Sunday, 20 January 2013

Niagara River birding

Yesterday morning, I met up with a large contingent of other young birders, including fellow bloggers Alvan and David for a tour around the Hamilton lakeshore and Niagara River corridor. We started the day in Fort Erie, checking out the crow flocks for a hopeful glimpse at the rare but somewhat reliable Fish Crows. One of the groups of crows was mobbing a Red-tailed Hawk just south of the racetrack and after a few minutes we heard the distinctive double note (cah-uh!) of a Fish Crow calling. All the crows soon flew off, following the raptor, and were never seen again.

We checked a number of spots along the river, seeing most of the regular gull and waterfowl species, but the main highlights were certainly above the falls. Across from the Dufferin Islands parking area we found 4 Purple Sandpipers on a rock, though we could not find the previously reported Harlequin Duck. The PUSAs were lifers or new Ontario birds for some of the people in the group!

Those bumps on the rocks are Purple Sandpipers. You don't have to believe me if you don't want to.

Purple Sandpipers - above Niagara Falls

And here is what they are supposed to look like...

Purple Sandpiper - Bronte harbour (December 1, 2012)

All along the river today were huge numbers of gulls. I would like to go back to the river soon and check them out more thoroughly, since there are bound to be some interesting things mixed in. Personally, we couldn't locate any rare species on the river, though it was nice to see about 5 Glaucous and 35 Iceland Gulls. I can't recall ever seeing that many of those species here before. Several Thayer's Gulls were nice, as were a couple of hybrids. One had us stumped, since it was definitely a Herring x something else. Lesser Black-backed? California? An F2 hybrid? Alvan has photos on his blog.

Other highlights on the river included at least 3 Black Vultures and some Turkey Vultures soaring over the dump on the NY side and a few Tufted Titmouse at Dufferin Islands.

From here we swung over to Lincoln, ON to search for the Red-headed Woodpecker, briefly checking out the most photographed Snowy Owl in Ontario on the way. While we were there the photographers were baiting the owls constantly, often right next to the road.

Baiting owls is a contentious issue with birders/photographers and I'm not sure where I stand on the issue. I've never baited owls, simply because I'm not all that big on raptor photography and personally it seems like a cheap and easy way to get outstanding photos...for some reason I would rather put in some legwork to get the great shots. What I enjoy about bird photography is being able to travel to interesting, relatively remote locations, and seeing birds doing what they do naturally. Standing on the side of a farmers field with 50 other people taking the exact same photo as me doesn't really turn my crank.  But still, I can certainly see why people enjoy that since they can get fantastic photos in that sort of situation.

On one hand its not much different than having a bird feeder for blue jays and chickadees, and I'm sure a hungry owl this far out of range wouldn't mind the free meals. But on the other hand, when it is being done so close to the road, it is quite possible that the bird will get hit by a vehicle at some point. This has happened before with baited owls.

Anyways, check out my awesome photos of the owl - taken with my phone through my scope!

Snowy Owl - Vineland

Here is what they look like a little closer...

Guelph, December 2011

We unsuccessfully checked for the wintering Red-headed Woodpecker, though there was a White-crowned Sparrow coming to the feeders. Dave did a really good one and decided to drive into a ditch, so the rest of us got sprayed with mud but we managed to get him out!

From here we checked the Hamilton lakeshore and while we did see most of the regular waterfowl species, we could not find any King Eiders or Harlequin Ducks.

34 ebird checklists, about 63 bird species, about 20 year birds, and several hundred kms later we arrived back home. A great day out!

1 comment:

  1. Josh,
    We had a simliar day,
    except lacking the fish crow, titmice, and driving into a ditch.
    Olde josh