Thursday, November 27, 2008

Some recent stuff

Ok, so I haven't posted for a while. I meant to, just didn't get around to it for some reason. On November 15, I went to WPBO with Ken McIlwrick, and we had a fantastic day for once. It started off with my 200th species for the Point - a Snowy Owl that perched on the beach for a few minutes! After that it was pretty slow, with only a few waterbirds. Ok, so I said it was a fantastic day, where are these fantastic birds you ask?? Well, a bit later in the day Ken Mety, Don Jennette and Chris showed up, so we had almost all the regulars there. Ken got bored pretty quick, and decided to cruise to the harbour to check out the gulls. Right when he got there, they all took off - the culprit being a Bald Eagle - and maybe Ken? Anyway, they all flew up to the point, and started landing on the point and in the water. I spotted a smaller gull in with them - it had black on the wings! Upon closer inspection, it was a 1st-winter Black-legged Kittiwake! A new SSM bird for me! Then I spotted an adult Great Black-backed Gull flying around - a rarity for the Sault. A little later I picked out a 2nd-winter Great Black-back out at the tip. Don said "Since you're so damn hot today, why don't you stay with this?!?!" and handed me his Swarovski HD 80mm scope - top of the line! I checked out the gulls and picked out one that was definitely different. It was a good bit smaller, with a dark eye and a very slender bill, and a slightly darker mantle than the other gulls. Unfortunately we never got a good look at the legs, but it was a perfect candidate for a 1st point record California Gull!!! Since we never saw the yellow legs or got a photo, it wouldn't be accepted...hopefully I can find another one sometime! Tim picked out an adult Thayer's Gull a few minutes later, giving me my 3rd official new Point bird for the day!

The next day I cruised the SSM waterfront looking for anything and everything, managed to find 2 first-winter Great Black-backed Gulls eating salmon at the Locks, a late Red-necked Grebe, and a Surf Scoter - nothing else of much interest.

Other than that, the only thing of interest has been the weather! We're up to around 100 cm (40 inches) of snow already this winter, with 33 cm (13 inches) in a single day! The temperature has also been all over, with the 20º (68ºF) days at the start of the month turning to -17 (1ºF) with the windchill, and now back to around 0 (32ºF)! There has been a bit of rain too, so the snow is all frozen and gross - hopefully we get a batch of fresh stuff soon.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Niagara - London

Well, I got back on Tuesday night around 9 p.m. from the whirlwind tour of southern Ontario universities with a side trip to Niagara Falls and the area. It was a fun trip, got to try out some new things, see the falls, see what university life is like. I'll try something new and go through the trip with the photos - like a photo journal. You can click any of the photos for a bit larger view.

Friday, November 7 we spent driving - took about 9 hours total which isn't too bad considering we got stuck in traffic for a bit around Hamilton. We met up with my dad (who is currently in Guelph doing his Ph.D.) and went for a walk in the drizzle to see the falls and Niagara at night (and for me to scout out the area for tomorrow!).

Saturday, November 8 - up early (well..not that early) for breakfast and then off to the riverfront, we started just past the control gates. It was cold (had been up around 20 yesterday, down to around 4 today...), but at least the rain had stopped. At the control gates, I had a few hundred Scaup, some Bonaparte's Gulls, and an adult Thayer's Gull along with some other waterfowl and gulls. We continued down the waterfront, with me constantly scanning - along the way had thousands of Bonaparte's, Ring-billed, and Herring Gulls, and with them modest numbers of Great Black-backed Gulls, and 7 Lesser Black-backed Gulls. I heard some chickadees, so checked them out, hopeful for Titmice, but only found some nuthatches and creepers with them. Nothing else of interest along the rest of the waterfront, so here is a shot of the falls from right near the edge:

We walked a little further, and here is my shot of the Journey Behind the Falls thing that they have there - looked pretty wet:

This is just below the Bridal Veil Falls (on the NY side) from the same spot as the above photo:

After checking the gorge below the falls, we continued on along the river, and decided to stop at the Whirlpool, I wasn't expecting too many gulls there but the rest of the family hadn't seen it and wanted to stop, and here's what we found! (among several thousand Bonaparte's Gulls)

Yep, that's a chopper, they were doing some kind of rescue training, flying down into the gorge, landing, picking something up, and then flying off, scaring all the gulls in the process. After this excitement, we kept going, and stopped at the famous Adam Beck lookout - no special gulls, but this pulled up behind us!

