What a fantastic day of birding! I met up with the Ontario Field Ornithologists’ group at roughly 0830; half an hour before the scheduled start. We were lined up at the Sir Adam Beck generating station, looking down into the churning Niagara River, looking at the gulls circling below. Among the usual ring-billed and herring gulls there were some other species, such as an Iceland gull and a glaucous gull.
The next stop was Dufferin Park, just up from the Horseshoe Falls. Some hooded mergansers were in a reservoir of sorts, and many, many gulls were out on the water and the rocks. Lots of mallards were about as well. The big highlights here were a red phalarope in non-breeding plumage, and a purple sandpiper. The phalarope was quite close at times whereas the sandpiper was best viewed via scope.
Just below the falls is where our next birding treat awaited: a pair of juvenile black-legged kittiwakes! They were flying in and out of the mist along with a number of gulls, including some Bonaparte’s gulls.
Following a quick look at a tufted titmouse, some chickadees and sparrows of various types (including American tree sparrows) in Dufferin Park, we had lunch, checked some feeders (a downy woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch and numerous house sparrows were seen) and returned to the general area to check out the action by the control gates. There were lots of common goldeneyes and buffleheads about, along with more mallards and lots of the usual gulls. 7-8 great black-backed gulls were easy to spot, along with a lesser black-backed gull. A possible Thayer’s gull was also spotted. Some gadwalls and a whole bunch of tundra swans were further upstream, along with some scaup and canvasbacks that I couldn’t see through my binoculars; they were too far off.
Next we were off to Fort Erie to look for the lark sparrow that was causing a lot of excitement in the Ontario and New York State birding communities. A large group of Bonaparte’s and an American coot held the attention of some other birders at a marina en route. Myself and the friends with whom I travelled were very fortunate: the lark sparrow was spotted less than 20 minutes after our arrival. All the birders there (there were at least 30 vehicles parked nearby) were very pleased. It sure was a lovely bird and an exciting rarity. I was fortunate enough to see a mature bald eagle in a nearby tree before it flew off. Lots of red-throated mergansers were in the water; it was quite a scene to behold. A male downy woodpecker was quite close in a tree; delightful birds indeed.
We made our way back toward Niagara Falls, seeing a large number of buffleheads on the return trip. We spotted a common loon and confirmed the sighting; I happened to notice a belted kingfisher as we travelled along and was quite pleased with myself for having noticed it.
A brief pause at the Locust Grove picnic area by Queenston added a brown creeper, and some more chickadees to our day’s list. We later learned that someone had at least heard a great horned owl there! Nuts. Time spent at the Queenston overlook was something of a disappointment, as we didn’t see the Black Vulture that had been spotted by others earlier in the day.
One last stop at the Beck brought our birding day to a close. It was quite a spectacular day! I had at least 33 species of birds and quite a number were life birds for me; that’s how things are when you first start out. I’ll soon be at 100 life birds (just four more to go). I hope to hit that mark next weekend with a Hamilton Naturalists’ Club owl outing on Friday, and some solo birding on Saturday. Of course, it’s not about the numbers, they come a distant second to witnessing the beauty and splendor of our avian friends.