Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Worthy Substitute

August 20

I had previously mentioned that I still required a Brown Thrasher for the year list. My Ontario sightings of this species are limited and after looking over the observations on eBird, Niagara Shores Conservation Area in Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) looked to be the best option.

The hundreds of Bank Swallows seen on May 29 have departed to their wintering grounds in South America (somewhat earlier than the "snowbirds" bound for Florida). We walked along a trail to the western edge of the area but found no birds in or around the pond. The eastern side of Niagara Shores borders the former National Defence lands (currently owned by Parks Canada). A final decision has yet to be made on the future of the property.

Searching the web, I was able to find groups supporting and opposing Project Niagara. I may be biased but as a biologist and a birder (What? They'll remove the sewage lagoons?) I would rather see an eco park at this location. If the choice was between urbanization (as is happening on the main route into NOTL) and Project Niagara, well I'm sure the majority would side with the amphitheatre.

We walked along the fence line, scanning the brush in the neighbouring property. This is where Brown Thrasher have been observed in the past. The bird still remains off the list but we found a worthy substitute. Well, something better actually. It was an Empidonax flycatcher. Our last lifer Empid was observed during our vacation in British Columbia. This flycatcher was slightly different. Though olive-green above, the yellowish underparts and distinctive yellow throat (as well as a yellowish eyering) distinguish this Empid from the others. We had a lifer Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (#284). Sweet!

We left NOTL and travelled along the parkway to a picnic area near the Queenston-Lewiston bridge. The spot is surrounded by trees and overlooks the Niagara River from the top of the Niagara Escarpment. A great spot to observe soaring Turkey Vultures.

You may even catch a glimpse of one roosting in a tree.

On the way home we stopped at the Wetland Ridge Trail.

Jean captured this digiscoped image of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk.

In addition to these 2 Killdeer, we found 2 Spotted Sandpiper and 2 Solitary Sandpiper (# 175 for the year list) in the usual shorebird corner of the north lagoon.

Swallows were flying above the lagoons and we managed to pick out 1 Northern Rough-winged Swallow (#176) in the bunch.

Continuing with the subject of swallows.

Later in the evening, we received an e-mail (addressed to Ontbirders using the listserve) from Mike Cadman of the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS). In his e-mail, Mike stated, "swallow species are showing a marked decline across Ontario and northeastern North America". The CWS is in the process of determining what research is required to determine why the declines are happening and are interested in collecting preliminary information on pre-migration and migrating flocks in Ontario. Mike asked all on the listserve to provide information on sightings of flocks with 100+ swallows. Jean and I have not seen any large migrating flocks but I did pass on our May 29 sighting of the nesting Bank Swallows (Mike Cadman is also looking for historical data on swallow roosts).

Back to birding at the Wetland Ridge.

Wood Duck boxes have been placed in the south lagoon to encourage mating pairs to nest in the area. It worked. I counted 12 Wood Duck (adults and young) while surveying the lagoon. They were also raising young here last year.

Moving on, we observed some activity in the adjacent woods of the escarpment.

A Black-throated Green Warbler and 2 Black and White Warblers. Some "pishing" brought them out from behind the branches.

A spying Black and White.

A close up.

A Yellow Warbler was the last bird observed for the afternoon as we walked between the vineyards and lagoons. The day of birding was done and our two weeks of vacation would soon be coming to an end. The lifer Yellow-bellied Flycatcher helped ease the realization that we would be returning to work soon.

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