Townsend’s Solitaire – Bedford County, Pennsylvania

On Saturday, October 13th my friends and I conducted a ‘Big Sit’ at the Allegheny Front Hawkwatch. This was my third year doing a Big Sit at this location and I plan on writing up and posting a full report of our day soon, but I had to get the following information out as soon as possible……

At 10:30am on October 13th, Janet Kuehl and I were standing side-by-side near the pole that has the mini weather station on the top of it, scanning ahead for raptors. Many other hawkwatchers were present at the time, but all were back at the picnic table/bench area. We were doing a Big Sit and so I was also paying special attention to the non-raptors that came into view. I spotted a bird fly out from the trees in front of the mowed grassy area and drop down over the side of the ridge and out of view. During that 2 second look, I noticed that the bird was about the size of a robin and mostly grayish. The most distinctive feature was that the bird had a prominent buffy bar running along the length of the underwing, at the base of the flight feathers.

My immediate impression was that the bird was a Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked, or Hermit Thrush since they also show a prominent buffy bar on their underwings but the size, shape, and coloration of the bird was odd. That is when the idea of it being a Townsend’s Solitaire jumped into my head, so I quickly ran towards where I saw the bird go out of view, hoping to see the bird perched somewhere.

Luckily the bird was perched about 40 feet away, over the side of the ridge in a small dogwood tree without any leaves on it. I brought my binos up and saw the bird’s overall grayish coloration, small head and bill, and tall upright posture and immediately recognized it as a Townsend’s Solitaire, having seen 14 individuals in various locations throughout the Rocky Mtns in the past 5 years. I turned around and shouted to everyone that there was a Townsend’s Solitaire. Ian Gardner, Josh Lefever, and Janet Kuehl ran over to where I was standing and began watching the bird in their binos. Some of the other hawkwatchers could see it from back at the other end of the clearing as well.

My 400mm camera lens is currently broken and Anna had gone for a walk with her lens so I quickly ran back to the picnic table and grabbed my camera which had my 55mm lens on it. No one else was able to get photos before the bird flew, however I believe the photos below are more than satisfactory for identifying the bird. A little less than 1 minute later, the bird took flight out over the valley and then turned and followed the ridge southward and went out of sight.

The bird was not heard to vocalize at any point. Janet Kuehl and Ian Gardner have both seen this species out west on multiple occasions and agreed with my identification. The entire observation time, from the moment I spotted the bird until the bird was out of sight, lasted a little less than 2 minutes. This sighting represents the 11th Pennsylvania state record and the 1st for Bedford County. Most other sightings of this species in PA have also been during fall migration and more info can be found at this link.

Townsend’s Solitaire – Perched in a small dogwood. Distinctive shape, size, and coloration are clear in this picture as well as the upright posture. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Townsend’s Solitaire – Perched in a small dogwood. Distinctive shape, size, and coloration are clear in this picture as well as the upright posture. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)