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#ABArare – Cave Swallow – British Columbia

This has been, by all accounts, a phenomenal year for Cave Swallows in the states and provinces around the Great Lakes eastward to the Atlantic coast.  Strong southwesterly winds, usually following long cold fronts, provide just the right sort of conditions to see these southwestern birds roll into the northeast in significant numbers and this year those conditions were exacerbated by the passage of Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy.  The east coast Cave Swallows have been recorded annually since 1992, and the mechanism that drives them to these far flung and unexpected sites is fairly well understood.

This, however, is not that kind of story.  Because this Cave Swallow report comes from the opposite side of the continent.  On the afternoon of November 11, Jamie Fenneman, Jeremiah Kennedy and Paul Levesque, found a Cave Swallow feeding over the Southern outer pond on Iona Island near Vancouver, British Columbia. This is a first provincial record.


CASW BC Candido

photo by Peter Candido


Iona Island is located in Iona Beach Regional Park in west Richmond adjacent to the Vancouver International Airport.  Two artifical ponds have been constructed in the park that aim at restoring marsh vegetation and providing wildlife habitat.

To get to Iona Beach Regional Park, drive south on Granville Street through Vancouver and stay to the left, heading towards Richmond and the airport across the Arthur Laing Bridge. After crossing the bridge, turn right at the first traffic light at Grauer Road. Continue straight as Grauer Road becomes Ferguson Road and then Iona Island Causeway. The road will veer to the right at the far end of the airport and then take a sharp left before reaching the parking lot area for the park.

The Cave Swallow has been associating with 3 Barn Swallow.  It was seen as recently as November 12.

As mentioned above, Cave Swallow has become an rare, but annually expected, vagrant in the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Coast.  So far as I am able to discern, though, (and please correct me if I’m wrong) this is the first vagrant record for anywhere on the Pacific Coast for this species.  A truly unexpected report.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

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  • Matthew

    “the mechanism that drives them to these far flung and unexpected sites is fairly well understood. ”

    what is that mechanism???

  • The strong southwesterly winds that come up behind large cold fronts in late fall.

  • Matthew

    Well I guess that describes the mechanism…

    What I was really after was why *this* species picks up and goes every year – are they all immature birds? Are they adults?


  • A good question, and one I admit I don’t really know the answer too. I suspect that Cave Swallows are prone to vagrancy because they’re highly aerial and tend to get swept up in these prevailing weather systems, but I don’t know anything about the ratio of adults to immatures.

    I do know that both subspecies (Caribbean and Southwestern) are equally likely to turn up on the east coast, which is pretty wild.

    Perhaps someone with more insight can chime in?

  • Matthew

    Thanks, Nate!

    I saw my first one at Point Pelee in the 90’s – one of the first influxes. Always wondered why they do this!


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