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Cave Swallows Up the Count to 283!
Friday, December 4, 2015
It's been a busy couple of months with some out-of-country travel, so it's been difficult to keep up with all the great birds being seen around southern Ontario. I was in New York during the big windstorm that seemed responsible for a mini-invasion of rare Franklin's Gulls and Cave Swallows in mid-November. Fortunately, a couple of the Cave Swallows stayed around long enough for me to see them at the water treatment plant in Sedgewick Park in Oakville. These swallows have a truly remarkable story. Cave Swallows were virtually unheard of in Ontario until the 1990s, when they started to appear in small numbers in very late autumn. In fact, if you see a swallow in November in Ontario these days, chances are pretty good that it's a Cave Swallow. But the closest place they breed is in southern Texas! What are they doing here when all our native swallows, in fact virtually all our insectivorous birds, have left for the sunny south? Who knows what exactly is going on in their swallow minds, but what we do know is that, unlike the plight of most birds that eat flying insects, the Cave Swallow population in North America has been growing, quite dramatically. And that's because they have figured out that road culverts in the southwest provide just as much shelter and safety as do the caves they have nested in for thousands of years. Caves are in limited supply, but road culverts are abundant -- hence the population explosion. And for some reason some of these birds head northeast in the fall, ending up in places like Ontario and the eastern seaboard of the United States. The pair photographed below are the first Cave Swallows I've ever seen in Canada. Pretty exciting! And species #283 for the my Carolinian Zone Big Year (and species #291 for Ontario this year). Can I reach 285, or even 290? And maybe 300 for Ontario with just four weeks to go?