Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bird-A-Day Challenge: River Birding

It was the last full week of January and I found myself still chasing after a bird for the Bird-A-Day challenge. I started the week searching the rural roads of west St. Catharines after work and ticked American Kestrel. After spotting three of the small falcons in my travels, I took it as a sign that this was the bird for Monday January 24. The next day, my search stretched even further and included areas of North Pelham. It was looking hopeless but I finally settled on a Northern Cardinal observed at a feeder.

On Wednesday, I used a different mode of transportation, one that was beneficial to my health and in finding a bird, I walked home. I was confident that I would spot an "OK" bird while walking through the residential neighbourhood east of Twelve Mile Creek. Before crossing the creek I thought I may find something better than "OK", walking along a short section of the Merritt Trail. An earlier tick on the list (Pine Siskin) was observed further down stream while on the trail.

As the sunlight faded, I observed Mallards, American Black Duck and a Mute Swan. It was looking like this day would be the swan but as I started heading back to the less travelled bridge on Welland Vale Road, I heard the cry of a Belted Kingfisher. Though I could not see the bird, I clearly heard it's loud rattling call. It's still an allowable tick if a bird is heard but not seen. Crossing the Welland Vale Road bridge flushed the kingfisher and I was able to observe the bird with my binoculars as it sat on a branch on the west side of the creek. I was glad I opted to cross Twelve Mile Creek using the Welland Vale bridge rather than the very busy Fourth Avenue bridge.

The next morning, I spotted a flock of American Robins flying over our yard. Although they can be found in rural areas at this time of year, robins are rarely seen in the neighbourhood until the spring.

After a frustrating change to our schedule on Thursday, Jean and I visited Short Hills Provincial Park on the Friday.

Golden-crowned Kinglet and Red-bellied Woodpecker were soon found near the Roland Road entrance to the provincial park and a Hairy Woodpecker was spotted near Swayze Falls but I decided to use a member of the Emberizid family for the challenge. A White-throated Sparrow.

Another weekend allowed for a diligent effort for the next two ticks. Both were found on the Niagara River.

On Saturday January 29, Jean and I explored the lower Niagara. Our first stop was at Queens Royal Park in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

A few waterfowl to choose from but the best find in NOTL was a mammal.

I was hoping to find the Glaucous Gull we observed during the Duck Count but Jean spotted a beaver feeding on branches underneath a walkway of the NOTL Yacht Club.

A few more Common Goldeneye, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead and Red-breasted Merganser at a spot with access to the river.

Travelling further up river, we ended our day at Adam Beck and the Whirlpool. Jean spotted the bird I was looking for earlier in the day. It was a first-winter Glaucous Gull flying over the fast flowing water at Adam Beck. Though it was all buffy-white, the lack of other gulls made it easier for me to pick out the large Glaucous after Jean called it.

On Sunday, we birded the upper Niagara from Fort Erie to Chippawa. Hundreds and hundreds of Greater Scaup and Bufflehead were observed south of the Peace Bridge. Dozens of Redhead and Common Goldeneye were also seen.

Near the International Railway Bridge, we had our first observation of what I thought would be the bird of the day, Tundra Swan (30+). We had some excitement as we were about to leave for our next stop along the Niagara. As we approached our car, Jean observed a Mallard land in a yard on the other side of the Niagara Parkway. This was odd. Not too long after that, the female Mallard was flying back, calling loudly with a Red-tailed Hawk in hot pursuit of its prey. The two birds were oblivious to our presence and flew directly behind our car as we stood and watched the spectacle. Luckily for the Mallard, it reached the river and the Red-tailed Hawk abruptly ended its chase only to be mobbed by 3 American Crows as the frightened Mallard continued its flight across the river.

Continuing our Sunday drive along the Niagara Parkway, we observed a variety of waterfowl and a sight that sent shivers down my spine.

The large number of Tundra Swans, usually found at Miller's Marina, were absent. The winter ice extended further out into the river, preventing the swans from feeding in the sheltered shallows of the river bend. On the north side of the marina, once again Jean spotted my bird of the day. Three Ring-necked Ducks were huddled amongst the many Canada Geese and Common Mergansers.

A couple more stops before we reached Chippawa but there was nothing as good as the Ring-necked Ducks. The Tundra Swan can wait for a future weekend tick as long as I survive another work week.

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