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Field Trip Report
by Adrian Binns

NIAGARA FALLS GULL AND WATERFOWL EXTRAVAGANZA
November 28-30, 2005

On this page: Trip Report, Species List

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Participants - 7
Weather -Cloudy with rain and snow, 33-65 degrees F.
Species - 76 (9 gull species)

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Trip Report

Monday November 28
The American Falls was our first stop where Colin Campbell, Angus Hogg and I picked up Brown Creeper, Downy Woodpecker, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-capped Chickadee and an assortment of colored squirrels before taking in the spectacular views of the falls on this balmy winters day and waiting for Bert Filemyr, Connie Goldman, Dennis and Anna Bert to arrive. Looking down at the river below us big numbers of Bonie’s were seen, as expected, with Herring and Ring-billed Gulls as the supporting cast. A Harlequin Duck had been seen over the last couple of days but in spite of going over the water, shoreline and boulders with a fine tooth and comb we could not turn it up. However we were not disappointed with the Red-throated Loon, Ruddy Duck, American Wigeons, Common Mergansers, Hooded Merganser, Lesser Scaup, Horned Grebes, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye and Double-crested Cormorants.

Following lunch at where else but a Tim Horton’s, a new experience for Angus, we scanned both sides of the Control Gates finding hundreds of goldeneyes, and amongst them a few Canvasback and Redheads. On the concrete platform we carefully worked our way through the gulls and found two adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls. An hour was spent at the Sir Adam Beck Overlook where we quickly picked up a 1st year Iceland Gull only to never see it again. This was followed by at least 2 adult Kumlien’s, both with varying degrees of grey in the primary shafts and a bird that showed extremely dark primary shafts. Angus saw it land which enabled us to carefully study it, noting the slightly darker shade of grey than the Herrings it was associating with, and the different configuration of primary pattern – Thayer’s Gull. At least 2 Lesser Black-backed were also here. A flock of about 20 Cedar Waxwings and an American Goldfinch rounded out this very productive stop.

By mid afternoon the skies were darkening and we got a few short showers. Our last stop was for the fly-by at Niagara-on-the-Lake. A nice surprise was two dozen Snow Buntings but it was a bit surprising to see them fly down the middle of the river! At 4:30 the action hit high gear and several thousand bonies made their way towards Lake Ontario. We diligently searched through them for any other ‘good’ gull. Oldsquaws, Red-breasted Mergansers and goldeneyes would occasionally join them and Colin and Angus got on a 1st winter Franklin Gull before darkness called a halt to the proceedings.

Tuesday November 29
It was another balmy day though we had a steady rain throughout the day. Working our way towards Fort Erie we came across several hundred Tundra Swans strung out along the river in various sized groups. We watched an adult Little Gull amongst a large flock of bonies that put on a great show working its way up and down the river. Reaching the southern end of the river at Fort Erie we witnessed incredible flocks of thousands of Oldsquaws and Buffleheads along Jaeger Rocks that were most impressive when they took to the air each time a power boat roared by. Amongst the multitude a single White-winged and Surf Scoter were also seen in flight along with small numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers. A little more cooperative was a Red-necked Grebe that showed well between dives and a couple of Horned Grebes that were closer to the shore.

Entering the Legends of Niagara Golf Course a Red-tailed Hawk swooped down and dislodged a juvenile light morph Rough-legged Hawk from a low snag, in what looked like a little light-hearted entertainment for the Red-tail. As the Rough-leg flew away it must have spotted something, hovering above it before dropping to the ground and into the high grasses. Along a tree line about 8 American Tree Sparrow flitted about occasionally perching in the open for wonderful views. Heading out of the golf course we were able to relocate the Rough-leg, this time perched in a tree. Along the river bank Belted Kingfisher and a Black-crowned Night-Heron were spotted and were very confiding. A return to the Control Gates produced the same waterfowl as yesterday along with 3 Ring-neck Ducks.

Making our way towards the northern end, American Robins were spotted in the open woods opposite Sir Adam Beck which lead us to Red-shafted Flickers and White-headed Nuthatches. The Overlook had the same individual white-wings as 2 hours earlier. We checked feeders in Niagara-on-the-Lake which was a big success with dozens of Slate-colored Juncos, Black-capped Chickadees, House Finches, 2 White-throated Sparrows, 3 American Goldfinch, White-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpecker and about twenty Pine Siskins which were making regular trips into a nijer seed feeder. The Sewer Ponds produced Northern Shovelers and Ruddy Ducks but no Franklin’s Gull. With the skies darkening earlier than it should have, we decided to head back to the hotel. On the way Connie spotted a wet preening male Merlin perched at the top of a tree along the roadside - a nice end to a good day considering the crummy weather.

