Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Niagara CBCs

It was that time of year again. Between December 14 and January 5, birders and nature club members head out into the great outdoors to count birds in the name of science. This year, Jean and I could only participate in 2 of the 3 Niagara Christmas Bird Counts.

The St. Catharines CBC took place on December 16 and the weather was mild. No chance of a repeat sundog appearance this year nor was there any additions to the 2012 list while travelling the rural roads of Pelham and West Lincoln. An above average 85 species were found by 50 participants (also above average).

Compiler Marcie Jacklin recently posted a few highlights from the St. Kitts Count.

First record of American Pipit

Second record of Thayer's Gull

Record high counts for:     Northern Shoveler (7)
                                    Ring-necked Duck (44)
                                    Double-crested Cormorant (133)
                                    Tufted Titmouse (31)
                                    Winter Wren (8)
                                    Carolina Wren (34)
                                    Common Redpoll (222)

Record low counts for:      American Crow (77)

The Port Colborne CBC was on Sunday December 30 and as posted on facebook (December 27), I was hoping for Rough-legged Hawk, Snow Buntings and Common Redpolls.

In 2011, we observed Rough-legged Hawk on the Port Colborne count in early January followed by three additional observations between late January and late April. To go all year without a tick and expect an observation with only two days remaining was presumptuous but the conditions and environment in our section were shouting for a sighting of the hawk that breeds in the Arctic tundra. Well it was pretty quiet for this species of Buteo. Another Buteo was easily found and the day ended, Red-tailed Hawks 5 and Rough-legged Hawks 0. Let's hope the Seahawks fare much better against the Falcons.

Common Redpoll was another species with many observations in 2011 but had yet to be found in 2012. During the winter months, the small finches can be found at feeders in Niagara and spending a little time observing some front yard feeders produced three Common Redpolls before 9:00 a.m.

We observed Snow Buntings twice in the Niagara Region in 2011 and the views were early in the year. It seems another species was holding out until the Port Colborne count. In the afternoon, Jean and I found two flocks of Snow Buntings while travelling the roads north and south of the village of Wainfleet.

Both flocks were mixed with Horned Larks. Unfortunately, not a single longspur was found with the buntings. We would end the count with 26 species observed in our section and a new personal best of 217 for the Ontario year list. Though the tally sheets were handed in, we still had a chance at adding another species before the end of the day.

We were discussing the birds observed during the count and Jean picked up some information on the location of an Eastern Screech Owl from fellow Niagara birders Blayne and Jean. It was a good owl year for us and adding a 6th owl species to the year list would be a great way to end 2012. Funny. Blayne and Jean were there when we observed a Northern Saw-whet Owl, Long-eared Owl and Snowy Owl during the 2012 Midwinter Waterfowl Count. Directions were given but in the end, the finders of the bird decided to lead us to the tree where they spotted the small owl sunning itself. A few more count participants joined the owl prowl and we all headed off to the east side of Port Colborne to observe the Megascops asio.

The bounce song of an Eastern Screech-owl broadcasted from Blayne and Jean's vehicle as we stood by the roadside with our bins focused on a hole in a tree. The appearance of a gray morph was brief and muppet-like. It slowly rose, exposing only the top half of its head and once it realized that it was only birders and their silly playback devices the owl returned to the comfort of its hollow. Good enough for me. Tick number 218.

That's how our year would end. On the final day of the year, we looked for Black Vultures in Queenston after finishing work. No vultures, just lots of gulls soaring around the river at the bottom of the Niagara Gorge. No Little Gull for the year either. The light was fading fast at the mouth of the Niagara River and the gulls were flying very low as they headed to Lake Ontario for the evening. If there was a Little Gull mixed in with the Bonaparte's, there was no way you could tell. The 2012 list was officially closed. In less than 7 hours, we would be celebrating the New Year and the start of the 2013 Ontario Year list.

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