Monday, November 30, 2009

Can you spell Phain ... o ... pep ... la?

Saturday in the Niagara Falls area was windy and so also very cold. It's not that the temperature was that cold, just that the wind was blowing all day long. We saw all the birds that we typically see, but in dramatically reduced numbers.

The wind whipped off the Niagara River

This pleasant suburban house had a front lawn of congregating Wild Turkeys - at least 20 birds. Good thing Thanksgiving in Canada is not celebrated on November 28th!

We traveled the Ontario side of the Niagara region throughout the day. We saw California Gull so distant that it was actually on the New York side of the Niagara River. How did I know it was a California Gull? I took everyone else's word for the identification of this bird scoped from the Ontario side of the river.

We saw a Nelson's Gull (Glaucous x Herring hybrid - my first - I'm terrible at hybrids) at the Sir Adam Beck power plant. I came across Kirk Zufelt's blog Larusology. Scroll down to his 11/22/09 post where he discusses Nelson's Gull in detail and has some great photos to support his discussion. Other good birds at Sir Adam Beck were Thayer's and Iceland gulls. If one can have a favorite gull, I think mine is Iceland.

We finished out the day with a Northern Mockingbird seen from the parking lot of ... wait for it ... Tim Horton's. For us Michiganders, the Mockingbird is pretty special. I, for one, would be thrilled if one set up residence in my backyard. In this area of Ontario, with all of its orchards and vineyards, the Mockingbird is a pretty common bird. We returned to the hotel chilled to the bone.

Not a great photo of the Northern Mockingbird

Sunday morning arrived still and quiet. When we left the hotel for our breakfast at the Flying Saucer Restaurant (where we had all of our meals - fun place with a large diner menu) not a leaf stirred on a tree. This made for great Sunday birding conditions that did not disappoint us throughout a great day of birding.

Sir Adam Beck and Niagara-on-the-Lake did not have much new for us to find. We moved on to Lake Ontario. It's hard to describe Lake Ontario this time of year - waterfowl as far as the eye can see might be a start.

This tiny, cropped photo is like looking at the blades of grass on an inch of football field. Only on Lake Ontario the blades of grass are individual waterfowl as far as the eye can see.

Long-tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye, Redhead, all three scoters, Red-breasted Merg, scaup and others were seen well by everyone. And, I'm probably omitting other species.

Female Long-tailed Duck ...

... and her dashing male counterpart.

This White-winged Scoter (white wing patch well seen when the bird is flying) came very close as it dove for, we think, zebra mussels.

Going ...

... going

... gone.

(You can click on all of the photos for a larger image.)

We reluctantly left Lake Ontario and all of the close waterfowl on a lake smooth as glass. We had other birds to see.

First we stopped at the traditional Sunday lunch stop.

Hutch's Fish and Chips - a historic and famous greasy spoon on Lake Ontario. There's a Ring-billed Gull roosting on the chef's hat.

As much as I like the Flying Saucer, this is my favorite meal stop on the trip. I love old-timey places and this is such a place - essentially unchanged from the 1950's. It has old-fashioned booths and a black and white tiled floor. Old newpaper articles of decades ago local sports achievements are framed and hang - often crooked - on the walls of the restaurant. Each booth has a juke box with songs from the 50's, 60's and 70's. Large windows face the beach and lake. Instead of ketchup for fries, each table has bottles of vinegar. And, even in the off season, it has a good crowd of leisurely diners. Perfect!

Next stop - the rural Niagara escarpment for a crowd-pleasing majestic (queenly?) bird.

This beautiful, nearly all white - so perhaps adult female bird - posed for us all from an antenna on a house as we rushed around taking photos and talking with the homeowner who did not know he had a Snowy Owl on top of his house. He took photos with his cell phone - definitely not a birder, even he knew his visitor was special.

We stayed with the Snowy Owl as long as we could - no one really wanted to leave - but, we had another special bird to find.

Flashback to my southeast Arizona trip in April, 2007 with my Maryland birding friends Steve and Mark. Early on I took on the job of recording each day's bird sightings - as it turned out a fairly important job because the trip was so birdy. On our first full day of birding, we were in a weedy field adjacent to a rest stop trying to chase down (successfully) a Cassin's Vireo when a dark bird flashing white wing patches flew out of the scrub. Hey! What was that? When I was doing my research for the Arizona trip, focusing on western flycatchers, vireos, warblers, sparrows, orioles, etc., it was easy for me to overlook our one silky-flycatcher. As it turned out we saw a few at various locations throughout the trip. Each time I wrote out the list I asked, "how do you spell that bird's name again?" After awhile I settled on an abbreviation.

This first year male Phainopepla has been in a modest, suburban neighborhood of Brampton, Ontario for approximately two weeks where he has become quite a celebrity.

Apparently, he has been given two names - Mr. P by birders who have come to see him, and Jerry by the neighborhood residents. Everyone knows of him and if you come looking for him at the wrong house, you will be given the most recent advice about his current whereabouts. He kept us waiting for a brief time, but we finally saw him at 12 Aberdeen Crescent. When he did reappear, he stayed for a good long time and for numerous photos. We also heard his charming and clearly whistled wurp call.

You can just see the Phainopepla hiding in the red leaves ready to pluck a berry.

While photographing the Phainopepla I saw a leaf (top center of the above photo) on the ground. I thought it was extremely attractive and odd and I began to look for more. Some of the red leaves had the golden markings, but others did not. I have no idea what causes this, but it is different, unexpected and attractive.

Again, flashing back to my southeast Arizona trip, another bird name I never learned to spell properly during my list keeping was Pyrrhuloxia. I still cannot spell this, but at least I've learned to spell Phainopepla.

From the Phainopepla it was a mad dash home - most of it made in messy rain which I think makes the most difficult driving conditions. Karl and Alan are impressive power drivers. I've done my share of long-distance driving so know how difficult it is. I'm grateful for their willingness to offer and lead this great trip.

As I wrote about my weekend trip to the eastern shore of Maryland in the beginning of November, Ontario Niagara Falls is a great place to visit in the off season and I would recommend it to anyone - birder or not.

2-15-2010 addendum to the Phainopepla story -

Approximately two weeks after we saw this bird, the weather became bitterly cold - I think the coldest temps thus far of this 2009-2010 winter season. It also snowed. Dian Bogie, the Ontario birder who had been providing daily Ontbird updates about the bird, sent a message that she had not seen the bird and feared that he has succumbed to the weather. I almost wrote my addendum to this blog entry then, but kept forgetting to do so.

On 2-14-10, Ms. Bogie sent a completely unexpected post to Ontbirds titled simple, "Mr. P." Apparently, the bird had been relocated following the bitterly cold weather and was watched all the way through 02-08-2010. It was not seen daily and was sometimes absent for several days in a row. It seems that on 02-09-2010, Ms. Bogie and her husband actually saw the bird fall into the snow from a low perch in its favorite mulitflora rose bush. They picked the bird up and took it to a songbird rehabilitation organization called SOAR, where the bird is thriving.

Whatever one may think of bird rehabilitation centers - their mission can be controversial - I was rather happy to hear this story and know that the bird is still alive and well.

2-17-2010 addendum to the Phainopepla story -

Dian Bogie has just posted to Ontbirds that Mr. P. has expired. After so much hope just two days earlier, alas this is a sad event.


Jerry said...

Congrats on seeing Mr. P, Cathy! He's become quite the celebrity!

vertpaix said...

I just stumbled upon you blog. I love it. I hope you update it soon. :)