Wednesday November 30
Sir Adam Beck was first up and it was not long before we located several Iceland Gulls and the Thayer’s again, but a search of the loafing gulls on the shoreline in three spots failed to yield a California. We then proceed to work our way from Table Rock opposite the Canadian Falls to the Control Gate. The gulls were split between those standing on the rocks about a third to halfway across the river and the remainder, including several Iceland’s, flying above the rapids nearer to Goat Island actively looking for small fish. Amongst the small groups of American Wigeon, Common Goldeneyes and Gadwall there was a female Northern Pintail and Anna found a male Harlequin working its way down the rapids. Near the Gate House a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets worked their way from tree to tree both showing well on the lower branches. The retention pool in front of the Gate House held 4 or 5 pairs of Hooded Mergansers as well as an American Coot and the concrete runway leading to the control gates had a Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Following a bite to eat at Timmy’s it was time to hit the road for home. An American Kestrel was perched at the entrance ramp to 190 as we left Niagara Falls and west of Montezuma NWR about a thousand Snow Geese were feeding in a field.


Species List

Birds
Red-throated Loon - 1 below the American Falls
Common Loon - 6 near the Nichols Marina and 1 at the mouth of Lake Ontario
Horned Grebe - Scattered
Red-necked Grebe - 1 at Jaeger Rocks
Double-crested Cormorant - A few around the falls
Great Blue Heron - 3 at the fly-by
Black-crowned Night-Heron - 1 at Chippawa
Turkey Vulture - 1 seen along Rte 90
Snow Goose - Approx 1000 west of Montezuma NWR
Canada Goose - Common
Tundra Swan - 200+ south of Chippawa River
Gadwall - A few around the falls
American Wigeon - Scattered in small numbers
American Black Duck - A few around the rapids above the falls
Mallard - Common
Northern Shoveler - 10+ at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Sewer Ponds
Canvasback - 6 at the Control Gates
Redhead - 4 at the Control Gates, 1 near Nichols Marina
Ring-necked Duck - 3 at the Control Gates
Greater Scaup - Common
Lesser Scaup - Common
Harlequin Duck - 1 at the rapids just below the barge
Surf Scoter - 1 at Jaeger Rocks
White-winged Scoter - 1 at Jaeger Rocks
Long-tailed Duck - Abundant
Bufflehead - Abundant
Common Goldeneye - Abundant
Hooded Merganser - Small numbers around the falls
Common Merganser - Common on the river
Red-breasted Merganser - Good numbers of the Niagara River
Ruddy Duck - 7 at the NOTL Sewer Ponds
Cooper's Hawk - 1 at the Chippawa Tim Horton's
Red-tailed Hawk - Very common on the drive through PA and NY
Rough-legged Hawk - 1 juvenile female light morph at Legends of Niagara Golf Course
American Kestrel - 1 in Niagara Falls at the 190 junction
Merlin - 1 male
Wild Turkey - Seen from Rte 90
American Coot - 1 at the Gate House
Franklin's Gull - 1 1st winter at the fly-by
Little Gull - 1 adult north of Nichol's Marina
Bonaparte's Gull - Abundant along the river. Approx. 3000 at the fly-by
Ring-billed Gull - Good numbers
Herring Gull - Good numbers
Thayer's Gull - 1 adult at Sir Adam Beck Overlook
Iceland Gull - 1 1st winter and at least 3 adults at Sir Adam Beck Overlook
Lesser Black-backed Gull - 1 at Sir Adam Beck Overlook and 2 at the Control Gates
Great Black-backed Gull - Scattered in small numbers
Rock Pigeon - A few flocks
Mourning Dove - Common
Belted Kingfisher - 1 at Sir Adam Beck Overlook and 2 along the river south of Chippawa
Red-bellied Woodpecker - 1 seen along Route 81
Downy Woodpecker - A couple around the residental feeders
Northern 'Red-shafted' Flicker - 2 opposite Sir Adam Beck Overlook
Blue Jay - Scattered
American Crow - Scattered in small numbers. Common on the drive up Route 81
Horned Lark - 2 seen along Route 90
Black-capped Chickadee - Widepsread
Tufted Titmouse - 1 at the feeders in Niagara-on-the-Lake
White-breasted Titmouse - 1 in Niagara-on-the-Lake
Brown Creeper - 1 at the American Falls overlook on Goat Island
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 2 at the Gate House
American Robin - Several opposite Sir Adam Beck
Northern Mockingbird - 1 at the fly-by and 1 at Niagara-on-the-Lake feeders
European Starling - Widespread
Cedar Waxwing - A flock of 20 at Sir Adam Beck and 2 near Queenton
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 1 at the American Falls overlook on Goat Island
American Tree Sparrow - About a dozen on the Legends of Niagara Golf Course
Song Sparrow - 1 at the Legends of Niagara Golf Course
White-throated Sparrow - 2 at the Niagara-on-the-Lake feeders
Dark-eyed Junco - A few a residental areas
Snow Bunting - About 20 flying up the river at the fly-by
Northern Cardinal - Scattered
House Finch - 10 at the Niagara-on-the-Lake feeders
Pine Siskin - About 20 at the Niagara-on-the-Lake feeders
American Goldfinch - Scattered in small numbers
House Sparrow - Common in residental neighborhoods

Mammals
Grey Squirrel - Black (very common) and Ochra (1) morphs
White-tailed Deer - 1 opposite Sir Adam Beck, several along Interstate 90