And then there were two….

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull

Even though winter is still a full calendar month away, this year it came early to eastern Ontario. On Sunday, November 16th we got our first real snow of the season. It came down on and off all day, heavy enough at times to make me question going out birding, though it didn’t really accumulate as the temperature warmed up to 0°C in the afternoon.

Saturday was the much better day for birding, though I didn’t stay out too long as it was cold but sunny. I started off with a walk around the ponds by my place, but the sub-zero overnight temperature had resulted in ice forming on about half of the ponds. As a result, there were few birds of interest around – a single Dark-eyed Junco, a small flock of goldfinches, and a Northern Cardinal were feeding in the weedy field, while three Common Mergansers were the only interesting waterfowl on the water. Four Snow Buntings flying over were also great to see – this was the first time I’d seen them over the ponds, bringing my list up to 61 species.

Eagleson Stormwater Ponds

Eagleson Stormwater Ponds

I drove up to Andrew Haydon Park, still stubbornly hoping to see some scoters. eBird has a new tool called Target Species, and it tells me that Black Scoter and Surf Scoter are respectively nos. 5 and 11 on a list of the birds which are possible to find before the end of the year. If you use eBird to record your sightings, it can generate a list of species that you haven’t yet seen in a given county for a given period of time, for either your life list or your year list. It is based on the number of complete checklists entered into eBird for that period, using them to calculate the frequency that a bird has been recorded. My chances of seeing the scoters weren’t very good: only 1.43% and 0.68% respectively.

The top ten birds I am most likely to add to my year list are: 1. Bohemian Waxwing (4.42%); 2. Common Redpoll (4.22%); 3. Pine Grosbeak (2.18%); 4. Greater Scaup (1.69%); 5. Black Scoter (1.43%): 6. Iceland Gull (1.00%); 7. Lesser Black-backed Gull (0.81%); 8. Pectoral Sandpiper (0.73%); 9. Dunlin (0.70%) and Red-throated Loon (0.70%). If we have a good winter for finches and Bohemian Waxwings, the first three might be possible. The rest are all water birds and gulls, which means spending some time at the river and the local landfill.

I wasn’t surprised to find that there were no scoters on the water. All three mergansers were present on the river, as were some Buffleheads and Common Goldeneyes. The best find, however, was the two Brant feeding together on the lawn.

Brant Geese

Brant Geese

Last weekend there had only been one – had a second lone Brant joined the first, or had last weekend’s lone Brant moved on and two new ones arrived? Or had the lone Brant become so lonely that it underwent a form of mitosis and cloned itself? I entered the sighting into eBird and it was flagged as “rare”. This hadn’t happened last weekend, and was probably because of the date or the number present. Does eBird somehow know there is only supposed to be one juvenile Brant at Andrew Haydon Park?

Brant Geese

Brant Geese

Whatever the case, it was nice to see the two of them together. I spent some time taking photos of them, taking care to keep my distance as they were quite skittish and went into the water whenever a dogwalker or photographer ventured too close.

Brant Geese

Brant Geese

Brant

Brant

I also thought this Ring-billed Gull resting on top of a picnic table was a fun sight. For some reason it reminds me of a cat sitting somewhere it’s not supposed to be!

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

With gulls on my mind, I decided to head to the Trail Road Landfill to see if the Iceland Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull reported last weekend were still there. Gulls aren’t my favourite birds, particularly the juveniles which can be tough to distinguish, but every now and then I enjoy watching them at the dump. I spent some time scanning the large trash heaps just beyond the fence on the north side of Trail Road. Two adult Great Black-backed Gulls were sifting through the trash along with several Herring Gulls, and that was about all I could see. Then I looked the sandy area on the south side of Trail Road and scanned the gulls resting in front of the large quarry. Almost immediately I noticed this large white-winged gull amongst all the Herring Gulls. It was too big and bulky to be an Iceland Gull; it was my first Glaucous Gull of the fall!

Glaucous and Herring Gulls

Glaucous and Herring Gulls

Although I was looking directly into the sun, I managed to take a few photos of it. Then it took flight with a large flock of Herring Gulls and headed north to the landfill on the other side of the road. I was able to keep it in sight and see where it landed at the very top of the mound of garbage. The light was much better on this side of the road, but the distance was much greater.

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull

My impression is that it is a third winter gull. The mantle appeared to be a very pale gray, instead of pure white with the brown markings of a bird still in juvenile plumage. It also had a thin black ring around the tip of the bill, and not a red spot typical of large, adult white-headed gulls. I don’t often delve into gull plumages, though, so if I’m wrong feel free to correct me!

Glaucous and Herring Gulls

Glaucous and Herring Gulls

I was also able to pick out a juvenile Great Black-backed Gull. It had a whiter head than the juvenile Herring Gulls, and a neat checkerboard pattern on its wings. Young Herring Gulls are very brown, with few distinguishing patterns as seen in this image. (Note the adult Great Black-backed Gull on the left and the adult Herring Gull telling off the juvenile at the top center!)

Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls

Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls

I didn’t see any Red-tailed Hawks at the dump, which seemed a bit strange. I also didn’t have any luck with the Iceland or Lesser Black-backed Gulls, though I later found a Ring-billed Gull in one of my photos with the Glaucous Gull:

Three Gull Species

Three Gull Species

Gull-watching requires a lot of patience and tolerance for cold weather. I have more of the former than of the latter, which means I don’t usually spend a lot of time sifting through the gulls on cold, windy, sub-zero days. However, the Trail Road Dump is often a hotspot during the winter, which means I will probably be spending more and more time there when the river finally freezes and migration finally ends. Hopefully the Iceland Gull or the Lesser Black-backed Gull will be there when I return….though according to eBird’s Target Species, the chances aren’t great!

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