Sunday, November 2, 2014

Late Fall, Great Birds

Yesterday I joined Todd Hagedorn, Mark Dorriesfield and Josh Vandermeulen for an excellent day of birding in the Hamilton and Niagara areas.

Our very first stop was at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters in Hamilton. We noticed a few Horned Grebes offshore and also another bird with them that looked a bit funny, but we all thought it looked fine for Horned. Thankfully Mark didn't let it go and once we brought our scopes to bear it was quite obviously an Eared Grebe, a fairly rare species locally!

My best effort at a photo is rather dismal but you can see a hint of the darker cheek, one of the features distinguishing this as an Eared Grebe.

Luckily the bird has stuck around and many local birders have seen it this weekend.

We then headed further down the beach for a bit of lakewatching, and although the strong (and cold!) winds blowing in our faces seemed ideal for bringing some interesting stuff close to shore, we didn't have too much luck and eventually continued east.

 These geese in a random field somewhere were briefly exciting, but we quickly realised that they were some kind of domestic hybrid. In fact a bit of research reveals that they've been seen in the same area for a few years now.

Setting up again at Niagara-on-the-Lake, we immediately had a flock of about 25 Brant fly right by us! This small goose is quite tough to find locally and is usually only seen in flight during their late fall migration. I hadn't seen any since a distant flock during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, so was very excited. We had a second flock of about 80 birds a bit later too, but eventually moved on, spurred somewhat by the cold winds, spray, and sleet blowing into our faces!

We made a number of other stops not worth mentioning, but the highlight of the day was still to come when we checked out the area directly below Niagara Falls. While standing among the throngs of tourists we watched Bonaparte's Gulls feeding in the river directly below us, and almost immediately spotted something different.

That bold wing pattern made the identification of juvenile Sabine's Gull immediately evident even with just naked-eye observations. Here's a closer look and a video:

There were actually two birds present (as you can see in my first picture above), but they were not really associating with each other. Sabine's Gull is an Arctic-breeding gull that spends the winter on the open ocean, but small numbers, mostly juveniles, are seen in Ontario each fall. I've only seen this species twice before and never at this angle. Indeed, I can't imagine that there are many people who have seen Sabine's Gull from directly overhead given their propensity for the open ocean!

An excellent day if a bit bone-chilling. That is almost a given though when birding the Niagara River!

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