There are a few spots in Niagara where you can find grassland species. Usually, Jean and I head over to Port Robinson, east of the Welland Canal, to tick our FOY Grasshopper Sparrow but this year we checked out another location after receiving an eBird Year Needs for Niagara report. Included in the report was Clay-colored Sparrow so all the more reason to head to the northern edge of Port Colborne this year. Another added benefit, the report was from a checklist submitted by our friend John Black. I contacted John to obtain additional information and he graciously provided a map complete with arrows and circles to indicate the location of the singing Clay-colored Sparrows.
Ticking these two species of sparrows would be a nice way to start my week's vacation. We parked on the shoulder of the 140 and walked along a fence line towards a plateau. Vehicle traffic on the road that links Welland to Highway 3 east of the Welland Canal made it difficult to hear birds but we quickly observed our first grassland species perched on one of the wooden fence posts.
An Upland Sandpiper! Jean and I observed this grassland shorebird in western Niagara in late April but they were distant looks through our spotting scope. This was a much better observation that included flight displays, singing and a second Upland Sandpiper. The pair took turns perching on the fence posts and continued to fly around the area as we climbed the tractor trail to the top of the plateau.
Reaching the top, we heard Savannah Sparrow, Field Sparrow and Eastern Meadowlark singing and then turned west towards the Welland Canal and the stands of Phragmites where John had observed the Clay-coloured Sparrow. The Upland Sandpipers continued their aerial show and used a cedar for a perch this time. Soon after, a third joined the performance.
Further along the plateau, we could hear the insect-like buzz song of a Grasshopper Sparrow. It took some time but we eventually spotted one atop a small cedar. During the hike we saw three Grasshopper Sparrows.
Unfortunately, no singing Clay-colored Sparrow were heard as we stood near the Phragmites.
Every Savannah Sparrow was inspected. Grasshopper Sparrows were double-checked. But no Clay-colored Sparrow could be found.
Wild strawberries were found and left for the critters that need them.
Returing to the area we climbed the plateau, we noticed a pair of Virginia Ctenucha (Ctenucha virginica). A species of Wasp Moth that can be found in southern Ontario through May to July.
As a naturalist, there are many things that capture my attention. Insects maybe more than others. After identifying a Common Ringlet, a Silvery Blue recently and now the Virginia Ctenucha,
I just may have started another life list. No need to worry birds, you'll always be first.