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Black-legged Kittiwake on the Niagara, Ross's Goose in Hamlin

Published November 11, 2013
Tags: Life List Happenings, Black-legged Kittiwake, Bonaparte Gull, Franklin's Gull, Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Red-breasted Merganser, Snow Goose, Ross's Goose

This weekend, I tried yet ANOTHER time for a Ross's Goose.  It was back to Hamlin again for me - but this time it was not in vain!  After 3 trips to Hamlin, 2 trips to Montezuma, and 3 trips to Beaver Meadow, I finally got to see a Ross's Goose - THREE, actually!

The three geese have been seen in the Hamlin area for about a week now. They've been seen on the beach on Lake Ontario as well as out in a farm field. They are hanging with hundreds of Canada Geese - and yesterday, when I got to the beach, there was also a Snow Goose in among the Canadas.

The Ross's Geese were noticeably smaller than the Snow Goose and just like my field guide says, they lack the "black grin" that the Snow Goose has.  The base of their bill is also a blue-gray color, unlike the Snow Goose.

There were many Red-breasted Mergansers on the lake and I think there's a major migration of them occurring because there have been many reports of great numbers of them from Dunkirk up Lake Erie and here on Lake Ontario.

Later in the day, a report of 2 more Franklin Gulls was sent out along with a sighting of a  Black-legged Kittiwake.  I've never seen a kittiwake before and so I was really hoping the small gull would stick around for me.  And s/he did!

After an hour plus of scanning the Bonapartes, Rick Bacher and I finally got eyes on the kittiwake!  By then, our eyes were so trained on the adult and juvenile bonies, that as soon as I saw the kittiwake, I just knew what it was. It could be easy for an inexperienced birder to mix-up a young bonie with a kittiwake.  But, sure enough, as I was checking out the "M" pattern of black on the wings ensuring the outer primaries on the backside were edged with white, Rick was checking out the bar on the back of the bird's neck and its legs to be sure they were black. High Five! We had an immature Black-legged Kittiwake!

The Black-legged Kittiwake and the Franklin's Gull are both small gulls, close in size to the Bonaparte's Gull.  They tend to flock together too.

The Franklin's Gull is the more rare of the two to our area. They nest from southern Canada to South Dakota and Iowa and their 5,000 mile migration takes them down to the west coast of South America.  They are the only gull to have two complete molts in a year, needing strong feathers for that long migration.  I found them to be a rather fiesty bird in the water, defending its position in the water from any neighboring bonies. 

The kittiwake, by the way, is the only gull that dives and swims underwater to capture its food. I saw this guy do that several times and it is really quite amazing.  To my surprise, the bonies were diving too - I didn't realize they completely submerge quite a distance to catch those minnows!

The two (three, if you count both Franklin's) birds graced us with several more close fly-bys and we got our fill of looks and photos. Hopefully, it will return again for some of the others who missed it...
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Black-legged Kittiwake
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Black-legged Kittiwake
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Black-legged Kittiwake
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Black-legged Kittiwake
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The kittiwake (in the water) surrounded by bonies
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Franklin's Gull
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Franklin's Gull
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Franklin's Gull
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Franklin's Gull
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The Franklin's Gull yelling at a bonie
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Franklin's Gull swimming with bonies
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Franklin's Gull
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3 Ross's Geese, Hamlin, NY
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Snow Goose, Hamlin, NY
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Snow Goose
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Red-breasted Mergansers