As we arrived in Niagara Falls last night it was getting dark, but after a delicious dinner at The Como Restaurant we walked over to see the falls lit up. It was stunning with the skyline of Niagara Falls, Ontario in the background:
We got an early start this morning and went for a hike around Goat Island. I was eager to add some birds to the year list and I didn't have to wait long, though I was somewhat surprised to see hundreds of mallards (21) in the rapids of the Niagara River above the falls among the snow and ice.
These clearly weren't your run-of-the-mill mallards because instead of dabbling they were actually diving for something beneath the surface. Not only that, but I saw a female mallard actually go over Niagara Falls and take flight in mid-air. It was far away but I attempted to capture it via photograph. Click to see a larger version, and the blue arrows point to the female mallard:
Near the first mallards I saw were also many ring-billed gulls (22). A small flock of Canada geese (23) flew over, and then I also picked some herring gulls (24) out of the mix. There was a lot of gull activity in general all along the Niagara River, and I finally figured out what they were after when I caught this herring gull in action:
I'm assuming those little fish end up going over the falls?? The gulls were definitely feeding both at the top and bottom of the waterfalls, as well as at other points along the river.
Out at Three Sisters Island I found some common goldeneye (25), and then near Horseshoe Falls I spotted a common loon (26) far below. One thing that amazes me about these falls is not just their size, but the amount of spray that fills the air around them. Here's a look towards Horseshoe Falls from Prospect Point:
During the winter, the mist actually freezes to everything it touches, which makes for some pretty stunning winter scenes. All of the trees downwind, for instance, are coated in a thick ice as a result of the mist. I bet you can guess which side the falls are on relative to this tree:
While I was photographing the icy trees something caught my eye, and much to my surprise it turned out to be a peregrine falcon (27). Then as we continued walking I spotted a very pale gull, which I suspect was a glaucous gull, but unfortunately it disappeared too quickly and I wasn't able to relocate it despite coming back to try again later. I did, however, find a couple great black-backed gulls (28), an eastern species I was hoping to pick up.
Next up we hiked the gorge trails between Devil's Hole and Whirlpool State Parks. Interestingly enough, while this is just a short ways down the river from the falls, none of the same gull species were present. Instead, there was a huge flock of Bonaparte's gulls (29). I was also surprised to come across a lone harlequin duck (30), a rare species for this region, but an ID I was sure of since I see so many back home. Here's a view towards the big whirlpool bowl in the Niagara River canyon:
After climbing out of the gorge I saw one of the black squirrels I had heard about. It turns out these aren't a distinct species, but rather a melanistic version of the eastern gray squirrel. Melanism results in an animal having extremely dark pigmentation, and is the opposite of leucism or albinism. They can be found anywhere eastern gray squirrels occur, but in some places are more common, like they are here near Niagara Falls. This little guy wasn't too interested in being photographed so this was the best I could do:
After a quick pit stop for lunch, I headed back to goat island to try and turn up another gull species. I didn't have any luck in the gull department, but I did find a few American black ducks (31), another great eastern species to add to the list. It was cool that I could compare them directly to the nearby female mallards to make sure of the ID. On the same outing I also spotted a few American wigeon (32), canvasback (33), bufflehead (34), and several large groups of lesser scaup (35).
Here are a couple more views of Niagara Falls in the daytime. The first one includes a rainbow from this morning:
And this one is a close-up view taken from the observation platform at Prospect Point:
By this point I figure I had walked about 5-6 miles and my feet were not too happy about being stuck in snow boots all day. Although I wanted to do some more exploring I was done walking so we decided to drive north to Fort Niagara State Park near Youngstown on the shore of Lake Ontario. It was getting late in the day but we got there in time to see the sunset, and get a nice view of the Toronto skyline in the distance over the ice floes in the lake:
The timing also couldn't have been more perfect to see the Fort Niagara Lighthouse, which was silhouetted against a colorful late afternoon sky and appeared to have its light lit by the rays of the sun:
All in all it was a great day, with 15 species added to the year list including two (the great black-backed gull and American black duck) that I have only seen once before. Now I am TIRED so it is off to bed (this will post on Pacific Time but remember I am three hours ahead of that - haha). It should be another big day tomorrow, though there are 3 inches of lake effect snow in the forecast so we'll see how much outside time I end up getting.