Saturday, December 31, 2011

Great Grey Owl - Final Bird of 2011

This bird was first reported more than a week ago, but being a 3 hour trip from home it was not a priority until Hannah & I found ourselves with some free time on the final day of 2011.

Great Grey Owl

This owl was profiled two nights previously on the Windsor news, so we weren't surprised that a crowd had gathered by the time we arrived at about 10:15 a.m. Perhaps 50 observers stood by while the owl perched not far away on a branch above a creek. This was bird #269 for my Provincial year list, and my final new bird for the year.

To make things extra-worthwhile for Hannah, we stopped by Pelee Wings Nature Store and purchased the Swarovision EL binoculars that she has had her eye on. Well thank you, husband of the year!

Swarovski 10x42mm EL SwaroVision Binoculars

Hannah now owns the superior optics, but I still remain useful to her as a guide & driver.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Smew in Whitby Harbour

Talk about twitching. When this Smew was reported to Ontbirds on Boxing Day I could hardly sit still through the next day-and-a-half of family togetherness as I kept calculating when I could make the 90 minute trip to Whitby Harbour for this Palearctic mega-rarity!


Fortunately, on the morning of Dec. 28 Hannah & I were among the first to arrive and witness this amazing first-year male bird just feet away from the railing.

Smew is designated by the ABA as a Code-3 bird, meaning that it is rare but recorded annually in the ABA area, although most of those records come from Alaska. Within the Province of Ontario, Smew is the equivalent of a Code-5 accidental with only two previously accepted records. Smew are sometimes included in private waterfowl collections so there will no doubt be questions concerning the provenance of this particular individual. It will be interesting to see whether the OBRC accepts this as a naturally occurring bird. Fingers crossed!

And the afterword is that the bird went missing and was not present the next day, or since. Whew!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Slaty-backed Gull

Larophile extraordinaire, Kevin McLaughlin has been offering to go gull-watching with us on the Niagara River for a while now, and I have been threatening to take him up on that offer. So right in the middle of gull-watching prime time we met up at the Sir Adam Beck overlook where we started the morning off with a first-winter Franklin's Gull flying at the south side of the dam (a bird first reported to Ontbirds by Willie D'Anna on Nov. 13).

We then took a trip to the Queenston boat launch where we observed two Little Gulls amidst the hundreds of Bonaparte's Gulls, and then to the whirlpool where we saw the previously reported juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake.

At that point, with 9 gull species in the bag we would have been satisfied. Little did we know what was waiting for us at the control gates above the falls. We arrived with no other birders present and began scanning the hundreds of gulls on the breakwall and on the river. Kevin very quickly spotted a dark-mantled gull with what appeared to be dark smudging on the face and a thick white tertial crescent. Kevin could distinguish pink legs as well. I think Kevin was convinced all along, but when the bird flew in directly towards us and landed on the breakwall we got amazing up-close views of this great rarity! At this point we had alerted other birders via Ontbirds and the crowds had appeared.

Visible in the first photo is the face pattern and bright pink legs.

Slaty-backed Gull

While in this second photo you can see the broad white tertial crescent and large white edge of the folded secondary feathers.

Slaty-backed Gull

Slaty-backed Gull is designated as a Code-3 rarity for the ABA area but is considerably more scarce than that in Ontario. It breeds primarily in Siberia, but also in western Alaska. Hannah & I were blown away. Thanks Kevin for gull-watching with us and leading us to this fantastic life gull!