Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015 Niagara Gull watch - OFO Trip

Back at the end of November, Mike, my labmates Allie and Ariel, and myself went to Niagara Falls, Ontario as part of the yearly Ontario Federation of Ornithologists (OFO) trip put on by Jean Iron.  I've been wanting to go for the last few years, however finally this year I made the commitment to travel down there.

We went early on the Friday night for the Gull Quiz and short workshop.  It was so much fun being in the same room with so many like-minded bird-nerds!  We then spent the night wandering around the downtown sights and lights, especially since Ariel and Allie had never been to the Falls before.   
Allie writing on the buildings
Group of Gadwall along the Niagara River
Gulls along the Niagara River
More gulls along the Niagara River
Gull's eye view towards the Falls!
OFO Gull group looking out along the river


One of the attractions at the fall this winter was a fun screen that was connected to a nearby building.  People were able to write on the screen and, at the same time, what you wrote would show up on the building in front of you!   Since we were in a birdy mood, naturally we wrote something pretty "gull-able"; Gulls Rule This River.  We found out the next day...that they do indeed!


We started out the next day around the Dufferin Islands Park.  The day started out with a non-gull species: an American Robin.  While a regular site throughout much on Ontario, this one some leucistic qualities to it, sparking much interest fro the group

We then continued to the Niagara River, looking out towards the Islands, where we stayed between the Islands and the falls up until noon.


There were numerous ducks along the river such as Hooded Mergansers, Bufflehead, Scaup, a single Goldeneye, and Gadwall!  Ducks were a nice sight to see for me, especially since gulls are such a difficult species to ID!


As expected, the number of Gulls that we saw was astounding, even despite the fact that the total species count of gulls was low.  I don't think that I've ever seen that many gulls in one place before!!  It is definitely a haven for anyone who is a gull-nerd, but quite a blur to anyone who is starting to learn especially those who do not have a scope!





Due to the warmer weather, migration has been much slower this year, not only for gulls but many other species too!  Due to this, the majority of unique gull species that can be found at the Falls hadn't arrived yet, or at least not in great numbers.  The total list of gull species I was able to see included:

- Ring-billed Gulls (very high amounts!)
- Herring Gulls (lower numbers for this time of year)
- Boneparte's Gull (high numbers)
- Thayer's Gull (a lifer for me!)
- Iceland Gull (Kumlieni, small numbers)
- Lesser Black-backed Gull
- Glaucous Gull (very small numbers

There were also reports of a California Gull from earlier in the morning, however we were not able to re-find this individual.

The group took a break for lunch and we wandered back into the park and parking lot. There were reports of Tufted Titmice being in the area so many of us were hoping to see them.  We were able to spot a few species that were new to my 2015 year, the Red-bellied Woodpecker and some very late Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.   I could hear the Tufted Titmice in the distance, but wasn't able to find it.



 Here, we also saw what was one of the funniest things that I had ever seen birding which just so happened to also be an amazing example of unethical birding.  A group of birder/photographers had a camouflaged background set up at the edge of a shrubby area.  Here they set up a tripod holding a stick, and small bowl of bird seed (this was the hilarious part).  While this, at least to me, in itself is not bad, they were also playing calls....constantly (different calls from about 9am until at minimum noon).  

As a wanna-be photographer, birder, and biologist/naturalist I found this incredibly heartbreaking and almost offensive, as any times as a birder and photographer I am associated with.  When bringing out assistants, birding groups, fellow photographers, etc one of the things that I always try to teach them is to be respectful of the wildlife around us.  While I will play a call or two to show someone a species they have never seen, or are learning to ID, if it does not fly in within the first try, it gets turned off and I explain to them the hazards the birds may face if I continue to play these sounds such as stress, unnecessary energy spending,  etc.  

So, seeing these men doing something that a number of birders, including myself, try so hard to teach others to NOT do, was really unfortunate.  We spoke loudly as a group about how the poor Red-bellied Woodpecker was flying around frantically, expending much of it's needed energy just for the sake of photos, however it did not seem to matter to them.  While I understand it is very difficult to get great bird photos, it is also important to always put the birds health before your photos (which can be hard when it is your income!).  So, when you go out and purchase bird photos, wall hangings, cards, etc try buying from local people you know or who you have heard of by word of mouth who have good ethics.  



And with that small rant, I will head off to write some Christmas cards!   I hope that everyone had an amazing Holiday this week with friends family and of course....some birds!