Saturday, 10 December 2011

T minus 22

In 22 days, the year 2012 begins and I start my big year, though I won't actually be in the province until January 6. With it being only 3 weeks away, I thought I would start to strategize on how I would spent the first month of the year.

Several people have offered advice so far. For instance, Russell Cannings advised me to clean up on any rarities that are in the province before trying for any winter specialties. Alan Wormington mentioned that I should clean up on all of the owls, finches, and other winter specialties before the end of February/March, so I don't have to worry about them the following winter. This would enable me to spend all of November and December chasing rarities, instead of getting caught up on trying to find a Boreal Owl or Red Crossbill or something.

And so that's exactly what I am planning on doing! There are several species of birds in the province right now that would great birds to start off the year. Several are even code 4 birds (remember the codes?). Unfortunately the Razorbill didn't make it. However, Niagara is still hopping with a Slaty-backed Gull, Kittiwake, Franklin's Gull, and the Black Vultures. The Franklin's Gull I'm not too worried about. However, I plan on being in Rainy River in late May when Franklin's may not have arrived yet. The birds that end up in Ontario usually breed across the border, and spend the summer in Rainy River and area. So if I can grab the bird in Niagara, it might save me the hassle of trying to wrangle one up later in the year, especially if I can't turn any up in Rainy River in late May.

Black-legged Kittiwake is the other one which I'm not too worried about, since I should pick this species up in the late fall doing a lakewatch somewhere. However, if I could get it at Niagara, where it currently is super easy at the whirlpool, it would save me a bit of effort later on in the fall.I have a feeling that both the Kittiwake and Franklin's will leave before the new year, as they usually travel with Bonaparte's Gulls (numbers of bonies at the Niagara River will drop off substantially by the new year).

juv Black-legged Kittiwake at Niagara Falls

The Slaty-backed Gull, originally found my Kevin McLaughlin on December 3, is one that I really am crossing my fingers for. In 2008, a Slaty-backed Gull was found at the same location on December 13. It hung around until late January at least, and I managed to see it on January 24, 2009. I am hoping this one follows a similar pattern!

And finally, the Black Vultures. They are seen sporadically at best, but  there are up to 5 birds which roost near the Niagara River and travel to a landfill on the American side. This landfill is really interesting - a landfill is one of the things which can entice vultures to overwinter!  I'm willing to put in a day or two at least searching for just this species in January if they are still being sporadically seen.

There are other good birds that have been seen recently in Ontario, birds that I am very interested in. Varied Thrush and Spotted Towhee near Thunder Bay, Pacific Loon in eastern Ontario, Barrow's Goldeneye and King Eider in several spots, etc. The Christmas Bird Counts usually turn up a few rarities as well.

Owls are starting to worry me a bit - while Snowy's are clearly having an erruption year, everything else seems very quiet....I haven't heard of any reports of Great Gray Owl, Boreal Owl, or Northern Hawk Owl from any location south of Attawapiskat! As well, I have only heard of 1 report of Northern Saw-whet Owl this month, and 0 reports of Long-eared Owl. Maybe it just means that owls are late this year, possibly due to the warm November and 1st week of December we had. At any rate, between rarities I hope to do some traveling to pick up all the winter specialties, even if I have to go nearly to James Bay to search.

It will be very interesting to see how the next few weeks play out.

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