Monday, 15 August 2016

Lark Sparrow at Port Weller, Niagara Region

This afternoon Laura and I met up after work at the east pier of Port Weller to go for a nice walk. Laura has recently moved back to Ontario after finishing up her veterinarian degree in Edinburgh, and she was eager to check out a few of my local birding locations with me.

It was a muggy day but overcast with a surprisingly cool breeze - a nice change from the frequent 34 degree weather we had been experiencing lately. We both grabbed our binoculars and I debated bringing my camera on the walk - not expecting to see much, I decided to leave it behind this time, to save a few pounds of weight on the walk. We even joked about how our odds of finding something would be much better without a camera!

It was a nice walk out to the pier and a few migrants were scattered here and there, including 15-20 Yellow Warblers in a couple of loose flocks near the end of the pier. I was happy to see that the water had receded enough in the main pond to provide some shorebird habitat - several Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, two Lesser Yellowlegs and a Pectoral Sandpiper all made use of the habitat, while Laura picked out a migrant Green-winged Teal with the Mallards.

view from along Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region

We walked to the east end of the pier, taking our time to watch the antics of a group of Spotted Sandpiper while also closely inspecting the occasional Yellow Warbler or skulking Song Sparrow to make sure nothing else was out there with them. We then walked west and headed towards the canal, making our way to the end of the pier adjacent to the entrance to the canal. Here, a small fence prevents access from the concrete end of the pier. On the diagram below, it is the red marker labeled "1".

A small songbird caught my eye as it stood on the concrete section beyond the fence. It was somewhat large and stood quite upright, and I was expecting a lark or pipit (both would be unusual out there this time of year) as I brought my bins up. I was surprised to see a Lark Sparow staring back at me! I quickly got Laura on the bird, and we watched it for a few minutes as it foraged on the concrete pier.

It appeared quite skittish and something caused it to flush and fly over our heads, landing in the grassy area behind us (red marker "2"). We went off in search of it, and after a minute it flushed again, flying away from us (and providing a great view of its unique white edges to its rounded tail). It appeared to land somewhere near where I have placed the red marker "3". I posted it to Ontbirds using Laura's phone, as mine currently resides in the bottom of Point Pelee's marsh and likely will continue to for quite some time.

We searched for the Lark Sparrow in the vicinity of "3" for another 15 minutes or so, but were unable to find it. It was getting late in the day and the wind was picking up so we gave up, electing to walk back to the cars as we were pretty hungry at this point!

As far as I can discern this is the third record for Niagara Region. According to "Niagara Birds" by John Black and Kayo Roy, the first record was of a bird found by Richard Drobits on 11 May 1956 at Morgan's Point. No other records are mentioned in the book through the year 2006. On 24 November 2013, Nathan Miller discovered a Lark Sparrow along the Niagara Parkway in Fort Erie, and that bird lingered until at least 6 December 2013.

The Port Weller east pier is an excellent rarity trap. It is vegetated, has a decent-sized pond, and juts out over 2 km into Lake Ontario. Over the years some of the more notable species found here include Tricolored Heron, Ancient Murrelet, Dovekie, 3! Ross's Gulls, Sage Thrasher, Rock Wren, Great Cormorant, Tufted Duck, Mew Gull, and Purple Gallinule. A whole host of "lesser rarities" have been found here as well, including Northern Gannet, Worm-eating Warbler, Western Kingbird, California Gull, Northern Hawk Owl, and Eared Grebe. Needless to say it is a location worth checking regularly!

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