Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Niagara Falls CBC

Monday December 27 was the Niagara Falls Christmas Bird Count and we joined the same group of birders we have on previous counts, in the same area of Niagara-on-the-Lake, for a cold day of birding. At least there was no snow flurries or winter storms. The eastern U.S. was hammered with a winter storm and counts were either postponed or busted due to the large amount of snowfall over the weekend.

At our first stop, John Black (section leader) decided to mix it up and divided us into two groups. Normally, we birded the residential neighbourhood east of the Department of Defence lands as one group. This year, John Stevens, Jean and I covered the streets east of One Mile Creek (more like a ditch) while John Black, Denys, Maggie and Roy covered the usual area west of the creek.

We did not find many feeders in the area we covered. As John indicated, when property ownership changes so does the use of feeders. A flock of 25 American Robins was moving through the neighbourhood and we encountered them often during our stops. We found a couple of good spots, ticking MoDos, chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, cardinals, juncos, House Finches, American Goldfinches and Tufted Titmouse (4). No Tufted Titmouse for the other group but they found a few Cedar Waxwings. Species flying overhead included, Mallard, Canada Goose and a swan that we reported to our section leader as swan sp. Oops.

After tallying numbers, we then headed for the sewage lagoons. The gates have been closed on previous counts and we have had to view waterfowl through a chain link fence. This year, the count was on a Monday and the gates were open, allowing us to drive in and count ducks and geese from the warmth of our vehicles. In addition to the ubiquitous Mallards and Canada Geese we observed Green-winged Teal (1), several Bufflehead and American Black Duck. Sharing space on the ice with the geese and at times intimidating the larger birds, we ticked an immature Great Black-backed Gull.

The property of Strewn Winery was not too active this year. Numbers were higher but species were few.

A flock of Northern Cardinals (15) emerged from behind the piles of grape compost as we walked down a slope towards Four Mile Creek. We followed the meandering creek and found only one sparrow species. Dark-eyed Juncos were flitting in the brush on the creek's embankment. Walking back through the vineyard we observed a massive flock of European Starlings. The small black cloud contained an estimated 3000+ starlings which would have cleaned the vines if the grapes had not already been harvested for ice wine. That did not stop the starlings from trying though. A a few birds were trapped underneath the netting used to protect the grapes.

The trapped starlings attracted a Cooper's Hawk but while we were there, the accipiter failed to capture any of the ensnared starlings.

At the Niagara Lake Shore Cemetery, we viewed the feeders by the office. New species for the day were Pine Siskin (4) and Common Redpoll (1). The redpoll was our #208 for the year, for Denys, it was an impressive #250.

After an early lunch we birded the area around Four Mile Pond. Pishing did not flush Swamp Sparrow for the second year in a row. We observed this species at the pond in 2008 during our first Niagara Falls CBC.

A flock of Common Redpolls (50) were seen feeding on the seeds of an Alder Tree. Their irruption has finally arrived in the Niagara Region.

This year, Four Mile Creek was frozen over and it was humourously suggested this light-weight birder (literally speaking) cross the creek to search for sparrows. No Great Blue Heron this year either.

Niagara Shores is an area that can be counted on to view Bank Swallows during much warmer weather. But this December day it was pretty quiet.

Jean observing a Downy Woodpecker at Niagara Shores. A few chickadees as well but no Golden-crowned Kinglets were found in the conifers.

We moved on to Butler's Burial Ground. More Northern Cardinals, House Sparrows and a couple of American Crows. We were hoping to have a repeat of Northern Mockingbird but the species was not ticked for our section list.

A wooded area near the Niagara Parkway was the last stop. It was even quieter than Niagara Shores, no birds heard or seen while walking the trails. All that we found was a decorated evergreen.

As a group, we observed a total of 33 species in our section. The Common Redpoll seen at the cemetery feeder will most likely be the last tick for the 2010 Ontario list and on New Year's Day, 208 will reset to 0. Not to worry. Jean and I have one more CBC remaining on our calendar that will give us a good head start in reaching 210+ by the end of 2011.

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