Today started out like many other do...waking up much too early, meeting up with other birders, and driving a ways to a premier birding destination. The place was the Niagara River, and the people were Andy Keaveney and his girlfriend Sarah.
We started out at Fort Erie to see if we could find the Black-headed Gull and Black-legged Kittiwakes which have been reported on and off from the American side. Just like a few days ago, we struck out on these species again. As we were scoping the gulls an American Pipit called overhead and landed on a nearby beach. We had great scope views of this bird as it foraged on the beach.
The weather was cold but sunny and with very little wind as we continued downriver. Unfortunately we didn't see much and eventually ended back at Fort Erie in mid-afternoon. As Andy and I parked ourselves in Fort Erie across from Rich's marina in Buffalo we began scoping the gulls again. At one point when they flew up, Andy picked up the Black-headed Gull in flight and quickly got me on it. However we both lost it and didn't see it over the next 45 minutes. It stayed on the American side of the river so technically we couldn't count it for our year list (yet).
He headed downriver to try for the gull there while I stayed in place. The gulls flew several more times, but I had no luck picking out anything rare with them. Eventually something scared all the gulls and I was pleased to see the Black-headed Gull mixed in with thousands of Bonaparte's Gulls. They made a big loop, coming over to the Ontario side for a minute or so, before ending up back at the harbour. I called Andy but unfortunately we couldn't locate it later.
As the sun was getting low in the sky we noticed crows starting to build up in the trees nearby. Andy mentioned we try to call in a Fish Crow, considering that Brett had one on the river on January 1 and they winter regularly only an hour from the border in Rochester. As soon as I played the call on my phone, a Fish Crow responded!! We couldn't believe our luck and listened to the crow call several times over the next few minutes. Andy got Sarah to come out of the car and listen to the bird as well. I tried to make a video of the bird calling, knowing full well that my phone probably wouldn't pick up the call. Unbelievably, it did! The crow calls about 4-5 times in the video (there are some American Crows calling as well). Once I figure out how to get it off my phone, I will post it.
The Fish Crow was year bird #100 and a code 4 rarity. Looking at previous years, the earliest date that I had arrived at 100 species was March 12. More importantly, I now have 3 rarities on my list - Mountain Bluebird, Black-headed Gull, and Fish Crow (all code-4 birds).
What's next? I plan to take it relatively easy this week and focus on schoolwork for the first time this semester. After that, a plan is in the works to travel up north via Sault Ste. Marie, Marathon, Thunder Bay, and all the way around HWY 11 to North Bay. It should be one hell of a trip! Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (coming to a feeder), Sharp-tailed Grouse and A. Three-toed Woodpecker are all species I have never seen before. We are also hoping to get Spotted Towhee, Harris's Sparrow, the rest of the finches, Northern Hawk Owl, and Boreal Owl.