While home for Thanksgiving break, I of course did some birding, including my annual gull trip along the Niagara River. On Friday, I spent the afternoon with Jim Pawlicki and Sal chasing White-winged Crossbill at Willie D'Anna and Betsy Potter's house. No luck finding the beautiful male Betsy saw earlier at her feeders, but I did have fun photographing COMMON REDPOLLS, a CAROLINA WREN, and RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES.
After leaving Betsy's, we worked west along the Lake Ontario shore looking for more winter finches. We struck out on the Pine Grosbeaks being seeing periodically at Fort Niagara, but we did find a NORTHERN SHRIKE.
On Saturday, I joined Jim again as he led the aforementioned BOS trip on the Niagara River for gulls and waterfowl. Our route started in Ft. Erie, Ontario, and worked our way north along the river, ending the day at the Bonaparte's Gull flyby at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. The day was marked by periodic lake effect snow showers, which obscured visibility farther out on the river.
Buffalo in the morning lake-effect snow
The day was marked by very few gulls overall. Numbers at the Falls simply have not built up yet like they have by late November in past years. In fact, there was hardly anything in the gorge below the Falls and the flypast of Bonaparte's Gulls in the evening where the River empties into Lake Ontario had scarcely five hundred birds. We did manage to find one adult and one immature LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL and two adult KUMLIEN'S ICELAND GULLS.
By far the highlight of the day was watching the BONAPARTE'S GULL flocks on the river in Fort Erie. They were roosting and feeding right along shore, allowing me to get (halfway-decent, if a bit dark) photos.
Three of the four common gull species
Of course, if you've already heard about my weekend, you know I'm holding back the very best thing - BLACK-HEADED GULL! Jim expertly picked a roosting adult in among the Bonaparte's by seeing a sudden flash of red bill, before it resettled to sleep. The bird was very difficult to pick out as it slept among the sleeping Bonaparte's Gulls. It was only marginally bigger than the Bonies, and was most easily told apart by the white nape and head and limited black head markings. The bonies all showed some degree of gray wash to the nape (is it ironic that we identify Black-headed Gull by the white head?). The flock flew and reshuffled in front of us several times, during which all observers sighted some or all of the field marks - black in the wing underside, white head, general paler grey mantle color, and red dark-tipped bill. Finally, the flock of two hundred or so Bonaparte's did a major reshuffling, after which we could not relocate the bird.
About half an hour later, this time about a kilometer north of the Railroad Bridge, we found a group of ~100 Bonapartes in a feeding frenzy right next to shore. We all piled out (with more Ontario birders accompanying) and quickly picked up the Black-headed Gull right in front of us a stone's throw away! The flock moved around quite a bit, keeping us moving, but it was always feeding close into shore. Eventually they settled in sit on the water, and everyone got great looks.
Larus ridibundus (Photo by Jim Pawlicki)
Feeding shot - note the black primary undersides
A perfect birthday gull for me! I was hoping for a new life gull, but this was my wished-for runner up and Jim went and found it. I was very gleeful (and still am). Thanks, Jim.