird.

That seemed to be a good decision for two reasons. First, other birders who went looking for the phalarope weren't successful. Secondly, I heard a report of a Townsend's Solitaire in Hamilton, only 35 minutes from my house!

Townsend's Solitaire is a species of thrush that is native to mountainous areas towards the west coast. Every autumn some Townsend's Solitaires disperse into the lowland areas east of the rockies, and invariably some of them end up too far and show up all the way to the east coast. Ontario seems to get a few each winter but I had never seen one!

This bird was found by Matt and Brenda D'Agruma around noon as they were walking along the trail across the road from Hutch's Restaurant along the beachfront in Hamilton. They contacted Cheryl Edgecombe (who writes the weekly Hamilton rare bird alert), and Cheryl let me know. I contacted Matt D'Agruma and he gave me a great description of the bird, so I jumped in my car and headed down to Hamilton.

I parked at Hutch's and started walking down the trail, looking for the juniper trees where the bird had been seen. Eventually I came up to the trees, and even before I had a chance to start scanning for the bird, it popped out in the open!

Townsend's Solitaire - Van Wagner's Beach, Hamilton, ON

I was pretty surprised to find this bird so easily! It had actually been a jinx bird of mine for Ontario. I fired off a few frames of the bird until it flew into some low bushes.

For the next hour I stayed on the scene while some other Hamilton birders showed up. The bird was very elusive, and while I saw it 4 or 5 times, it was often very brief views, or a quick glimpse of it flying by. I was unable to get any more photos.

The bird appeared small and slender, something that kind of surprised me. I had assumed it would be more robin-sized, but in fact it looked closer in size to a Hermit Thrush. It was very active and alert, flying around a fair bit. The white outer rectrices were obvious in flight, as was the yellow in the wings.

Eventually Rob Dobos and I managed to see it well as it perched at the top of a juniper bush. After a few seconds it flew across the pond and I figured I might as well get going!

Townsend's Solitaire - Van Wagner's Beach, Hamilton, ON

From what I hear, it was seen very sporadically until dusk. Perhaps it will hang around so more birders can see it.


This very unexpected bird was a Code-4, my 24th Code-4 or higher bird for the year. I am now 5 away from tying the record, and I still have 8 Code-2 and Code-3 birds left!

Tomorrow, I am taking advantage of the forecasted north or northwest winds and heading down to Lake Erie to hawk watch. The conditions look ideal for a huge Turkey Vulture flight, as this will be the first time in over a week that the winds have been ideal. I am hoping that a Swainson's Hawk or two may be mixed in with all the vultures! All the west winds we have had lately may have blown a few into Ontario, and now with north winds, they will be migrating with all the raptors and will pass by the hawkwatches on the north shore of Lake Erie. It sounds good in theory!!


  1. Josh, nice bird! Matt & Brenda should sign up for the 50 days of rare. I wish Hamilton wasn't so far from Windsor.