Thursday, April 16, 2015

Team Hawksauce in Canada - Day 4: Niagara Falls - Jan. 11, 2015

     Our fourth and final day in the Niagara Falls area began in the frigid, pre-dawn darkness. We were determined to make the most of the few short hours we had left before we had to head back to Pennsylvania. The first order of business was to drive back to St. Catharines to look for the consistently reported Short-eared Owls and Snowy Owls. Although we spent over an hour and a half after sunrise creeping along the roads where the Short-eared Owls were "supposed" to be, we unfortunately did not see a single owl. We did get to talk to one very nice, helpful local birder who was surprised that we came all the way from Pennsylvania to go birding in Ontario. However, we also had the unfortunate experience of accidentally interacting with a very pushy, clingy "photographer" who thought that baiting owls for photos was completely okay, and who didn't believe that Short-eared Owls were a species that were ever seen in this area. He proceeded to show us photos of Red-tailed Hawks, but insisted on calling them "Harriers". He told us that they behaved and flew like a Red-tailed Hawk but were DEFINITELY Harriers. Facepalm. The kicker was that these were adult Red-tailed Hawks he was photographing so they had the diagnostic red tail. We tried to get away from him by driving down the road, but he came running after us because he had more photos to show us. He then showed me a photo of an immature Red-tailed Hawk (no red in the tail on this one) and actually correctly identified it as a Red-tailed Hawk. Go figure.

     After we finally ripped ourselves away from the "photographer" we did find some Snow Buntings and an American Kestrel which made us happy. Finally ready to give up on the two species of owls we had come to see, I did one more sweep of the fields, and made a left turn onto the main road. I noticed a flock of Canada Geese to my right after I made the turn, and some lumps of snow in the corn stubble. Since there were signs that said no parking along the road, and there was nobody behind me, I slowed down to almost a stop and had Libby check out one of the lumps of snow to see if it might have eyeballs. No luck. I then saw another very suspicious lump of snow which I had Libby check out as well. She passed it off as snow. My mind was convinced otherwise. I quickly pulled off the road, put binoculars to my face, examined the lump of snow with scrutiny, and eventually the lump turned its head around and squinted in our direction!!!! The conversation then went like this:

Me: "SNOWY OWL! IT'S A SNOWY OWL LIBBY! GET ON THIS BIRD!"

Libby: "Really?"

Me: "Yes! IT JUST LOOKED AT ME! IT HAS EYEBALLS!"

*owl turns its face away from us*

Libby: "I don't know, it looks like a lump of snow to me"

Me: "KEEP WATCHING!"

*owl turns head back around toward us*

Libby: "Oh My God...it is a Snowy!!!!!"

Snowy Owl - the lump of snow with eyes

This darned Snowy Owl that we had been searching for along with numerous other birders had been hanging out with the Canada Geese the whole time in an adjacent field, camouflaged by the lumps of snow in the corn stubble! I immediately found a better place to pull off and we spent some time taking photos and enjoying the magic of the Snowy Owl sighting.


     After all the Snowy Owl excitement we headed back to Niagara Falls to look for ducks and gulls. We discovered that there aren't many places to pull over along the river, but we only got chased off by the police once. By the time we got down to the whirlpool area it was getting late, but we did see some Bonaparte's Gulls which were new for the trip. Just after pulling out of the whirlpool parking area I spotted a Merlin perched right above the road! What a treat!

Horseshoe Falls in the winter
American Falls in the winter
Niagara River whirlpool

Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and we found out the next day via birding reports that we should have took some time to go a little further downriver because Little Gull and some other gulls were seen down there at almost the exact time that we were leaving the whirlpool. Oh well, that just means we will have to come back next winter!

     On our trek back to Pennsylvania the roads were great and we even had a few minutes to stop at the duty free shop and pick up some delicious maple syrup products. The border guard who eventually allowed us back into the U.S. was a real grouch, very opposite from the guy who welcomed us to Canada. This guard asked me all kinds of questions like I was some sort of criminal and didn't want to believe that I owned my own vehicle. When he asked if we were bringing anything back to the U.S. from Canada I started telling him about our duty free shopping trip and he rudely cut me off! I badly wanted to inform him that I wasn't done telling my story about the delicious maple syrup I bought and that he was being rude. It was at this moment that he decided to let us go. I guess he had enough of my storytelling.


That is all for this trip! Stay tuned for stories about future birding trips and experiences!






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