Friday, October 29, 2010
I have lived in Raleigh, NC for almost all my life, since I was 2 years old. However, I was born in Buffalo, and we often go up there to visit relatives. Last year, we went to visit my family there for Thanksgiving, and I immediately used the seemingly innocent trip to get some much needed northern birds. We drove up, and, starting in Pennsylvania, I started to carefully look for birds. It paid off soon after entering NY, somewhere in Livingston County, when I got my lifer Northern Shrike. It was an ugly little thing, molting from juvenile into adult plumage, but a lifer nonetheless. Soon after, we flushed a flock of Snow Buntings feeding on the recently applied road salt, another lifer. After arriving in Buffalo, I got my first Black-capped Chickadee and American Tree Sparrow at my grandmother’s feeders. This flurry of activity was staunched for a while as we went around the city visiting friends and relatives, and I thought my birding had come to an end for the trip. One evening, however, while reading some NY-Birds emails, I saw insane numbers of gulls being reported from Niagara Falls, only half an hour away. I was able to convince my dad to drive me, and, at the falls themselves, got all the easy ones, like Ring-billed, Herring, Bonapartes, and Greater Black-backed. Farther down, at a place called Whirlpool SP, I hit the jackpot. Gulls were everywhere, thousands just circling around inside the gorge, and more on the water. I set up my spotting scope and started looking. Soon enough, I had Black-legged Kittiwake, Iceland, Lesser Black-backed, Glaucous, Little, and Black-headed. My head was still spinning from all the species and plumages when another birder came up and started scoping too. I started talking to him, and he told me he was looking for the California Gull that had been reported that morning. I felt like kicking myself for not checking my email that morning, but instead started scoping the rocks the other birder told me the bird had been seen. Of course, he was first to find it, and I got great looks though his scope. We continued to scan though to gulls, and I pointed out my best finds to him, like the Black-headed and Little. He laughed and told me the day before he had 5 Littles and 3 Black-headeds. Now that’s a serious gull watcher!!! After about 30 more minutes, my hands were freezing and I was about to pack up when he told me he had a Thayer’s in the scope. He showed me many of the subtle field marks, and eventually it flew, giving me a nice look at the primaries. On the ride back to my grandmother’s house, I noticed a flock of small birds flying over a farm field on the side of the road. My dad pulled over for me, and I scoped out the birds. They were Horned Larks, a bit disappointing, but I observed them for a while anyway. In the corner of my scope, I noticed a LBJ feeding and looked at it more closely. Lapland Longspur! This was a bird I hadn’t even expected, and was very excited to find it. It was also the last lifer for the trip. That visit filled in lots of gaps in my ABA list, and also gave me a great lesson in gull identification. Just last week, we went again to Buffalo, and I got one more lifer on the drive up, a beautiful Rough-legged Hawk. Also interesting was a Red-headed Woodpecker, a common bird in North Carolina, but a decent find in western New York. And again, I saw Snow Bunting, American Tree Sparrow, and Black-capped Chickadee, but this time, instead of being lifers, they were FOY birds. So, although my trips to Buffalo are never especially for birding, I have managed to get many of the northern specialty birds.