Lake Ontario Provides


I'll start off this post by going back in time to last week, when I was looking at weather maps for the upcoming days. From last Thursday to Sunday, a low-pressure system wind was moving north from the gulf coast, bringing with it powerful south/southwest winds all the way up to Ontario. With that kind of setup in the late fall, the chances of rarities turning up here are high. 

On top of that, this system was perfect for bringing Cave Swallows to Ontario. Although caves are code 3s, their numbers fluctuate greatly depending on the year. Some seasons there are numerous reports around the province, while during others there are none. It just depends on the weather. Why these birds disperse north in large numbers during late fall is a mystery, but. When these birds first arrive here (generally after a day or two of strong winds) they are often see a long north facing shorelines during south winds, and then after that when the weather turns, south facing shorelines on north winds.

Saturday morning found me at the western edge of Niagara County just after sunrise, at Fifty Point Conservation Area, which juts out into Lake Ontario. Since this location has had Cave Swallows in the past, and the winds were ideal for that day (strong south) my hopes were high. Shortly after arriving I was joined by the usual crowd (the other big year birders plus Erik VDK and Isabel), and we began our watch. The first two hours passed by rather quickly, with large numbers of loons and ducks keeping our interest. Then, just around 10am I spotted a flock of 25 Swallows flying by, going west above the trees inland. They were gone a few seconds later, and all I was able to tell for sure was that they were small swallows with square tails. Almost certainly caves, but for my first one I needed a better look. We trekked inland to a parking lot with a nice, raised hill for viewing, a spot recommended by Brandon Holden. This turned out to be a good choice, as twenty minutes later another flock of swallows flew over, this time right overhead and definite caves. 353! This was a lifer for me too, and one of my remaining 3 code 3 species. 

I ended up staying until 1:30, and finished up with 45 Cave Swallows... Not too shabby!

The photos are a bit subpar, but that's how it goes sometimes...

- Cave Swallow

 The following day the winds were a bit lighter and more southwest and south, but I decided to go back to Fifty Point again for another watch. One reason was that seeing Caves in Ontario is a pretty rare opportunity and I wanted to take advantage while I could, another was that Alessandra needed it for life and couldn't make it the previous day. On top of that, there was a chance of something rare on the lake while we were there (gannet was on the mind).

Only about half an hour after arriving we had our first flock of caves, this time 8 birds. Again, views were brief and right above us, so my photos weren't really any better. That was followed by a flock of 5 birds, higher up this time. A cloud bank passed over after that and the winds shifted a bit, which for whatever reason shut down the swallow passage. 

Then I saw on discord that a Northern Gannet had just been seen of Fifty Point, a mere 500 meters from where I was standing! I full out sprinted from the parking lot out to the end of the point, where I got brief views of a distant gannet before it disappeared out of view in a thick feeding flock of mergansers. A crowd of birders had amassed at the point, and together we waited for it to return. 

It took a bit of patience, but about an hour later we picked it up along the shoreline further east. It was flying towards us... and ended up flying past the point only a few hundred meters away! This was a Ontario bird for me and Alessandra, and a great addition for the big year. We waited for a bit longer, with a nice highlight of a Little Gull flying past, then headed out for a celebratory meal with Andy and William.

- Northern Gannet

After a week of slow birding 2 new birds in 2 days was quite exciting, but the fun wasn't over there. That evening news came through of a Purple Gallinule that was found at Second Marsh in Durham! This was a bird that was on my radar for an addition this fall, but I wasn't too hopeful as it's getting a bit late in the year now. Juvenile gallinules often disperse north/get lost in the fall and can get brought up by the same systems that bring Cave Swallows to Ontario.

The next morning, I was at second Marsh with William shortly after sunrise. A quick survey of the area where the bird was seen, which was a small cannel of water beside an extensive marshland came up empty. A trail ran along the cannel, but seeing the water was a bit difficult due to high reeds. We scoured back and forth for over an hour, then someone down the path shouted that they had it. Another sprint ensued. Down the trail, a few birders were enjoying amazing views of the Purple Gallinule, that had just come out of the reeds and was showing nicely. #355 for the year and a lifer too! Bird secured we headed back to Guelph, not a bad 3 days if I do say!

- Purple Gallinule

Tomorrow I am headed to Ottawa for several days in hopes of seeing a Pink-footed Goose that was found on the weekend... 

Ontario yearlist @ Nov 8th - 355 

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