Tuesday, December 13, 2016

World record attempt

This Thursday, Ken Burrell and I are going to attempt a world record

15 species of gull in a single region/day!

 It will take 14 to tie Which has happened before along the Niagara River and also in St. Johns, Newfoundland Old-school blog readers will know that I have broken this down before, but never fully succeeded in getting the record.

While a Black-headed Gull and a Black-legged Kittiwake seem to be hanging around, we will other semi-regulars have yet to be seen this fall… So rather than wait for them to be found and do a twitch fest, we decided to pick a great weather-day and do it ourselves.

Here’s the plan:

Dawn at Fort Erie: small gulls will be the rule here, with Ross’s on our minds… Hopefully the mild fall (up until recently) means there will be a lingering Sabine’s as well… Back in 2012, post Hurricane-Sandy our group scored Ross’s, Sabine’s, Kittiwake and Black-headed here in a single morning… This may be our primary hope for Franklin’s and the only prayer for an outside-chance Laughing.

Fort Erie north: after our dawn-watch, we’ll probably struggle to scan the small gulls that love Buffalo more than Canada… If we have already scored some big-name small-gull rarities, perhaps we can scan faster… Fingers will also be crossed that decent numbers of ducks and large gulls will be foraging closer to the Canadian side in order to avoid the frigid NW wind. We’ll be lucky to score a Franklin’s or California.

Drive: we’ll zip past the mid-river “dead zone” and arrive at Dufferin Islands ASAP. And no, we won’t be checking for Titmice or the Mandarin Duck. This is a record attempt!!

The falls: extra walking will mean extra species… We will walk from the control gates, down below the falls and back – ensuring we get multiple angles on each feeding frenzy and roosting congregation. If the winds are more N than W, hopefully water levels will be lower allowing for more roosting & foraging opportunities.

Above the falls: this is thee place for large-gull rarities at this time of year. Slaty-backed seems to be quite fond of the area, but it has turned up nearly everything in the past (Mew, California etc.). I’m sure many of us have this as thee hypothetical Glaucous-winged location for the river…  

Below the falls: not skipping out on this gem. Short on large-gull rarities in the past, there is a certain “magic” below the falls. Sometimes there is hardly a bird, but today we’ll be checking every nook and cranny for something special (our best chance for Ivory Gull??).

Whirlpool: another small-gull spot. We expect to check it for the lingering Black-headed Gull, Kittiwake or another small gull… If by some fluke we already have all the small gulls, we can easily skip it!

Roosting Rocks: medium-gull magic? Has an odd nack for turning up rarities that we just don’t see elsewhere… Probably our best chance for Mew Gull, but also worth checking for any small gulls, Franklins or even California… The first river-record of Black-tailed would do us wonders.

Adam Beck: can’t overlook it. Long gone are the days of the resident California Gull. This is a very popular stop on any birders river-day, but I suspect we will carefully measure our time here… The “constant action” atmosphere of this lookout may not be suited to a world record attempt… This may be where we start to question our definition of species if a “Vega” or “Kamchatka” Gull are circling around…

Queenston Docks: a difficult vantage point, but one that has turned up goodies like Mew, “Common” Mew and Black-headed in the past… Depending on conditions up-river, massive numbers of birds can be present here. By this point in our day, we will very much need to make decisions based on our current list… That leads us to:

THE DECISION: Two hypothetical scenarios. Only one more stop remains!

1)    – We went on a small-gull tear, and have already picked up Ross’s, Sabine’s, Black-headed & Kittiwake…

2)    – We went on a large-gull tear, and picked up California, Slaty-backed and Laughing…

1) Return to “Above the falls”: If large gulls are lacking on our total, we head back to the control gates & the “above the falls” area… At dusk, large numbers of large gulls return from nearby landfills to roost… As the light fails, a stunning Slaty-backed will cruise down to solidify our day…

2) Niagara-on-the-lake: If we somehow missed Ross’s or Black-headed, we’ll zip down the NOTL. A quick check of the rivermouth could also help us pick up that missing Kittiwake (if need be), but most likely we will begin the vigil of the “dusk flypast”. Working over the rapid-fire flocks of Bonaparte’s heading to roost. A stiff W or NW wind will keep the birds close to our shore, making the Franklin’s or Black-headed that much sweeter as it passes.

Boom! I’ll be live-tweeting the record attempt, so feel free to follow along… I’ve touched on a few *variables* that will aid our day, but wanted to jot them down here:

-       A warm fall may help a few species “linger” – such as Sabine’s, Franklin’s or even Laughing…

-       Recent & ongoing west or NW winds will push gulls off of Lake Erie and into the river (Ross’s!)

-       W or NW winds may help keep birds closer to the Canadian shore in specific areas (Black-headed during the evening flypast!)

-       Recent snowfall will concentrate some species at the river… I’m thinking California or especially Mew, that are more likely to shift to aquatic habitats (from fields etc) in “times of need”

-       COLD weather will increase food demands on the birds. More flying/foraging means easier detection, but hopefully some larger gulls who aren’t getting their fair share at the landfills will return to the river early… (California, Black-tailed, dare I say Yellow-legged?)

-       Recent cold fronts will hopefully have brought the “Arctic” gulls down in greater numbers… Slaty-backed seems like a bit of a “freeze out” species, Ivory s a mid-late December bird, and it would also jive for Glaucous-winged…

Of course, some of these factors could really give us grief… Cold air can = shimmer and poor visibility. As can lake-effect snowsqualls. Fingers are crossed the NW wind helps prevent squalls from the best spots…

Finally, there is always a magical, unknown date that occurs in late fall – every single year. It’s the date when birding during stormy weather is no longer productive or fun… You suddenly realize that birds just shelter during COLD winds, and actually fly around more on the nice days… When that happens, migration is essentially over, and you wonder why you froze your @$$ off for nothing… Hopefully it hasn’t happened yet.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Migrants on the road - Pelee

Waaay waaay waaay back on October 30th, I was lucky to enjoy a decent drop of migrants at Point Pelee. Overnight & morning rains dropped the standard fare in decent numbers, and one could tell it was going to be a great day by the number of songbirds sitting on the road as I drove in (pre-dawn)... While not amazing, I did my best to take a cell-phone recording as I drove towards the tip. If you're keen to watch them, I'd highly recommend viewing them on youtube proper, and in full screen mode!

A little bit of fun - as we wait for the passerine migrants to return again!!