As should probably be expected, an elderly man and his younger (but still pretty old) wife got out of the car (Ferrari F430 if you're interested). I looked it up and these go for around $200 000 USD. After Adam Beck, we headed on to Queenston, where there were a couple adult Little Gulls in with the hundreds of Bonaparte's flying around. Since we had some time to kill until sundown, it was suggested that we go back to that helicopter place that was on the map. So it happened that I got to take my first helicopter ride - and over Niagara Falls! Here are the Horseshoe falls from the air:

And the Bridal Veil Falls:

The city of Niagara Falls, ON, with the falls, Rainbow Bridge, and part of Goat Island:

Another shot of the Horseshoe Falls:

The Niagara waterfront/strip:

Pretty much the best gull location in North America (you can see the control gates on the left):

The U.S. power plant at Adam Beck (I think it's called the Robert Moses Dam or something):

The whirlpool from above:

A shot of the chopper that we rode on (experiencing any déja vu right now?)

After the exciting ride in the chopper, we went back to see if we could find a way down to the bottom of the whirlpool, as we had seen plenty of people down there earlier. Turns out there are two sets of stairs to the bottom, but we managed to hit right in between them, and took a sketchy path straight down the hill (according to Google Earth it's over 300 feet straight down, and I'll hazard a guess that the grade on that hill was about 75%). Anyway, here's the view from the waterside.

I had originally told my dad not to bring the scope down to the bottom, as it would be hard to carry down that steep hill. But, he brought it anyway and I was later quite thankful as I managed to find my lifer Black-legged Kittiwake in amongst the thousand or so Bonies that were down there! Here is a horrible shot from across the gorge (around 1 000 feet, again according to GE) - for the non-birding readers, it's the one in the middle with the darker wings and the collar:

After this find, an adult Little Gull decided to put in an appearance. Then it was time to leave the whirlpool, and we opted for the stairs on the way up (now that we knew they were there...). The walk back up was quite scenic, here's an example shot of the path:

After that, we headed up to Niagara-on-the-Lake to watch the flypast and whatever else we could find. It started drizzling again, so the family opted to wait in the car while I watched the flypast from a convieniently located gazebo. It was decent while I watched, had around 5 000 or so Bonaparte's go by in the half-hour or so I was there, but only one decent gull being an adult Little. We headed back to Niagara for supper, and then went to try Indoor Skydiving for my brother. I decided to try it as well, and it was pretty fun. You're basically suspended over a giant fan while the instructor makes sure you don't hurt yourself. After that, my mom and I went out so I could try some night shots. Niagara was just starting it's annual Festival of Lights, so we decided to take a drive around Dufferin Island - here's the only shot I got that wasn't blurry out the car window (remember that this is hand-held with an exposure time close to 1 second while the car is still running...):

After that drive, we found a place to stop and I got my night shots (with a tripod, of course!). Here's one of the fancy hotel across the river (the Seneca Casino/Hotel), with the waterfall of rainbow lights:

A shot of Niagara's own Casino, along with the Skylon Tower/Restaurant and the spotlights that light up the falls:

The Niagara waterfront, this was an experimental shot for me, trying to get the city lights along with the car headlights:

And that concludes Day 1 in Niagara! It was a pretty busy day as you can tell, and it was a lot of fun, although we were all pretty tired by the end of it after all the walking and excitement.

