If you’ve never heard of a Great Black Hawk, you are probably not alone. Don’t bother grabbing your Sibley guide, as this bird isn’t in there. It really wasn’t on anyone’s radar as a possibility in Maine (let alone the U.S.)…so when one was photographed in Biddeford on August 6, the bird world was shocked.
Here’s some background: On the morning of 6 August 2018, Christine O’Leary Murphy took a photo of a weird looking hawk along Maddox Pond Road in Biddeford. That photo made its way through the internet via Instagram and eventually to a Facebook group called What’s this Bird?, where it was properly identified and went as viral as a rare bird can go. An interesting debate about the legitimacy of the photos broke out; any rare bird sighting should be met with some skepticism, but this unprecedented record almost brought out conspiracy theorists.
Earlier this spring, a Great Black Hawk was photographed at South Padre Island, TX, and is potentially the first record of this species in the U.S. (ABA Area for the bird nerds), pending acceptance by the rare bird committees. That could make this Maine appearance only the second U.S. record! (It should be noted there is a historical record from Florida that was ultimately rejected because of unknown provenance.) For more about Great Black Hawks, the species account at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Neotropic Birds is fantastic.
Word of the sighting finally got out on Tuesday — but no one was able to find the bird. On Wednesday morning, nearly a dozen birders (including me) were on the scene…and again had no luck. After work, I decided to take a drive back to look, but was doubtful of my prospects. I even tweeted about the morning’s failure:
No Great Black Hawk this morning but it was a nice reminder of what a beautiful state we live in. pic.twitter.com/WyWhEK4BOQ
— Doug Hitchcox (@dhitchcox) August 8, 2018
As luck would have it, after an hour of looking, I managed to track down the bird! The word was spread — and fortunately a group of birders were able to see the bird before it went to roost around 7:45 pm.
Perseverance pays off: pic.twitter.com/dAmXaTDJTx
— Doug Hitchcox (@dhitchcox) August 9, 2018
Here are a few notes I posted on the Maine-birds Listserv that should help those looking for this bird:
The bird was first seen roosting in a short pine on the west side of the unnamed pond along the north side of Lily Pond Road. It moved twice, making short flights into a private yard along Lily Pond Road where they homeowners were gracious enough to let us view the bird. Keep in mind that many of the homes in this area are rented to vacationers so access may be hard to get in most yards. Around 7:44PM the bird flew west but looped back to the group of trees between Lily Pond Road and Elizabeth Road where it apparently went to roost.Parking:
Most of the parking in this area requires a permit from the town to be in the spots from 8AM to 5PM. (We didn’t see any parking police come by until around 10AM today.) I believe some of the side roads off Fortunes Rocks Road allow parking on one side of the street but I hope everyone can be smart about where they leave their vehicles. Also fyi: the City of Biddeford’s Code of Ordinances, § 42-64(a)(11) states that parking in a permit only zone is a $35 fine. However, § 42-66(7) indicates a $50 fine and that illegally parked vehicles will be towed at the owner’s expense. So park at your own risk.Behavior:Throughout this evening’s observation the bird was fairly calm (given the large size and noise from the group watching) and did a lot of preening and roosting (no foraging). The bird was almost always in the middle half of the trees it perched in, even when changing perches it stayed low in the trees and never soared. My best advice for finding it is to listen for the agitated American Robins – they were scolding the hawk the entire time we had it in view and were a lot easier to detect. Even the local hummingbirds were taking turns pestering the hawk. Ian and I heard robins scolding this morning from a willow near the south side of Lily Pond but were never able to see the source of their unrest.