Saturday, February 27, 2010

GBBC 2010

It was a busy weekend. Best of all a long weekend which allowed for an extra day of birding for The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). The count takes place over 4 days and Jean and I managed to get some birding done on each day.

February 12: Lakeside Park

Jean and I had to work Friday but we did a quick count at the marina in Port Dalhousie, late in the afternoon. The last visit, we were searching for Mute Swan to add to the regional list. Of course this time, with the list completed, 3 Mute Swans decided to make an appearance.

February 13: Birding along the Twelve

Twelve Mile Creek runs through Short Hills Provincial Park and widens considerably at the Decew Falls generating station. The swift current flows south and empties into Martindale Pond. The name does not derive from the creek's length but because its outlet is 12 miles from the Niagara River. Many creeks in the region are so named (4 Mile, 15, 16, 20 and so on). Yes, the British were quite imaginative in naming the creeks in Upper Canada.

On the Saturday, Jean and I birded along the trails of Twelve Mile Creek, the Merritt Trail and the Twelve Trail.

The Merritt Trail follows the former routes and the present route of the Welland Canal and we birded the section on the west side of the creek. I like this area for finding one species of bird in particular, the Red-headed Woodpecker. All of our Niagara observations of this species have been on this stretch of the Merritt Trail. There are many dead and dying trees on the flood plain that provide a favourable environment for the species and I like to go before the view of the trees in the valley below the trail are blocked by the emerging leaves in the spring.

Though we have seen Melanerpes erythrocephalus several times while hiking on the trail, the woodpecker would remain off our checklist for the GBBC. The feeders in the yards of the townhouses that back onto the trail were very active. House Finches, Black-capped Chickadees, American Tree Sparrow, and American Goldfinches (a total of 20) were observed visiting the feeders.

We travelled up stream to walk on the Twelve Trail, along the east side of the creek (north of Glendale Avenue). Other than for GBBCs, we rarely hike this trail. Jean and I should make an attempt to explore the trail in warmer weather. Due to the fast current the water remains open, so there may be interesting waterfowl found here during the winter months.

This year we found small numbers of Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Mallard and American Black Duck. A Belted Kingfisher was very vocal as it flew from branch to branch along the banks of the creek. Though they are quite numerous in southern Ontario in the summer, Double-crested Cormorants are a rare sight at this time of year. As we did on our first GBBC, we were able to tick cormorants (3) for our checklist. Returning to the parking area, we spotted a pair of Carolina Wrens in the brush along the side of the trail.

The best find of the day was not along the creek but below Brock University, across from a residential neighbourhood. Last year, Jean and I had the great fortune of viewing a Great Horned Owl nesting pair. It was mid-April and the two young in the nest were quite large, leaving little room in the nest for anything else. The young were just as interested in the birders below as we were of them.

Well, it looks like the Great Horned Owls have returned. One owl was on the nest. We checked the surrounding trees for its mate but we did not find it. We'll return to the nest every so often to monitor the progress of the owls. Hopefully they have the same reproductive success as last year.

February 14: Niagara River

What better way to celebrate Valentines Day than with a wife whom enjoys birding as much as I do. Jean and I would search the Niagara River for interesting waterfowl, travelling along the Niagara Parkway from Fort Erie to Chippawa.

In Fort Erie, south of the Peace Bridge, Red-breasted Merganser, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Lesser Scaup and American Black Duck were seen where Lake Erie ends and the Niagara River begins. I determined the large floats of ducks were in U.S. waters and it was best to leave the counting to the birders in Buffalo.

South of the International Railway Bridge, we spotted over a dozen Great Black-backed Gulls and 70+ Common Mergansers.

Further along the river, we found our first cluster of Tundra Swans (24) of the day. Common Goldeneye and Common Merganser were the highly counted species. Canvasback were observed for the first time and would be seen at many spots in great numbers along the Niagara until we reached the village of Chippawa.

With river birding completed, Jean and I turned our attention to the feeders we have visited a number of times. The usual entertaining species were found, including Tufted Titmouse (2) and our first Red-breasted Nuthatch for 2010.

February 15: Lake Ontario

Monday was the provincial holiday Family Day and since 2008, Ontarians honour the third Monday in February as a statutory holiday.

This year it coincided with the GBBC, allowing Jean and I to contribute additional checklists for count. Three species of scoter were observed on Lake Ontario recently and one species (Black Scoter) is still needed for our life list. From the beach, just outside of Fifty Point Conservation Area, we scrutinized the first scoter we found. I was hoping it would be a lifer but the white secondaries, not apparent at first, were observed on this female White-winged Scoter. We scanned the birds further out on the lake but all we could find amongst the Common Goldeneye and Long-tailed Ducks were more White-winged Scoters. Other waterfowl observed included, Lesser Scaup, Canada Goose (350) and Mute Swan. Two raptors were also counted, a Red-tailed Hawk and a Cooper's Hawk.

With no Surf or Black Scoters counted, we left for the last spot of our 2010 GBBC. We went to the outlet of Forty Mile Creek. Yes, we were 40 miles from the Niagara River. On Boxing Day of last year, we observed the Barnacle Goose of unknown origin. For now, it remains on the list with an asterisk and will be removed if the OBRC conclude that its origins are unknown. Waterfowl and gulls were counted but there were no new additions for the count.

Over the weekend, we observed 42 species and submitted 12 checklists for the GBBC. Looking at the results on the GBBC site, a total of 132 species were reported in Ontario. Great to see so many birders participating in the count!

With our contribution completed for another year it's time to concentrate on the winter list. After the GBBC, the winter list stands at 73 species (two more than the 2008/2009 list) and there were more to come the following weekend while birding Lake Gibson and Short Hills Provincial Park. You'll have to wait for the next post to find out how we did.

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