Sunday, January 23, 2011

2011 Duck Count: The Lower Niagara

January 9

It was our third year of assisting John Black with the annual duck count in the Niagara Region. For our first count, we covered the Lake Ontario shoreline from Fifty Point Conservation Area to Vineland. Last year, we stopped at a number of locations between Vineland and the Port Weller west pier. This year we would cover an area that is not on the official MNR list, the lower Niagara River. Kayo's group was counting waterfowl from the east side of Port Weller to Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL).

Before going to NOTL; Dan, Paula, Jean and I accompanied John and the Vineland crew at the west pier. John's presence was necessary for the granted access to the west pier in Port Weller. En route to the Welland Canal, three cars containing birders turned around to get a better look at a bird perched on top of a brush pile. It was a Northern Shrike! Only the second observation of this species for Jean and I. Was this to be another count where the best bird was seen at the beginning of our day?

Only a few winter resistant Double-crested Cormorants perched in branches above the canal as we drove along the west pier. Many more can be found in the spring and summer.

Over 100 American Robins were feeding on berries.

I beared the cold long enough to tick White-winged Scoter and Red-breasted Merganser for my lists.

On the way to NOTL we stopped at the Niagara Lake Shore Cemetery, a spot we covered during the Niagara Falls CBC. In the field south of the cemetery we found a flock of approximately 200 Snow Buntings. It was an amazing sight, watching the flock feed and take off in one large mass then return to the ground seconds later. Quite the sound too.

Our group started moving up river upon reaching NOTL and at the marina we ran into Kayo's group and a Glaucous Gull. We scanned the river for waterfowl from Nelson Park, a spot from which Jean and I counted Bonaparte's and Little Gulls flying towards Lake Ontario during the Spring BOS count.

We stopped at a few sites along the Niagara River, observing a few hundred Long-tailed Ducks before reaching the small village of Queenston. Several Mute Swans and a few Bufflehead were observed as well. Interesting observations that were not of the duck variety included Belted Kingfisher and a total of 17 Great Blue Herons, all seen in one location on the riverbank.

At the Queenston boat launch, more Long-tailed Ducks, the usual gulls and a visiting birder from the D.C. area.

Continuing south along the river, we climbed the Niagara Escarpment. We no longer had access to the river. It's a sheer 60+ metre drop to the bottom of the Niagara Gorge.

Quick stops at Adam Beck and the Whirpool. This was a duck count so only a few minutes could be spent looking for gulls. Jean and I added Iceland Gull to the year list at Adam Beck. A couple of Greater Scaup were snuggled close to the U.S. side of the river at the Whirlpool but due to the large amount of ice, the Bonaparte's and one or two hidden Little Gulls were absent. We checked out a few more spots at overlooks before reaching one of the world's most popular tourist attractions.

No ice bridge below the American Falls yet. In the open water between the Falls and the Rainbow Bridge, we found Mallards, Canvasback, Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye and an American Wigeon. We spotted a Common Loon where the Maid of the Mist boats carry tourists and the occasional rock band during the warmer months.

Hey, is that a Peregrine Falcon down there?


Yes. Another tick for the year, winter and January lists.

After counting ducks below the Falls we went searching for Purple Sandpiper near the engineerium.

A few ducks above the Falls.

The possibility for spotting Purple Sandpiper sounded promising. John and Dan observed the shorebird on New Year's Day and Paula found it two days later. She remarked that the water level was lower on the day of her observation. A few days had past since it was last seen and the rocks were layered with ice.

Looking through our scopes it appeared there was something present behind one of the rocks. A partial head and beak was all that we could see. There was definitely a bird there. Both Jean and John observed movement while looking through the scopes. If in fact it was a Purple Sandpiper, there's no way it was conclusive enough to tick it as a lifer for Jean and I. We tried setting up the scope at different locations but the views did not improve. A second attempt by Jean and I after a late lunch was no better. We have stood at this spot many times (including OFO trips) and have had no luck. Everyone else seems to find it. The reports on ontbirds have become rather annoying. This species can be rightly tagged as a nemesis bird! Not by this definition (parents strongly cautioned) but still a nemesis.

A great day of birding! 18 species added to our year list and only 4 were waterfowl, White-winged Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck and Gadwall. Jean and I surpassed last year's total for species observed in the region during the month of January and we still have some time to add a few more. The best bird of the day? Well turns out that the first sighting was it and without any hesitation, Northern Shrike was selected for my Bird-A-Day challenge. It's back to some quick birding for the next few additions during another work week.


  1. Loved the peregrin pics- looks like the one I see on the top of the ladder at the bluewater bridge ! The rate you guys are at- you'll have seen all the birds by the middle of May!Keep it up- gives me hope

  2. very nice. I can't believe you saw 17 GBH. how far apart were they? Also, I was on the East pier of Lock 1 and not a single Robin although I am told there were there Saturday, along with 2 Bald Eagles and the Peregrine Falcon

  3. Thanks Anne. Jean has captured some great images. Peregrines do like bridges. A nesting pair are at the lift bridge in Hamilton. Hope to see you on an OFO trip this year.

    Dave, Yeah, all in one spot. Near Service Rd #57 on the Niagara Parkway. It was an amazing sight!