Thursday, November 22, 2007

Winter Gulls

Gulls are one of my favourite types of birds to look at in the winter. Some places attract gulls, like the Niagara River. I will be going there this weekend. Locally, the St. Clair River can be good during the winter, especially at the outfalls of industrial sites.

Many of the larger gulls will come down from the north to feed or winter at these sites. Some years are better than others, but I find the colder and icier ones are better. I've always said that gulls like ice!
One of my most exciting finds while birding was the discovery of an Ivory Gull on the St. Clair River. The date, etched in my mind, was December 23, 1995. I was making one of my usual Saturday or Sunday morning rounds up the St. Clair River. It was a bit snowy, and certainly cold, with lots of ice in the river. I pulled into one of the parks south of Lambton Generating Station, and there it was! I knew what it was, and after a brief look I knew I had to alert friends. That was the day before cell phones really got going, so I had to go all the way back down to Sombra to a pay phone.
As I usually did in those days, I called Steve Charbonneau first. He called others for me. First on the scene was Rob Tymstra from Sarnia who had to "pay" someone to get away from work.
Others soon followed, including Dennis Rupert who remarked that this was the last gull he needed for the area for his list.
The Ivory Gull stayed until the 26th and disappeared before it could be included on our Christmas Bird Count.

I met Steve Pike (photo by Steve) and Tom Hince there one day. At that time Tom was doing segments for the Discovery Channel, and he did one on my Ivory Gull!
Not every year is good on the river for gulls. Two winters ago, it was superb, but no real rarities showed. There were lots of Glaucous Gulls (I counted about 25 on the Sarnia waterfront one day--probably a record) a few Iceland and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. There were lots of gulls to look at that winter. A first basic Glaucous Gull is in the photo on the right.

On the St. Clair, the big gulls stay all winter, and in fact a Ring-billed may be hard to find.

The Niagara River is the gull capital of the province, at least in early winter. It is not unusual to see ten species of gulls in a day.

Last December a Slaty-backed Gull was found above the falls. It was only the second record for the river.
There are various spots on the Niagara River that are good for viewing gulls. The best are the overlook at Adam Beck, the old power house above the falls, Queenston docks and Niagara-on-the-Lake (mouth of river) for the evening flyby.
There are always lots of people looking, so you just ask them what they have seen. It is a good way to exchange information and get to the hot spots.
Hopefully I will have something to report from this weekend. We will be starting at Van Wagners Beach, Hamilton. I hope one of those Gannets will show, as it will be a life bird for me!

first basic Iceland Gull


  1. I love gulls too Blake! I find they are the perfect subjects to study, as they can be a challenge, but they seem to be the most approachable and cooperative of any birds.
    Somebody asked me once if I could be any bird, what would a be?..I said "A Gull!" they were quite surprised as they are under the impression that gulls are just basically "seagulls" that eat garbage.

    My reason? Well, I can soar to great heights with little energy, I'm a protected species, I can eat fish all day (I love fish), I'm always hanging out with my friends who will let me know if there is danger, I can go swimming (well floating) whenever I wish, AND I can stand on ice without getting my feet cold!! Who wouldn't want to be a gull?

    By the way, great job on getting Gannet!!

  2. Congrats on the Gannet. Niagara gulling is something I've always wanted to do...I just don't know when it will finally happen.

    I agree with Marianne's comment though. Being a gull would be pretty sweet. However, I think it would be equally great to be a Mute Swan or Mallard where you still get to hang with friends, get fed by people constantly, you're protected and you can survive the cold. Sweet deal if you ask me.