Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Really Good Friday

Niagara Hawk Watch Open House

From March 1 to May 15, the Niagara Peninsula Hawk Watch monitors raptor migration from the top of a steel tower at Beamer Memorial Conservation Area in Grimsby, Ontario and though it is only minutes away from St. Catharines, Jean and I have never spent a day birding at the conservation area atop the Niagara Escarpment until this year's open house.

Visitors were not swayed by the overcast and cool temperatures on Good Friday. Many cars lined the roadway near the entrance to Beamer so I drove to the end of the road and parked near the Bruce Trail. The trail led us to the wide open space on land managed by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. Although only mid-morning, the event was already busy with families and birders browsing the displays of various conservation and nature groups while counters had their binoculars fixed skyward.

We wandered around, talking to the birders we knew, including John Black and Kayo Roy. They still had a few signed copies of their book Niagara Birds available for sale.

We did look up to the skies occasionally while we were there. It was the Hawk Watch after all. I was looking to add Broad-winged Hawk to the year list and Red-shouldered Hawk to the life list. During the first hour, Jean and I observed migrating Turkey Vulture, Cooper's, Sharp-shinned and Red-tailed Hawks. Daily reports from the hawk watch are sent on ontbirds and the previous couple of days did not promise a positive result for Broad-winged Hawk. Only two of the small Buteos were observed. All we needed was just one to fly over. The one we viewed during the Mountsberg Raptor Centre demonstration would not suffice as a tick. This species of hawk is surprisingly small when not in flight.

The centre also brought a Merlin for their raptor talk.

Though we would see no migrating Merlins, a few Broad-winged Hawks eventually soared overhead. Now all we needed was a Red-shouldered Hawk to fly by.

There were some feeders along the forest edge that attracted a few passerine species and Kayo informed us that a Fox Sparrow was seen at the feeders earlier in the morning. Jean and I needed this species for the year list and after a few minutes of patiently waiting we observed the migrating sparrow before the much larger Blue Jays frightened it away. I prefer to tick Fox Sparrow in the Spring as it passes through the Niagara Region for another breeding season in the far north. If missed, then we would have to wait until Fall as it returns to winter in the southeastern United States.

After a quick lunch break at our car, we found both species of kinglets along the trail. The Ruby-crowned Kinglet seemed to be annoyed with something. Its ruby crown appeared to be set to permanent display.

We returned to continue our watch for a lifer Red-shouldered Hawk. The Canadian Raptor Conservancy was holding a demonstration and we joined the circle of onlookers as a Swainson's Hawk was returned to its carrier. The next raptor brought out was Rocco, a Bald Eagle.

The conservancy left the best to last. Two owlets. The Barn Owl is listed as an endangered species in Canada and it's great to know that we have programs in place to help remove species from this list.

Once again we gazed skyward and observed a dramatic change from the last two days. Kettle after kettle of Broad-winged Hawks were flying above the Niagara Escarpment. It seemed endless and I counted over 300 for my eBird checklist. At the end of the day (7 hours of observation), the observers standing on the tower counted a total of 1749 Broad-winged Hawks. As I looked at another group of Broad-winged Hawks, OFO trip leader Dave Milsom called out a Red-shouldered Hawk. Both Jean and I were able to get on this lifer bird mixed in with the Broad-winged Hawks. Before leaving, we observed a second Red-shouldered Hawk and added Purple Martin to the year list. Only 2 Red-shouldered Hawks were observed on Good Friday and overall, a total of 581 were counted between March 1 and May 15. For this year's count, the majority of the Red-shouldered Hawks were observed in March, so for next year, I'll plan on multiple visits to Beamer Memorial Consevation Area to ensure the addition of Red-shouldered Hawk to the 2012 list. Who knows, maybe I'll assist with the count on one of the days.

For Jean and I, Good Friday turned out to be better than good. The raptors I sought were ticked and the added bonus of two unexpected firsts of the year kept me ahead of last year's year list by a week or two. While at the hawk watch, I picked up one of Dave Milsom's Flora & Fauna Field Tours calendar for 2011-2012. There are a few trips that catch my eye and even if we don't book one next year, there is always the year after that. We have too many birding friends that have gone on trips here and there and have seen this species and that species. Hopefully, we'll get to share our trip ticks and for once, we'll be the envy of the birding clique. Link

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