Sunday, January 29, 2012


Yesterday, Brett Fried, Erika Hentsch and I headed over to the Niagara region for my 4th time in less than 3 months - I can officially say that I have (almost) gotten over the falls - I barely even gave them a second glance!

The day started off nice and calm with a slight drizzle as we left, which cleared up by the time we got to Port Weller. We spent about an hour and a half walking out to the pier and back but were unable to turn up either the King Eider or the Snowy Owls that have been hanging out. We did have some interesting finds though with a wintering Northern Flicker, a few Double-crested Cormorants, an Iceland Gull and a Northern Shrike giving some very strange calls that none of us had ever heard before. I can't find any recordings that sound like it, but my best description is that it sounded like a police whistle.

Our next stop was the Queenston boat ramp where heavy snow nixed any hope we had of finding the Black Vultures - this is quickly becoming an Ontario nemesis for me! We also struck out on Little Gull although we did not spend a whole lot of time sorting through the thousands of Bonaparte's.

We then headed upriver a ways to the Adam Beck lookout where there were at least 11 Iceland Gulls of various age classes in with the numerous Herring and Ring-billed. We didn't turn up any Thayer's despite looking at quite a lot of Herring Gulls.

Our next stop was at the Dufferin Islands, where it was still snowing quite heavily and the raging river was almost completely covering most of the roosting rocks on the Ontario side, so no Purple Sandpipers (again). We then drove on a little ways to the hydro dam where the breakwall was covered in gulls - many Great Black-backeds in with the Herrings but nothing else surprisingly! Since it was still snowing we couldn't even see the other side of the river (or the table rock out in the middle for that matter) to search for rarities, we decided to call it a morning and headed for lunch.

Afterwards we made another stop at the breakwall lookout, where a first-winter Glaucous Gull and an adult Lesser Black-backed had joined the hoardes of gulls on the breakwall, but the Harlequin Ducks were nowhere to be found, and since the visibility was even worse we decided to head upriver to Fort Erie.

Along the way we stopped at a few little parks to scan the ducks, getting most of the regulars including Canvasback, Redhead, both Scaup and Gadwall along with some coots and a Belted Kingfisher.

We arrived at Bowen Park around 12:20 where we decided to wait out the snow, hoping for some crows to fly by or a break in the weather so we could scan the gulls on the far side. Around 1, Stu Mackenzie showed up, probably hoping for the same thing as us, and then headed off to look for crows. After a few minutes he sent us a text saying he'd found the quarry - Fish Crows just up the road! We met him at 333 Bowen Rd. where he had a bead on the birds. After a few minutes we started hearing their 'uh' calls, and one bird even gave a triple 'uh-uh-uh' call, confirming the ID. We spent a little while trying to pick out which birds were actually making the noise, and eventually found 2 birds that were considerably smaller than the rest. Score! Ontario bird 311 for me.

 Fish Crow - bottom right - note tiny size, longish tail

Fish Crow takeoff - small size, note p9 (furthest right in this pic) much longer than p5 giving 'triangle' look to wing

We thought this (very obliging) bird was a Fish Crow due to its small size (there was an American Crow sitting beside it shortly before this pic was taken), but were unable to get it to call and after doing some research I am not so sure - any thoughts?

It looks small, long-tailed, has a frilly throat

But...there is definite 'scaling' on the back which is apparently not shown in Fish Crows?

We then headed back down the road to the park where we spent a very cold 2 hours or so scanning the gulls as the weather had (finally) cleared up! Our task was made fairly difficult by the fact that there were 5000+ Bonaparte's in this flock, constantly moving up and down the river. I eventually managed to pick out an adult Little Gull, and then a few minutes later the entire flock took of, swirling down the river. During this little flight I managed to get brief looks at the Black-headed Gull, and although they weren't as good as I would have liked, they were good enough to count this as my first ABA lifer of 2012! After a bit more searching I got a brief glimpse of the Black-legged Kittiwake before it dissolved back into the mass of Bonies. Since we were all frozen by this point we decided to head out.

The drive back was fairly interesting as gusting winds + truck with a cap on it = the truck wanting to go into the ditch! I did manage to get us to the Saltfleet flats in Hamilton for dusk though, where we watched as 10 Northern Harriers and 5 Red-tailed Hawks fought the intense winds and searched for their bedtime meal, and just after the sun set, a Short-eared Owl joined them. A nice way to end the day!

We ended up with ~50 species for the day, not bad considering the weather! Winds apparently gusted up to 104km/h in the Niagara region while we were there, which I could definitely believe!

No comments: