Thursday, 9 February 2012

Gulls and rarities at Niagara

I woke this morning to the sound of a robin singing outside my window as the sun rose and knew that I had picked a good day to spend birding. The Niagara River was my destination, first of all because there had been several interesting species that I "needed" for my big year being sporadically seen, and second of all because I love looking at gulls (actually!).

I pulled into Niagara-on-the-lake around 10:00 AM and immediately began scanning the waterbirds. Among the highlights were a number of White-winged Scoters and singles of Horned and Red-necked Grebe, both new for the year.

This was a good start and I was exited for what the day could have in store. Queenston was next, and after scanning through all the Bonaparte's Gulls (watching a couple of Little Gulls mixed in with them), I parked myself on the lookout to view Queenston, ON and Lewiston, NY. The day was warm and sunny and I was hoping I could find a Black Vulture. Even if I did, it would need to fly across the river for me to be able to count it towards my year list (those are the rules!). After 1/2 an hour, no vultures were in sight and I was getting a little restless. Noisy Tufted Titmice, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, and a Carolina Wren kept me company, however.

Finally, I noticed a vulture soaring low over the trees and it turned out to be a Turkey Vulture. Within the next 10 minutes, 4 more joined it. At one point 2 of the vultures briefly flew over to the Ontario side before heading back to New York. Then, after about 45 minutes of waiting, a Black Vulture flew through my scope view, about 1 kilometer away on the New York side. I watched it for a while as it circled around, refusing to cross the river so I could add it to the list. After about 15 minutes of this, it headed straight for the river! I grabbed my camera and took a series of photos as it floated over the river into Ontario airspace. Success! It slowly drifted out of sight towards the Adam Beck lookout.

Black Vulture - Queenston, ON

 Lev Frid soon pulled up, about 5 minutes after the vulture left. Not the greatest luck for him, but he's on his way to North Carolina for a few pelagic trips so it's hard to have sympathy!! ;)

At the Adam Beck lookout I scanned the gulls, coming up with a few interesting things. 2 Thayer's Gulls (1 juv., 1 2nd winter), a Glaucous Gull (2nd winter) and about a dozen Iceland Gulls of various ages were the main attractions until I spotted a slightly smaller gull sitting on the rocks. It was an adult, mostly alternate-plumaged California Gull, presumably the same bird that was seen here last weekend. I managed to grab some very poor shots through my scope. In the photo, it's the third bird from the top.

California Gull (centre) - Adam Beck generating station, Niagara River

While its hard to tell from the photos, this bird was slightly smaller than the nearby Herring Gulls with a mantle that was darker (barely, however). It had a thinner bill with a small, red gonydeal spot, a dark eye, yellowish legs, and a clean white head. In flight there was a large amount of black in the primaries.

This was my 5th year bird of the day for me and I added one more above Niagara Falls. After a considerable amount of scanning I was able to spot several dark lumps on a rock halfway across the river. The 3 lumps woke up, revealing themselves to be female Harlequin Ducks. Two of them went for a swim while the third went back to sleep.

Tundra Swans - Niagara River

After birding the rest of the Niagara River I made it over to Fort Erie in mid-afternoon. It didn't take long before I heard several Fish Crows calling! I was even able to get a photo of one, though not of the greatest quality. At least I can now say that I've seen a Fish Crow this year as my original sighting was heard only.

Fish Crow - Fort Erie, ON


A brief scan across from Rich's Marina in Buffalo only yielded a few Bonaparte's Gulls, so the Black-legged Kittiwake that had been accompanying them will have to wait.

Later in the afternoon, right before sunset, I tried Bayfront Park in Hamilton just to see what was around and to get out and stretch my legs. There was a good variety of waterfowl including several Canvasbacks.
Canvasback - Bayfront Park, Hamilton


Mourning Doves are actually quite beautiful when you see them up close.

Mourning Dove - Bayfront Park, Hamilton


Lots of geese around, though no rare geese mixed in with all the Canadas.

Canada Goose - Bayfront Park, Hamilton

I was surprised to see this 1st winter male King Eider hanging out with a bunch of Mallards. If I recall a King Eider had been reported here recently - this must be him!

King Eider - Bayfront Park, Hamilton

It was an extremely successful day at the river. I added another rarity for the tally with the Black Vulture (code 4), several locally uncommon birds in the California Gull (code 3) and Harlequin Ducks (code 3), as well as Tufted Titmouse (code 2), Red-necked Grebe (code 1) and Horned Grebe (code 1). I still need that darn kittiwake but that will have to wait til I get back from Scotland.

1 comment:

  1. Great outing! I went looking for the Eider yesterday with no luck. I did get some shots of it a few weeks ago but the light has horrible.

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