And back again...An insanely busy fall has made posting an endangered activity but now that the big holiday has passed, we have time to reflect on fall birding. Of course, my fall birding was limited but for one road trip. After years of wanting to go but never quite going I finally made it to the Ontario Field Ornithologists Niagara River Field Trip. This trip is one of their most popular trips and this year was no exception with a solid 60-70 people plus many others along the route. The weather was great, balmy for an Ontario December ( the exception to the rule ). The kids were at home, as this trip was my delayed birthday present. And the target for birders on this day...Gulls. Yes, the most frustrating family in ornithology ( despite what people watching a flock of "peep" sandpipers will tell you ). Unfortunately no pics but here are 10 key points about this field trip if you are interested in going.
1. It is hard to pick out gulls but the presence of experts makes it a little easier.
2. Getting close enough to hear the experts is tough. This field trip is insanely popular for people who have tried to add gulls to their list before and failed miserably.
3. Bring a scope and binoculars. The overlook of the Sir Adam Beck Hydro plant is one of the most impressive places to bird as one looks down ( way down ) into the gorge onto the hundreds of gulls congregating on the river. Seeing the sitting birds in any detail is impossible without a scope. However, once they take off and start to fly you need a decent pair of binoculars to track them. I had two life birds and with both I was able to see diagnostic features with 10 x 40 binoculars.
4. The scope is even more impotant when birding sites above the falls, like the Chippewa Control Gates or the river immediately above the falls.
5. When birding above the falls, try to stand in the middle of the group. If you end up on the periphery of the group, you will be asked by non-birders what this crowd of people on the sidewalk is looking at. Which means explaining that everyone is looking at seagulls.
6. The Slaty-Backed Gull may be the most frustrating bird to identify in North America. To identify a Slaty-Back in North America, you must essentially eliminate all other possibilities ( i.e. all the normal gulls ). Thankfully, I have my life Slaty-Back but every time I see a possible candidate, it makes you realize the challenge that birding provides.
7. Jaegars are cool. After missing out on jaegars completely in Newfoundland this summer, I wrote off these birds as overly fat, nasty seagulls. And while there is some truth in my assessment, seeing one in action was impressive. The POMRAINE JAEGAR at Adam Beck was a great surprise. It was gliding with the other gulls, then bolted towards it's target and began harassing it relentlessly in the air, then into the water. As I stated before, even with my binoculars i was able to see the typical white flashes on the wings.
8. Waiting for the gulls is part of the game. Sleeping gulls show just enough to be intriguing but of course, there is always one other feature that remains hidden. Our group spent nearly 20 minutes waiting for a potential CALIFORNIA GULL to show it's legs. Finally, it stood up to reveal....pink legs !!! No California Gull, although the birders with more expertise mused that this might be California/Herring gull hybrid. Ah, hybrids. Another reason why gulls cause birdes to assume the fetal position.
9. There is more to this trip than gulls. PURPLE SANDPIPERS, HARLEQUIN DUCKS, TURKEY AND BLACK VULTURES(!) in addition to the gulls ( including my life THAYER'S GULL ). The scenery is great too. This trip gave me my first look at The Whirlpool, which is impressive.
10. This trip rates a 2 out of five on the kid-meter. Staring at seagulls requires patience beyond that of young children. I would recommend leaving the kids at home for this one, despite the chance to see the falls.
Things I am Thinking About Right Now...
- 1. Finally Updated; A busy ( and not-so-birdy fall ) fall
- 2. A smew in Ontario ??? And I got to see it !
- 3. Thinking about summer vacation...
- 4. And Sping trips too !
- 5. Quite a few Winter rarities around. May try to add a few more to the list
- 6. Still no snow on the ground...
- 7. Project FeederWatch is going strong. Two eports submitted...
- 8. I think I have convinced my wife to visit Cape May next summer !
- 9. The Elephant Pepper Development Trust ( Check out their site ! )
- 10. Tying to decide how to spend my remaining gift certificates !