by Alaina Buckenroth

The only international winter birding festival had its return to Buffalo for the 6th time February 17th-20th. This celebration of winter fowl took place across the Niagara region, including the Buffalo Harbor, Fort Niagara State Park, Niagara Falls State Park, Tifft Nature Preserve, and several other parks. Free tours, walks, and guided exploration were given at each location by New York State Parks and Recreation staff and guest speakers.

This conservation group works with several other groups in the area, including the Niagara River Greenway, Buffalo Museum of Science, Tifft Nature Preserve, Aquarium of Niagara, Birds Canada, Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, and New York State Parks and Recreation. They hold talks at venues across the Western New York area and discuss plans for preservation. This year, local Native American groups have joined in on the conversation of preservation of the Buffalo outer harbor.

I had the pleasure of attending the guided walk at Buffalo Harbor on Saturday, February 18th. All the attendees were instructed to meet at 10 a.m. at the playground parking lot where we would start the walk. For a 16-degree day with 30 MPH winds, quite a large group formed.

Before we began, the staff gave a quick rundown of the gulls and owls we would be looking for. We then gave a quick introduction of ourselves and where we were from. There were some from Buffalo, Amherst, and Orchard Park, and others from North Tonawanda, Olean, Derby, and Lakeview. Everyone bundled up in puffy jackets and snowpants to brace the arctic-like chill.

Our walk began and the staff led us to the rocks just before the break-wall that stretches through most of the harbor. There, they pointed out the ring-billed gull and juvenile herring gull. Some in the group brought binoculars and journals, and others were snapping pictures on cameras.

The most coveted of all birds on our watch was the snowy owl. They make the migration from the northern tundra down south to the Greak Lakes region, more specifically towards Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. It is the only place and only time of year where you can find snowy owls in the United States. Unfortunately, it must have been too cold or windy by the harbor this year because our guide informed us that they have yet to see one in that area this season.

The tour lasted an hour, and afterwards they handed out pamphlets of all the events the NYS Parks and Recreation would be hosting in the Spring of 2023, including a Spring Equinox walk, a leaf-identifying walk, and searching for salamanders. (A link is provided at the bottom of this article).

The next day across the street, Tifft Nature Preserve held a family-friendly bird walk in the morning, but I attended later in the day to do some more birding with less crowds. There, I was able to find Canadian geese, mallard ducks, cardinals, and black-capped chickadees. The groups before had left seed out on the dock railings, so I collected as much as I could and was able to feed some chickadees by hand!

The overall experience I was able to have from this event was incredible. The staff were knowledgeable and had an answer for every question. Being able to explore Buffalo nature in a new light was a gratifying experience.

Sad you missed out on the birding events last month? No need to worry, “Birds on the Niagara’s” Facebook page has lots of information about new events, and you can even join their email chain for special updates.

If you are looking to do some birding this Winter/Spring season, or want some guided nature activities to participate in, check out the links provided below.

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