Cave Swallow at Iona

On Sunday night when I read about a Cave Swallow being reported at Iona Beach Regional Park I knew I had to try make every effort to see it. This is a new record for B.C. and who knows how long I’d have to wait to see another one here! Monday November 12th was conveniently a holiday in lieu of Remembrance Day and luckily my mom was open to giving me a ride out there to try locate it. I’d only be able to go after lunch so I was a bit tense hoping the bird would stick around till then. It had been reported in the morning but with rain forecasted for the afternoon I wasn’t sure whether it would stick around for much longer.

By the time I left home it was already drizzling and, if the look of the clouds was to be believed, it didn’t seem like it would be letting up any time soon. It was still wet when I arrived at Iona’s parking lot but the sight of a group of birders and a few swallows darting about above the southern outer pond looked promising. As soon as I got my bins out I had a look through the swallows and quickly separated the likely Cave Swallow from the few Barn Swallows keeping it company based on the differences of their respective tails. Although no Cliff Swallows had been reported in the same area, I personally cannot separate the two similar species based off of tiny, fast moving, and dimly lit birds in the rain. Consequently I wouldn’t have felt satisfied claiming the lifer and wanted to make the ID for my self.

I got my scope set up and after several frustrating minutes of trying to get the particular swallow of interest in my field of view I succeeded, for a few very quick seconds. My second attempt was a little faster and I was able to track the bird long enough to see the necessary field marks. What an awesome and completely unexpected lifer!

I noted the creamy coloured cheeks and throat that identified the bird to species in my brief scope view. The photographs posted online, as well as the expert opinion of other birders, indicated this bird to be a juvenile, and I could see the buffy rump and dark greyish brown feathers that distinguish it as such through my binoculars despite the rain. Unfortunately trying to get recognizable shots of swallows with my digiscoping rig and skill level would require a lot of luck, not to mention the fact that it was raining!

Cave Swallows are normally found in south east New Mexico, Texas, and southern Florida in the U.S. (1). They also inhabit northern Mexico and the Yucatan peninsula, as well as parts of the Caribbean (1). This species has benefited to some extent from increased human development; the construction of bridges, culverts, and similar structures has created more nesting sites (1). Historically limited to caves, sinkholes, and cliff faces, Cave Swallows have taken advantage of man made structures to expand their distribution north into the U.S. (1).

Many thanks to the birders who spotted and identified this bird! It is always a truly humbling and awe inspiring moment when observing such a rare bird as this in the field.

Reference:

  1. Strickler, Stephanie and Steve West. 2011. Cave Swallow (Petrochelidon fulva), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/bna/species/141doi:10.2173/bna.141
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