Wednesday, 22 January 2014

A day of Niagara/Hamilton birding

Last Saturday David Szmyr and I birded the Niagara and Hamilton areas for a full day. Fortunately the weather co-operated and the temperatures remained pleasant (only -5 to -10, as opposed to -20 to -25!) and we had a fair bit of success.

The day started off at the lift bridge where an abundance of diving ducks were easily found. I devoted quite a bit of time to sifting through the numerous Common Goldeneye and Greater Scaup, though of course a Barrow's Goldeneye or Tufted Duck eluded me, unsurprisingly.

The two female King Eiders were right where they were supposed to be, diving for food at the north end of the piers.

King Eider - Burlington, ON

While we were out there, the Great Black-backed Gulls were going crazy and we clued in to the source of their agitation - a Snowy Owl sitting out on the ice flow! It was a bit distant for good photos, but after looking at them on the computer I realized that the owl was swallowing something huge! It looks like a duck of some sort, but the photos leave a lot to be desired.

Snowy Owl and dead duck sp. - Burlington, ON

In hindsight, it was obvious why the gulls were going crazy - they wanted in on the action! The Snowy Owl successfully managed to fend them off and choke down its prey...

Snowy Owl - Burlington, ON

We checked several other spots in Hamilton seeing quite a few species which were new for the year for both of us. I think I ended up with 33 year birds in total for the day, one of which was Black-crowned Night-Heron. The Red Hill Creek outlet is a popular spot for overwintering herons and several Black-crowned Night-Herons and Great Blue Herons were perched quietly along the edge of the warm(ish) water.

Black-crowned Night-Heron - Hamilton, ON

From there we drove to Fort Erie and spent a bit of time sifting through the huge numbers of waterfowl. The best bird find of the day for us was probably this Snow Goose that Dave first noticed with a flock of Canada Geese at the mouth of Miller Creek. Snow Geese are rare but regular in the winter in southern Ontario, often associating with the Canada Geese. There sure hasn't been a lot of them reported this winter - in fact there are no other Snow Geese on ebird for Ontario for the year 2014.

Snow Goose - Fort Erie, ON

Snow Goose - Fort Erie, ON

Few large gulls were on the river compared to previous years, and in our limited time studying the gulls we were unable to turn up anything really odd. We did have a nice adult Thayer's Gull on the breakwall at the Control Gates above the falls, and occasional Iceland, Glaucous, and Lesser Black-backed at various locations.

I was happy to finally obtain my first good photos of a Red-tailed Hawk - this one was perched in a tree somewhere near Chippewa along the Niagara Parkway.

Red-tailed Hawk - Chippewa area, ON

A quick check of Dufferin Islands yielded several new species for the day including Tufted Titmouse, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Belted Kingfisher. The titmice were competing with the ubiquitous House Sparrows for prime feeding opportunities at the feeders. NOTE: the following two photos are of baited birds.

House Sparrow - Dufferin Islands

Tufted Titmouse - Dufferin Islands

We sort of rushed through the rest of the day in the Niagara Region as a Spotted Towhee was reported coming to a feeder near Georgetown - a potential lifer for Dave.

After getting into my vehicle at the location where we carpooled we headed up to Georgetown, though I made a quick stop in Oakville to check in on the Harlequin Ducks that had been reported there. The sun had come out and birds were apparently very close to shore so I was hoping to get some decent photos of them. When I arrived, several other birders were "on the scene" including a friend of mine, Jon Pleizier, who I had worked with at a consulting firm in 2011 and 2012. It was good to catch up!

The harlies were present but just so happened to be backlit in the afternoon sun. With daylight slowly beginning to run out I did not feel like waiting them out until they were in a better position for photography, so this will have to do for now!

Harlequin Ducks - Oakville, ON

Unfortunately the Spotted Towhee was a no-show for us. It appears that this bird only visits the bird feeders first thing in the morning as well as from late morning to very early afternoon.

The trip to Georgetown wasn't entirely in vain, as we had a Barb Charlton sighting, as well as a Long-eared Owl sighting! I mentioned this bird in a previous post, but here is one more photo:

Long-eared Owl - Georgetown, ON

With the sun setting, I eventually began the drive back home to Schomberg. Not five minutes later I noticed a suspicious lump perched atop a tree on the edge of an agricultural field east of Georgetown. Yep, another Snowy Owl...

Snowy Owl - Georgetown, ON

I'm not sure what our species total for the day was, but I think it was in the mid-60s. Pretty good for a bleak January day during the coldest winter we have seen in years!


  1. An excellent day!
    I once saw a Snowy Owl trying to drag a Mallard. Not sure what it was going to do with the duck!

    1. I guess they regularly eat ducks...someone posted some photos on the Ontario Birds Facebook group of a Snowy flying off with a half-eaten Common Merganser!

    2. I've seen one make an attempt at grabbing a duck at Windermere Basin, surprised me they'd go after something so big!

      Thanks for the pics, never seen an owl on an ice floe, I knew I should have gone down there this weekend..