My Bird Blog: A blog about my birding discoveries, bird feeders, birds on my life lists, and all things bird related

Sue's Bird Blog Archives

A Little Gull Watching

Published December 01, 2013
Tags: Life List Happenings, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, Thayer's Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Bonaparte's Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Purple Sandpiper

Today's birding was focused on gulls.  That's right: gulls.  I think gulls are an "acquired taste" when it comes to birding and they're not for the novice nor the faint of heart.  The differences between some species can be very minute - and then - add to that the differences of season and age and it can get crazy fast!

One of the best places to find less common gulls is at the Adam Beck Power Station in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The large turbines create plenty of "fish food" for the gulls and it's a frenzy of activity - especially in winter.

We saw 8 different gull species today, which included two of the "white winged" gulls: an Iceland Gull and a Glaucous Gull.  The Glaucous Gull, the larger of the two, was quite light overall, with very pale gray wings that had no black at all on them.  This life bird stayed in the area for quite awhile, giving us nice views.

A little later, at a spot further west on the river, we saw a Thayer's Gull.  Now THIS gull is one difficult gull to ID. The very small amount of black on the underside of its primaries is what differentiates it from a Herring Gull and there was no little discussion regarding the coloring under its wings while we were observing it!

Have I lost anybody yet?  Here's something that may be of more interest (for those who are not into gulls!): at a spot called Bufferin Islands just down from the power station, we saw a very nice rarity, a Red Phalarope!  Now that's exciting as they are not seen often in the Western New York or Ontario regions at all.

Phalaropes are actually small sandpipers with lobed toes. I saw a Red Phalarope in September (Red Phalarope and a Rusty Blackbird in Oak Orchard) and a Red-NECKED Phalarope a month earlier in August (Red-necked Phalaropes and Baird's Sandpipers at BWWTP). The only phalarope I haven't seen yet is the Wilson's - the most common! AND, unfortunately, I've not seen the other two in breeding plumage, which I would love to see.

Unlike my very first experience with a Red Phalarope, this one gave us very nice and close views.  What this west coast bird was doing in the Niagara River, I don't know - another puzzle. I definitely enjoyed watching it spin in circles, dabbing at whatever food stuff its spinning brought up. We were close enough that we heard it cheep a few times too!

A little while later, back at this same spot, we were thrilled to see a Purple Sandpiper show itself.  Two were found at this location yesterday and I was soooo hoping I would get the chance to see them as well as add this species to my life list.  Only one of them came up out of hiding - but it foraged at the top of a rock, too distant for photos but offering great scope views.

The Purple Sandpiper is a hardy, dark sandpiper. Celeste pointed out that its long, decurved bill is orange at the base, a distinctive field mark. It prefers wave-washed rocks and jetties, picking food from the rocks that the crashing waves bring - mostly crustaceans, insects, and small mollusks.  And we watched it do exactly that!

I believe three different groups of birders were out on field trips today: the RBA (Rochester Birding Association), the BOS (Buffalo Ornithological Society), and OFO (Ontario Field Ornithologists).  The weather had warmed up a bit and there were some nice rarities to be enjoyed, including the Lark Sparrow in Fort Erie, which I hear is still lingering.
bird photo
Red Phalarope
bird photo
Red Phalarope
bird photo
Red Phalarope
bird photo
Red Phalarope
bird photo
Glaucous Gull
bird photo
Eastern Coyote seen on the way to one of our stops