Sunday, November 9 - we didn't get up quite so early today, and headed over to Goat Island on the NY side for a walk and a different view of the river. This is another experimental shot of mine, no tripod this time so it's handheld as well - I think I'm getting to be pretty decent without a tripod! This is on the Three Sisters Islands:

At the farthest Island, I stopped to look at all the gulls that were loafing around and flying about, and found these guys sitting with a bunch of Ring-bills:

Two adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls and what I believe is a third-year of the same species. We kept walking, and I managed to pish in this curious fellow (his/her mate wasn't so interested):

For the non-birders, it's a Tufted Titmouse, the bird I was hoping to see in Ontario. Then it was off along the island, to get a view of all those gulls above the falls. When I got there, two guys mentioned that they'd seen a Sabine's Gull just a few minutes ago! I went to the spot where they'd seen it, and spent the next hour and a half looking - without any luck. Damn! Two adult Little Gulls along with thousands of other gulls were the consolation prize, and I'll bet the Sabine's was sitting out there with them, laughing at me. This is a typical riverfront view (around the rapids area) for those of you who have never been to Niagara in November - see if you can find anything other than Bonies, Herrings, or Ring-bills:

While we were standing there, something spooked all the Bonaparte's Gulls that were sitting amongst the rocks (the ones that I couldn't see), and they all took off at once and flew around thinking they were a big flock of shorebirds. I'm in the process of counting all these guys, I'll post some numbers later if I ever finish counting.

After that it was time to say goodbye to Niagara Falls. My dad and brother opted to head straight for Guelph, while my mom and I took the longer route, checking out Fifty Point, Gray's Road, LaSalle Marina, and McMaster University (all around Hamilton-Burlington). At Fifty Point there were quite a few ducks - but they were all pretty far out. Looked like mostly Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks. Little did I know that I missed a Northern Gannet by about an hour - I'll have to get back there sometime in November... Anyway, Toronto was visible as it was a reasonably clear day (Fifty Point is 50 km from Toronto across the lake - coincidence?). The shot was horrible over such a distance, so I decided to play around with the fine art thingy on photoshop, and came up with this:

Gray's Road is just a few km down the highway from Fifty Point, although not accessible from a direct exit. It was quite a bit more productive than fifty on this day, and there was a flock of around 500 Scaup sitting just offshore. Upon seeing me, they all took off...and landed about 200m away down the shore. I looked over there, and they had joined another 1500 or so Scaup! Wow, big numbers of ducks, I thought. Then I scanned the water for eiders - and found more scaup, along with several thousand Scoters - all three species, mostly White-winged and Surf though. I decided to jump the fence (there weren't any no trespassing signs) and walked out to the end of the rocks (where there was a sign on a fence - not the one I jumped though). I looked off to the east, and...holy $#¡+! A flock of around 5 000 Long-tailed Ducks just took off, and managed to scare everything else that was around them - I estimated around 10 000 LTDU's total, and close to 1 000 Scoters with them flying around - that doesn't count the thousands that were on the water still! A moment later, an adult Cooper's Hawk flew in off the lake, although I doubt that's what caused such a stir. Anyway, no gannets for me today, and we had to get going. Just west of Gray's Rd. along the service road I had a flock of four Cave Swallows - a new Ontario bird! Then we headed to LaSalle marina, to try for some more waterfowl shots. Here's one of the Trumpeter Swans that LaSalle is partially famous for:

As some of you may have noticed, it was once again drizzling (you can see the beads of water on the swan's back for those of you who didn't!), and the light wasn't all that great for photography, although I did manage a few shots. Here's what I thought was an interesting perspective of a Trumpeter (with Hamilton in the background):

And the other reason LaSalle is famous? The number and diversity of waterfowl that will allow you close approach! Here's a Mallard x Black Duck hybrid, with a female Mallard:

And a nice male Redhead (his mate wasn't as tame):

The Buffleheads were causing quite a kerfuffle - chasing after females and the like, disturbing the other waterfowl greatly:

This Trumpeter was saying hello - or maybe that's "go away!"?

