Thursday, December 15, 2011

A 'Gray' day indeed

Emily had her last exam this morning, and we had made plans to go to Niagara Falls afterwards to find some year-end birds. That plan was complicated somewhat when the weather forecast called for light rain all day, and even more when a Black-throated Gray Warbler decided to show up not 45 minutes away in Hamilton! We decided to do both, and were off at 1045 after her exam ended. By about noon, we were looking at the warbler, and it wasn't even raining...bonus! It was flitting around in the shrubs with a few chickadees and a very late Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. About a minute after we showed up and got to see it, the warbler promptly disappeared...and didn't return in the 45 minutes we waited for it. Oh well, I thought, we saw it - on to the Falls! Along the way the rain went from light drizzle to full-on downpour, but by the time we made it to the control gates all was calm (except for the wind, of course). There were very few gulls up top, and I started to worry about not finding our target. My worries were unfounded, however, when I spotted the bird in question - an adult Slaty-backed Gull sitting on a log way out in the river, with some Herring, Lesser Black-backed, Great Black-backed and Ring-billed Gulls around it for comparison. As I watched, it stretched it's wings several times, revealing the telltale 'string of pearls'. Lifer! We then made our way down the river toward Dufferin Islands where we'd parked, but halfway there the sky opened up and we were both instantly soaked as we ran back to the truck. After a while, it let up a bit and we spent some time looking for Purple Sandpipers on their usual rocks, once again without luck. I am now comfortable calling this my Ontario nemesis as I have tried 20+ times in season with no luck! Maybe I'll have to make the trek up to Presqu'ile one of these days... An adult California Gull sitting in with a flock of Ring-billed was the consolation prize. We then made our way down the river, stopping at the Whirlpool and Adam Beck on our way to Niagara-on-the-Lake for the evening flypast. We managed to miss the Kittiwake and Franklin's Gull but had all the other regulars at the two spots. An amazing sight at Adam Beck was a massive flock of European Starlings - easily over 50 000 individuals - streaming past, undulating as they went and forming a massive ball and then breaking up into a stream again. This went on for about 5 solid minutes as we watched in amazement. If you go to Youtube and type in 'murmuration' you will know what I'm talking about. Niagara-on-the-Lake was pretty quiet, with a few White-winged Scoters keeping us company as we sorted through thousands of Bonaparte's Gulls, managing to pick out a single adult Little in with a flock. A Tufted Titmouse also made a brief stop-in, probably wondering what kind of food we had. Our day ended with 11 species of gulls, 2 new Ontario birds for me, one of which was a lifer to boot! All in all a good way to end the school year!

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