Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Niagara Falls birding - we swept up!

Another somewhat brief and mostly photoless update for days 2 and 3 of my Ontario birding Big Year 2017. If I find time when I'm home I'll try to make some better quality summary posts with photos!

Josh Vandermeulen, Henrique Pacheco, and I were in Niagara area by the evening of January 1, hoping to see thousands of Bonaparte's Gulls heading down the Niagara River to roost on Lake Ontario for the night, and more importantly to spot rarities among the many Bonaparte's. The mouth of the river only turned up a few hundred gulls around sunset - far fewer than expected - probably due to the very comfortable weather giving them reason to continue feeding on the lake until after dark. This ultimately meant that our chances of finding anything rare were slim to none, and that's exactly how it went! The following day would be a different story...

After sleeping at Josh and  Laura's house, Josh, Henrique, and I headed to the whirlpools after sunrise where we ran into Richard, Mourad, and two other Josh's. They were already watching a Black-headed Gull, a previously known rarity from the Atlantic Ocean that has been seen here sporadically since the beginning of winter! Everyone got their eyes on this slightly larger Bonaparte's Gull look-alike except for Josh and I, which had us feeling pretty anxious. Josh had to leave before we refound it, but as it happens that would be the least of his worries for the day... Henrique and I persisted, eventually spotting the Black-headed Gull and capturing some pretty readily identifiable photos of it too. 

The two of us were in a hurry at that point, because we had just heard that Richard's crew was looking at what might be an adult Slaty-backed Gull, a species that's mega-rare to Ontario. Quite a few birders were on the lookout today for this species, as Willie D'Anna and party had found one just yesterday on the US side of the river. We arrived and almost immediately picked out the Slaty-backed Gull candidate. The gull had a lot of potential due to its structure, colours, and other field marks, but things can be tricky with gulls so we wanted to see its wings open. It eventually flew over the river's control gates (Canadian side of the border!!!) and out of sight, leaving us only with a handful of photos to analyze. After consulting with Amar Ayyash, we were confident that it was in fact a Slaty-backed Gull. This is one of my highest sought-after species in Ontario and I am still in awe over seeing one! Henrique and I ended up seeing it again just before sunset with Mark, Greg, and Kevin who were here from Toronto to take a shot at finding it. This time it was roosting on some Canadian rocks in the rapids above the falls.

January 3 at Niagara Falls was a bit of a birding bust, probably due to the warm air and fairly heavy rain. We were not able to refind the Slaty-backed Gull now that Josh was present, but there were just not many gulls out like the previous day. I have all the faith in the world that Josh will end up seeing it this week, along with my friends Lev and Amanda, who just arrived in Niagara to look for it too. The only new species I tallied new for my big year on day 3 were Red-breasted Nuthatch, Lesser Scaup, and a very out-of-season Pine Warbler that's been hanging around Dufferin Islands Park, for a total of 60 species so far. I brought Henrique back to his house in Toronto and headed northeast toward Ottawa. Oh, and we saw a bird that's not even on the Ontario list yet - a Mandarin Duck! Okay, so it's a released pet and not countable haha, but the lack of birds gave me a chance to get some nice photos of it. I'm now getting comfy for a nice sleep in the bed-sized back of my truck at a service station in Eastern Ontario. I'll be birding in Ottawa tomorrow!

Thanks for reading, and good luck birding or whatever you're up to this week!

Jeremy

4 comments:

  1. Nice post, Jeremy. Wishing you great success with your "Big Year" mission and your long-term goal of being an international naturalist/guide.

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  2. I was wondering if you'd find the SBGU. Good luck up in Ottawa! (Barrow's Goldeneye, right?)

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