The coots weren't so camera-friendly, and I was hard-pressed to even get this close:

And a final farewell to LaSalle, with a parent guarding it's babies:

After we left, we headed to Guelph, and stayed near the campus. We went on a tour the next day, which was very interesting and informative. Also saw plenty of Cedar Waxwings and a few Cardinals. I'm thinking of heading to Guelph next year, for those of you who were wondering what I got out of all this university touring. November 11 we spent in London, touring the University of Western Ontario (western for short), another nice campus although probably not where I'm headed. Just too many people for my likings. Then it was time to head home, and we spent the next 7 hours or so in the car, arriving home at 9 p.m.

The trip list:
Canada Goose - 500+ flying around s. MI
Mute Swan - 70+ at the Mackinac and some in Hamilton
Trumpeter Swan - 30+ at LaSalle
Gadwall - 40+ on Dufferin Island
American Wigeon - 10+ around the falls
American Black Duck - 10+ around the falls and 10+ at LaSalle
Redhead - 2 at LaSalle
Ring-necked Duck - few at LaSalle
Greater Scaup - 1000+ at Gray's Rd.
Lesser Scaup - 2000+ at Gray's Rd.
Surf Scoter - 800+ between 50pt. and Gray's
White-winged Scoter - 2000+ same spot
Black Scoter - 200+ same spot
Long-tailed Duck - 10 000+ same spot
Bufflehead - 300+ falls, 50pt, gray's, lasalle
Common Goldeneye - 1000+ falls, 50pt, gray's
Hooded Merganser - 40+ at dufferin
Common Merganser - 10+ above the falls
Red-breasted Merganser - 200+ falls, 50pt, gray's
Double-crested Cormorant - 10+ NOTL
Great Blue Heron - 1 somewhere in s.on along the road
Northern Harrier - 1 in s. mi
Sharp-shinned Hawk - 1 over niagara
Cooper's Hawk - 1 gray's
Red-tailed Hawk - 30+ along the highways
American Kestrel - 1 in s.mi
American Coot - some at lasalle
Little Gull - 2 at queenston, 1 at whirlpool, 2 above falls - all adults - probably only 3 different birds as the falls ones were on sunday and the others on saturday
Bonaparte's Gull - 10 000 - 15 000 minimum along the river
Ring-billed Gull - 2000+ at falls
Herring Gull - 5000+ along river
Thayer's Gull - 1 adult above the control gates
Lesser Black-backed Gull - 7 at falls (3 1st year, 1 2nd year, 1 3rd year, 2 adult)
Glaucous Gull - 1 1st year at Goat Island
Great Black-backed Gull - 20+ around falls
Black-legged Kittiwake*** - 1 1st-winter in the Whirlpool
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker - couple around
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Cave Swallow - 4 just west of Gray's Rd.
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse - 2 on goat island
Red-breasted Nuthatch - couple around niagara
White-breasted Nuthatch - same
Brown Creeper - 2 at niagara
Golden-crowned Kinglet - same
American Robin - still quite a few around everywhere down there
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing - 100+ on goat island, 50+ at guelph
American Tree Sparrow - 1 in guelph
Dark-eyed Junco - 2 in guelph
Northern Cardinal - 3 on g. island, some in guelph, 2 in london
Red-winged Blackbird - 1 along hwy
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow
Number of Species: 60

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Ok, I haven't been out birding, so no, these aren't bird records. However, the weather has been warmer than normal, and the last 3 days were record breakers. Not by fractions of a degree either. They beat out former records by 3-5ºC (5-9ºF), and today's previous record of 14ºC was set in 1948 - it got up past 18ºC today. Interesting stuff, although the temps are supposed to go back to normal after tomorrow. Hopefully something rare will turn up down near Niagara while I'm there...