Back at Niagara for the Gull Weekend

Twenty-six of us from the Bruce Birding Club headed off to Niagara Falls for an Ontario Field Ornithologists gull identification day. We went via Hamilton and Burlington led by Fred and stopping along the way at various locations to see more than just the gulls. At the first stop two Northern mockingbirds welcomed us and even took time out of their busy day to pose for a few of the photographers in the group. We weren’t sure if there were two until they both decided to pose together for a few quick dull day photos.

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These are relatively rare birds in our area of Bruce County but near Hamilton you can pretty well count on seeing one of them in your yard each year. It is surprising that they haven’t expanded their territory quickly with the milder years we have been having but they seem to be happy just staying where they are.

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During summer months Double-crested cormorants are plentiful but many have now headed south. Having one pose with its reflection was just too good an opportunity to pass up so its gets a spot in the blog as well.

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At the lift bridge the pair of Peregrine falcons didn’t disappoint us although they weren’t close for great photos. These birds have adapted to city life and can often been seen raising a family on a window ledge or another high stop in a city. They can reach speeds of 112 Km/hr in pursuit of prey and in a dive can reach 320 Km/hr. Surprisingly Rock pigeons also live around the lift bridge so the falcons have a handy food supply when needed.

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This bird is found on all continents except Antarctica and can live to almost 20 years of age. The lift bridge area also gives us wonderful close up views of thousands of Long-tailed ducks as they dive and look for food. The males are quite handsome looking with their bright white and long tails.

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We do see several of these around home but as they gather in some locations you realize just how many of these ducks there must be.

At another stop the Northern shoveller males cruised by and they to are a hard bird not to take a photo of. A front view would have been nice to show off that wide bill but I wasn’t quite quick enough for that.

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At Lasalle Marina the scopes were busy as White-winged, Surf and Black scoters were seen as well as Ruddy ducks, Scaup (both varieties), Common and Red-breasted mergansers, Buffleheads, Canvasbacks, Mallards, and several other duck species. Many Trumpeter swans displayed their tags identifying them as such and a few American coots were sprinkled in with the other water birds. One interesting pair was a male Wood duck staying very close to a female Mallard. The pair were fairly close to shore initially and gave the photographers a rare opportunity for a Wood duck close-up.

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Next we headed to lunch at Van Wagners beach and had a nice surprise there when Kiah spotted Black-legged kittiwakes floating just offshore. This is the bird I referred to in the last blog that has a similar black pattern to the juvenile Bonaparte gull on its upper wing. In the kittiwakes case the pattern is uninterrupted whereas the Bonaparte has a break in the pattern in the middle of each wing. The kittiwake also has a partial neck ring that was visible in the photos we got at Van Wagners beach.

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I didn’t get a photo of the juvenile Black-legged kittiwake below the falls this time but on a previous visit this photo I got shows the continuous black pattern on the juvenile bird. The juvenile Bonaparte gulls have a break in the black half way across the wing and also have no black neck ring.

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At this same location in past years many Black-legged kittiwakes as well as other uncommon sea birds were seen as per a 2012 eBird report.

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S20302402

After lunch we stopped at two other spots seeing more ducks of the same varieties as we had seen and then we headed to Niagara for the gull workshop in the evening. At the workshop we had excellent talks by Justin Peters and Mark Peck. All of us came away with a much better understanding of the differences between the years and species of the variety of gulls seen in this area.

Sunday the weather was great and off we went in search of a variety of gulls along the Niagara River. As well as gulls (which were often far away) other birds were close enough for some nice photos. The Hooded mergansers are always worth a photo as the male looks so bright with its hood feathers fully lifted.

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Although the female doesn’t have the colouring of the male she still has a unique appearance when her head feathers in the hood are raised.

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In previous blogs we’ve had some photos of these birds with their hood down as well as up and it certainly give them quite a different appearance.

Next came the Tufted titmouse which never fails to bring out the cameras as well as a few peanuts, to give them something for their troubles of posing for photos. They are quick though so you have to very quick to get a nice photo of these small birds. This is

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another bird species that hasn’t extended its range farther to the north over the past few years. There are more showing up now on the Christmas bird counts but few that breed in our county. In the same area a Red-bellied woodpecker worked its way through the trees searching for bugs of other delicacies to eat.

