It was a beautiful day in the Niagara Region on Sunday. The sun was shining and the temperature reached a day time high of 15 degrees Celsius. The weather could not have been better to go searching for the 205th tick of the year. On Saturday, Willie D'Anna posted that a first winter Franklin's Gull was seen from Artpark in Lewiston, New York. It was observed for 30 minutes and if still in the area, could easily be observed from the Canadian side of the Niagara River.
Franklin's Gull breeds in western Canada and winters in the Pacific from Guatemala to Chile so this would be an invaluable addition to the year list as well as the Ontario list. Our lifer was observed in Calgary, Alberta during a trip to British Columbia in June of 2009.
This western species is a rare fall and winter visitor to Niagara and prior to 1990, it was found annually. For the next 16 years, there were only 15 observations recorded (Black and Roy, 2010).
So on Sunday afternoon, Jean and I headed for the lower Niagara River, our first planned stop was in Queenston. If not found, we would try the Adam Beck Overlook, followed by the Whirlpool. As we left St. Catharines, I noted that we would arrive in Queenston around the same time the gull was observed the day before. With a bit of luck, the gull was a creature of habit.
We parked in the parking area above the boat ramp and started our hike upriver. Hopefully the annoying noise created by the jetskis had not sent the gulls packing.
We scanned the river through the trees as we walked along the unmarked trail. The sounds of the jetskis were abated and gulls were seen moving up and down the river, but none of them had the dark half-hood of a first winter Franklin's. They were all Bonaparte's.
We reached an open spot where we observed a dozen gulls milling around and occasionally diving into the fast flowing water of the Niagara River. More Bonaparte's. I could see a slightly larger gathering of gulls 100-150 metres further up the river.
At this location, the Niagara Gorge begins. The escarpment wall is very steep and the many sedimentary layers are quite apparent. Four Turkey Vultures soared overhead on the Canadian side of the gorge.
Jean was first to spot a gull, circling above the river that had a dark head and she noted the body shape was slightly different than that of the Bonaparte's. Jean described the gull's flight path and I got on it and observed the same distinguishing field markings. The gull had a dark half-hood, an incomplete tail-band, and was slightly larger than the accompanying Bonaparte's Gulls. Wow! I wish they were all that easy. In less than an hour we had ticked the reported Franklin's Gull. This was very lucky, but checking the location at the same time it was observed the day before may have contributed to the successful tick.
Only three shy of last year's personal best. Missing three Boreal species earlier this year does burn but hopefully we can add Red-throated Loon, Black Scoter and Lesser Black-backed Gull to assure a tie with last year's provincial list. Throw in a Cackling Goose, Thayer's Gull, and a California Gull and we have a new personal best. The only trouble with that is we'll have to tick more in 2012.