Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Gull Watch 2012

Sunday December 2 was the annual Niagara River Gull Watch. Jean and I arrived shortly after 8:00 a.m. and the temperature was already in the double digits. We did not get away that easily however. Shortly after the arrival of trip leaders Jean Iron and Ron Tozer, it began to rain. As predicted in various weather reports, the rain stayed with us the whole day and though I was dressed in rain gear, it was not fun at times.

From the Adam Beck Power Station viewing platform, we looked down at the hundreds upon hundreds of gulls that were looking for a quick and easy meal spit out of the U.S. and Canadian hydro-electric generating stations.

While here, gull species observed included the usual Herring, Ring-billed and Bonaparte's as well as a few Iceland Gulls (adults and juveniles) and a couple of Glaucous Gulls. The Franklin's Gull and Thayer's Gull that were observed the day before were not found by our group. No additions for my year list but I made up for it by spotting a fox just north of the parking area as we stood at the viewing platform.

At the Whirlpool, hundreds of Bonaparte's Gulls were sitting on the river. I was looking for a Little Gull for the year list and it seemed a possibility when our friend Nancy spotted one for a moment as it flew amongst a group of Bonaparte's. Once it settled down on the water it was not found again and another addition to the year list was denied. Standing at the marina in Niagara-on-the-Lake during a fly-by may be required before the end of the year in order to tick Little Gull.

The OFO group moved further up river to identify more gulls above the Falls. Jean and I took our time as we cut through Dufferin Islands Nature Area. Two birders from the Huntsville area needed a lifer Tufted Titmouse and we had some idea where we might be able to find one or two. Jean hand fed a female titmouse the week before while its mate preferred to take seed from a tree stump.

No appearance of the little gray birds so we moved to the other side of the Niagara Parkway to search for gulls.

We joined our friend Anne and the five of us scanned the river near the Old Gatehouse. Little did we know that the most exciting bird of the day for Jean and I was lurking in the nearby bushes and we walked right by it when moving on to the east side of the Engineerium. We looked at the waterfowl near the barge and had no luck spotting the Black-headed Gull seen through the scope of another birder. Seemed there were many gull watchers on the river this day as there will be for the next month or so.

Our small group eventually caught up to the main group on the west side of the Engineerium.

Some were lucky enough to have caught a quick view of the Black-headed Gull and we gave it try. The wind picked up and the rain continued as we stood on a concrete wall above the river (it's not as a dangerous as it sounds). Just like the Whirlpool, we searched through the flying Bonaparte's Gulls for our quarry. Another needle in the hay stack situation. This time, we were looking for a slightly larger gull with slate gray under the wings. The red legs and bill would help but with this many gulls moving about, the colour underneath the wings would be easier to spot. No addition to either the lifer or year list. With the exception of some one's umbrella being blown into the Niagara River, all was not lost.

We headed back up river with Ron Tozer in search of what had been seen in the brush near the Old Gate House. The bird was a Black-throated Blue Warbler! I quickly went through the year list in my head and as best as I could remember, Jean and I had not seen this species of warbler in 2012. A first of the year warbler in December would be a worthy consolation and a sweet addition to our Winter List. In no time, we all had great looks at a male Black-throated Blue Warbler as it moved through the bushes below the path.

After lunch (thanks for treating us Rick!), there was not much action at the feeders in Chippawa and the group returned to the river above the Falls to scope the gulls between Dufferin Islands and the Control Gates. Good views of Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A Great Blue Heron on the wall near the Control Gates was a nice addition to our winter list. With the return of the rain and the wind at our backs, Jean and I decided to call it a day. A short stop at the west end of Dufferin Islands concluded the day with an observation of a Merlin perched at the top of a tree across the pond.

None of the gulls I needed were observed but the Black-throated Blue Warbler was a great find. Thanks to Rick Thornton (we owe him two lunches now?) for spotting this bird that we usually see in May. The checklist for the Black-throated Blue observation was my first entry later that evening. I wanted to confirm that it was a first of the year. Sure enough, after entering the warbler observation on eBird Canada, the total species for 2012 on "My eBird" page increased by one. The next day, the daily rare bird alert for Ontario was in my e-mail "inbox". 7 reports of the Black-throated Blue Warbler, including my observation, were listed on the eBird alert. Later that evening, all seven observers received an e-mail from the volunteer Ontario regional data reviewer. Was the validity of the sighting in question? Not at all. The reviewer was more concerned with the differences in checklist locations. Huh?

To be continued

1 comment:

  1. That is one of the many problems with eBird. Some birders dump all their data to one location and do not separate bird sightings to accurate locations.
    eBird has its merits, but to a regional compiler, details of a particular sighting will be lacking.
    Good to see you and the others at Niagara last weekend!