Birds on the Niagara going virtual this year

After photographing a lesser black-backed gull, left, Joel Strong of Appleton had his sights out for a slaty-backed gull, rumored to be hanging out off Goat Island at Niagara Falls State Park on Dec. 28 where he had set up his watch. The elusive gull that's a native of Siberia will likely be a topic during this weekend's virtual Birds of Niagara program. (James Neiss/staff photographer Niagara Falls)

The dust has settled now. The binoculars and scopes are put away.

But, Birds on the Niagara is gaining critical mass and volume as the only binational nature festival we know of.

Sure we can’t go to Canada right now but the gulls recognize no border.

To the average citizen, a seagull is a seagull is a seagull (most commonly, a herring gull).

To ornithologists, however, every gull is different, from the Bonapart to the Icelandic, slaty backed and great blackbacked.

As one of the organizers put it, between fish going over the falls and through the power turbines, the lower Niagara is an “unlimited sushi buffet.”

The birding event in the cold of February this year was virtual and grew its audience, much like the internet has grown this newspaper's readership.

In time, however, the event will return to an in-person affair filling empty hotel rooms with ecotourists in the offseason. We also like the idea of tying it to Valentines Day. Niagara Falls is already the Honeymoon Capital. Why not link the bird festival with Cupid's day?

One last shout out: The speaker lineup was fantastic and apropos for these trying times, from J. Drew Lanham bringing social justice into the discussion of birds to Timothy Beatley talking about the importance of trees and birds creating a calmer, more pleasant living experience in cities like Lockport, Niagara Falls and Buffalo. There was even a discussion of the benefit of habitat restoration in Hyde Park Lake, where a softening of the shoreline funded by the Niagara River Greenway Commission helps strengthen the food chain by bringing invertebrates, places for fish to breed, native plants and, ultimately, birds.

A strong tourism economy is not built on one bird festival but by many such events throughout the year. Each one builds on the last and, cumulatively, year after year, will hatch great success for the Greater Niagara region and our new economy.

We applaud organizers for a job well done and can’t wait for next year.

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