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These woodpeckers are becoming more common at many feeders in our area now as they seem to be doing well. We are on the northern edge of their range but do see them regularly now on our birding outings in Bruce County.

A Redhead duck stopped by on a log to preen and relax for a few minutes and it gave me such an enticing look I just couldn’t resisit taking a photo.

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As this bird relaxed along the shore 4 male Harlequin ducks were busy diving and swimming farther out on the river amidst all the gulls and other ducks. They were too far for a good photo but beautiful to look at through the scope. We did end up seeing Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed, Herring, Ring-billed, Iceland, Bonaparte, Little gulls as well as the Black-legged kittiwake during the gull watch. Later in the afternoon we headed out in search of a reported adult Brant. Indeed after one futile search we did find the bird and all had good views of it. In this photo you can see the white band on the neck that indicated this is an adult bird (versus the lack of a band  in the previous blog).

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At the same location a few American wigeon were keeping the Mallard ducks company and the green on the wigeons’ head was really catching the sunshine.

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On the way back to the hotel we came across a group of about 300 Tundra swans fairly close to shore. The view and the sound from the geese made it worthwhile to take a few minutes and enjoy them as they foraged, preened and cruised along.

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After a nice meal and a good sleep we were up the next morning ready to head off under Judith’s lead in a convoy to 50 Point Conservation area. We were hoping for possible Purple sandpipers and Common eider ducks but as we got close to the conservation area the fog closed in . After a hike up the beach we could hear many ducks but see very few. Before long though the fog lifted a bit and we had good views of various scoters, Long-tailed ducks, mergansers, Mallards, Common goldeneye and a few other species.

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As I was taking a photo of two male Surf scoters a male White-winged scoter flew into the frame. Although it is out of focus you can see the differences in the wings, head and bill in the two species of scoters. Although the Eider ducks and Purple sandpipers were no shows this year it was still a stop that entertained us all for a while. This female Long-tailed duck gave me an inquisitive look after it had several dives in the clear water along the shore.

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The female Long-tailed ducks have quite a variety of plumages so identifying them at a distance sometimes if a bit difficult. They are one of the ducks that have three distinctive plumages each year due to overlapping mounts as noted at

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Long-tailed_Duck/lifehistory#

We had heard of a female Mountain bluebird near Waterloo that had been seen by many birders for over a week now. This is another western bird that sometimes shows up in the east this time of year in very limited numbers. We managed to find the location and the bird didn’t disappoint us as it flew from tree to tree watching for bugs and other food.

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It made a great finish to the end of a very nice weekend.

Back home the action in the yard continued and as the snow started to fall more birds began showing up at the feeders. As well as birds the Red squirrels are also starting to feel the need for food and are trying to figure out other ways to get that food. We have our feeders out on wires to keep them from being close to trees that the squirrels can jump from but the odd Red squirrel has figured out how to hand over hand across the wire to get to the sunflower seed feeder. It still hasn’t been able to latch onto the bottom of the feeder yet as it slips down and ends up in the snow drift below. It is entertaining to watch anyway !

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We got a call from Mary-Ann and Ralph saying they had a Baltimore oriole at their feeder so we dropped by and got a few photos of this oriole as its very late in the season for them to be around. There are always exceptions and its always interesting to

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see what is around “out of season”. On the way home we checked out a couple of side roads and had good views and photos of some Snowy owls that were watching for something to move so they could pounce on it.

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The second owl was out in a field and as you can see, the dark markings on the feathers make it fairly difficult to see in that type of habitat. They are indeed beautiful birds!

To finish off this blog I’ll include a photo of a bird we saw yesterday. This Barrows goldeneye was a lifer for us and we didn’t have to travel too far to see it. It has been around the Owen Sound area for a few days now and after seeing a posting by Kiah we decided to see if we could see the bird. When we arrived there were other birders and photographers in the area and Judy and Jim guided us to where the Barrows goldeneye was foraging in the company of several Greater scaup.

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The duck was fairly far away initially but just as we were leaving it did come a bit closer for some good views and a couple of photos. These ducks are mostly western birds with a smaller population to the east of Quebec. We had tried to see one when we were in Ottawa with no success so it was indeed a treat to have a great view of one much closer to home.

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And so another edition of our blog winds down!! It will be interesting to see what birds are around for the end of the year, the Christmas Bird Count and a brand new year ahead.

Happy Birding to all and have a Very Merry Christmas!!

 

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