Sunday, January 18, 2009

January Above the Falls

With the extremely cold weather finally leaving our area this past weekend, an afternoon of birding the Niagara River above the Falls was planned. Having been born and raised in the Niagara Region, the Falls has always been easily reached. It also aided in answering the Jeopardy Round clues in the category 'Niagara Falls' last Thursday. I have viewed the Falls many times and since Jean and I started birding, the number of visits per year have increased. To attempt observing a lifer Purple Sandpiper, we would go to a viewing area near an old hydro building known as the Engineerium. In the photo below, the Engineerium can be seen in the background, on the river's edge.

Image courtesy of Ian Gollert

I do miss the days when the public was allowed access to the 2 to 3 parking spots on the west side of the old hydro building. So on Sunday, we parked in Dufferin Islands and hiked through the nature area to reach the Niagara River.

We brought seed with us and Jean was surrounded by Black-capped Chickadees within seconds of opening her hand. After crossing the first pedestrian bridge a number of birds were observed. Added to the year list was an American Robin seen perched atop a deciduous tree. A bird amongst some House Sparrows caught my attention. "Hey, it has a white eye stripe". A Carolina Wren was ticked for the year list.

Upon crossing the second pedestrian bridge, a small group of Mallards, from the stream below, ploughed through the snow up an embankment in hopes of some human kindness. Leaving the ducks to feed on the corn scattered on the ground we continued along the trail. No nuthatches were to be found in the usual spot. As we approached the large pond in the nature area, 4 male Northern Cardinals were observed in a snow covered coniferous tree. 10 cardinals, male and female would be seen before leaving the area. Streams that normally flow under the trail into the pond were now flowing over the trail. The insulated rubber boots we were wearing kept us from backtracking to the other trails leading to the Niagara Parkway. We continued on the trail along the frozen pond and observed some Ring-billed Gulls (another tick for the year) bickering with a crow over a piece of bread. We reached the viewing area near the Engineerium and set up the scope in hopes of spotting a Purple Sandpiper. It was snowing so visibility was not great when looking further out on the river.

We had last visited the Upper Falls during the Ontario Field Ornithologists 'Niagara River Gull Watch' on November 30 last year.

Jean and I observed our lifer Cackling Goose that day.

From the viewing area we observed the regular waterfowl, adding Hooded Merganser to the year list. For gulls, Herring and Great Black-backed were added. We continued up river along the walking trail or at least what I thought was the walking trail. The trail is not maintained in the winter and was deeply covered in snow. More of the same were observed as we walked towards the frozen hydro intake pond.

We returned to our car and drove to another river overlook, an excellent spot to view gulls. No new species were observed here and with it still snowing, spotting the Slaty-backed Gull where it was last reported would have been difficult.

Our last stop was some feeders in the village of Chippawa. The usual suspects were observed and the following added to the year list, White-breasted Nuthatch, Tufted Titmouse, and House Finch.

Jean and I will return to Niagara Falls soon. We still have a Bonaparte's Gull to see this year and they can be usually observed flying above the rapids near the Horseshoe Falls. Hopefully a Purple Sandpiper will make an appearance.

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