Swainson's Hawk over Sweetwater River; Lewis's Woodpecker along Dehesa Road

Philip Unitt

Dear friends,


Today 16 April 2017 Bruce Calkins and I hiked down the Sweetwater River from the Highway 94 bridge. We didn’t see the apparent Brown Thrasher reported by Rich Norgaard, but we were glad to find Rich himself. In the same area, though, I was very surprised to see a Swainson’s Hawk, flying over the vicinity of the wooden footbridge over the Sweetwater River about 0.9 mile (as measured in a straight line in Google Earth) downstream from Highway 94. We were up the slope along the trail on the SE side of the river, and when I first saw the Swainson’s Hawk it was below us, flying away from us. So most of our view was of the upper side; the bird didn’t turn and start flying downstream along the NW side of the river until it was far from us, and then we lost it over the ridge to the west. I never really appreciated the whitish upper tail coverts of a Swainson’s Hawk that almost recall a Northern Harrier, though less distinct than in that species. The bird was apparently of an intermediate morph without the strong contrast between brown chest and white belly of the light morph and the wing linings only modestly paler than the undersides of the remiges. But it had the whole upperparts nearly uniform medium gray and the tail finely banded with dark, as well as the characteristic tapered wings. The bird was foraging, shortly before noon, and not migrating.


In other news, I recently received at the San Diego Natural History Museum a Lewis’s Woodpecker, found injured on 19 March 2017, given to the San Diego County Department of Animal Services, and transferred by one of its officers to Project Wildlife. Because of the multiple steps the information on the bird’s exact location was degraded, but Animal Services’ Lieutenant Laura Ward told me over the phone it was found along Dehesa Road. Therefore it’s very likely to be the same Lewis’s Woodpecker initially reported by John Martin along Dehesa Road 0.4 mile west of Sloan Canyon Road on 26 January 2017 and seen there again by Jim Roberts on 4 March. The bird’s injuries were almost entirely internal; it made into a good study skin, and I saved the partial skeleton. This only the third Lewis’s Woodpecker we have received at the museum from San Diego County or anywhere in southern California for over 30 years. Thanks to Kim Roth for reminding me of John’s report!


Good birding,


Philip Unitt

San Diego

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