Monday, February 20, 2012

Guides for the Day

In a recent post, I indicated that Jean and I have visited the Falls more often to observe birds than the natural wonder of the Horseshoe and American Falls.

Courtesy of Bruce and Genalyn Highcock
On Sunday February 12, the tables were turned and we became tourists for part of the day. The other part was spent being bird guides for my parents, brother and sister-in-law. My brother and his family were visiting for a long weekend and a few months had past since visiting our newest nephew in Sudbury. It's still too early to teach him the differences between Herring and Ring-billed Gulls but accompanying our nephew for his as well as his mom's first winter visit was enjoyable. We could not have asked for a better day.

If visiting the Falls in the winter, I recommend parking at the Niagara Parks Greenhouse. Parking is free at this time of year and the walk to Table Rock is a short and picturesque 10 to 15 minutes. If you're a birder, without relatives in tow, it may take longer.

Directly across from the greenhouse is the Engineerium. Gulls, waterfowl and.....uhmmm....the species that shall not be named until we actually see one can be observed here.

More ducks and gulls en route to Table Rock.

Though playing the part of tourists we could not resist checking out the gulls below the Falls.

Courtesy of Bruce and Genalyn Highcock
While I was studying the wing pattern of a Bonaparte's Gull, Jean spotted a Peregrine Falcon (FOY) moving fast down river.

Courtesy of Bruce and Genalyn Highcock

Without the aid of binoculars, my brother got on it before I could. I finally spotted it once it came to rest, atop a shed, on the roof of an old hydro building. As we continued our walk, the falcon disappeared from view and then returned to its preferred post. We found the Peregrine here during last year's waterfowl count.

I continued to scan the Herring, Great Black-backed and Bonaparte's Gulls below the Horseshoe Falls and spotted a large gull that was not like the others. Its wings stretched the width of the river as it circled amongst the other gulls. The gull was mostly buffy-coloured with touches of grey. It was definitely a Glaucous Gull (FOY) and the colouration suggested it was second winter bird.

It has been many years since I've been in the building at Table Rock. Memories are vague and I seem to recall a large moose head on the wall in the cafeteria. After some major renovations, there is now a pedestrian bridge crossing the Parkway and an escalator to an observation deck.

During inclement weather this may come in handy for spotting gulls at the brink of the Falls. Does that still count as winter birding? Jackets unzipped and bones are not chilled?

OK. Spending time with my brother and his family and spotting some good birds turned out to be a great day.

Now there was a decision to be made. What species for my Bird-a-Day? Herring Gull could be used, as well as Bonaparte's, but these two species are probably best saved for another day. It was down to the falcon and Glaucous. Not an easy decision. There is no guarantee that the peregrine would be present if I was to return later in the week. The large, immature Glaucous could be elsewhere as well. I weighed my options to the best of my ability and came to the conclusion (using the most scientific decision making equipment available) that Falco peregrinus would be the bird of the day for Sunday February 12.

Later in the evening, I sent out a report to ontbirds and a representative from the Canadian Peregrine Foundation contacted Jean and I the next day. He noticed the posting on ontbirds and was interested in posting the information on their website along with any additional details we could provide. Frank Butson, indicated that with their volunteer base in Toronto, it is difficult to get regular information on the Niagara Falls birds. How could we refuse? We even provided a couple of images to post with the notes of our observation on the Sightings Menu.

With another weekend gone, it was back to looking for a quick fix during the work week.

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