Shorebird Migration at Shirley’s Bay

I spent the following weekend at Shirley’s Bay and Mud Lake. On Saturday, Melanie and I went birding together and started off our morning with a trip to the Shirley’s Bay dyke to look for shorebirds. We were not disappointed – we tallied 13 species, and 41 species total! Although it was only the first week of August, shorebird migration was in full swing! Our first shorebird species was an American Woodcock in the woods about halfway to the dyke. There were a few puddles on the path, and I was busy watching these instead of the vegetation next to the path. I was taken completely by surprise when a bird flew up from my feet and disappeared into the woods! I got enough of a glimpse of it to see the really long bill, the shape (it was definitely a snipe or a woodcock) and rusty red colours on the underside. Given its location (i.e. the middle of the woods rather than open marsh or fields) and the rusty colouration, it was certainly an American Woodcock…my first lifer of the day!

Melanie and I were delighted to see a large flock of shorebirds feeding on the mudflats. Both yellowlegs were well-represented, as were the “peeps”. Most were too far away to identify, but after examining a group of the closest birds we found several Least Sandpipers, one Semipalmated Sandpiper, and three Pectoral Sandpipers. Three Killdeer, at least one Semipalmated Plover, three Solitary Sandpipers and at least six Spotted Sandpipers were also tallied. Then I spotted what could only be a dowitcher near the reeds along the split of land which juts out into the bay. Fortunately, a couple of fellow OFNC members came along just then, and I pointed it out to them. Bob Cermak studied it for a while and identified it as a Short-billed Dowitcher….my first of the year! He and the others also found a White-rumped Sandpiper in with the peeps, three Wilson’s Snipe in the reeds behind the dowitcher, and three baby Sora! I had seen a tiny rail scuttling along the grassy spit, but a look through Bob’s scope confirmed the bill shape. It was my first confirmed Sora (ever!) and not a Virginia Rail as I had guessed.

After about 40 minutes of watching the shorebirds, Melanie and I walked beyond the first island to see what was around. We found an Osprey, a Caspian Tern, several Wood Ducks, Green-winged Teals and Hooded Mergansers, a couple of Great Blue Herons and two Belted Kingfishers. What intrigued me most, however, was not the birds, but the dragonflies.

Blue Dasher

When I saw my first Blue Dasher sitting on a branch with its back to me I wasn’t sure if it was a Blue Dasher or a male Common Pondhawk, which I often find along the dyke beyond the island. When I got a good look at the amber-tinted wings and black-tipped abdomen, I realized it was in fact a Blue Dasher. Altogether I counted seven of them, all males, all perching on vegetation overlooking the quiet bay side of the dyke. This was the third location where I’d found them this summer, all quite close to the river, and almost all of which were males. It really made me start to wonder when and how they’d all gotten to Petrie Island, Mud Lake, and now Shirley’s Bay.

Blue Dasher

When we turned around to walk back down the dyke, the shorebirds were no closer than they were before and I wasn’t able to get any photos. In the woods on our way back to the parking lot we found a Gray Catbird, a couple of Yellow Warblers, a Red-eyed Vireo, a Great Crested Flycatcher and an Eastern Wood-Pewee – all birds typically found here in the summer. Songbird migration clearly hadn’t begun yet.

I checked the Queen Anne’s Lace for insects along the road, and found a Goldenrod Crab Spider. I pointed it out to Melanie.

Goldenrod Crab Spider

We went to Mud Lake to see what was around, but again only the common summer birds were present. A couple of Hooded Mergansers were present on the lake and four Common Mergansers were swimming in the river. A Spotted Sandpiper was walking along the rocky shore of the island, and two Osprey flew over. After leaving the river we checked the lake. Along the way Melanie pointed out this Common Pondhawk:

Common Pondhawk

I saw a Twelve-spotted Skimmer close by and took a photo:

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

We saw a Great Blue Heron, a Black-crowned Night-heron and a Great Egret on the lake. We were just about to approach the egret to take some pictures, but it took flight and landed in a tree overlooking the marsh.

Great Egret

The shorebirds were so fantastic that I returned to Shirley’s Bay the following day. This time I only counted 11 different species on the mudflats: one Semipalmated Plover, a couple of Killdeer, four Spotted Sandpipers, a single Solitary Sandpiper, tons of Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, one Short-billed Dowitcher, two Wilson’s Snipe, and only a couple Semipalmated Sandpipers, White-rumped Sandpipers, and Pectoral Sandpipers. The only new bird I tallied on Sunday was a Marsh Wren singing in the reeds on the point.

After leaving the dyke I stopped by the Hilda Road feeders. I heard a Great Crested Flycatcher and a Common Raven calling close by, and saw a Brown Thrasher in the feeder tree. A couple of juvenile White-throated Sparrows were foraging beneath the feeders, as were a couple of Blue Jays, but most of the feeders were gone and there were no chickadees or nuthatches around.

I got out to walk around and startled a few darners resting in the grass. It was a cool, gray morning and they were probably waiting for it to warm up. I saw where this Lance-tipped Darner landed and took its picture:

Lance-tipped Darner

I also found a couple of Common Green Darners, but I wasn’t able to identify any of the other mosaic darners. Because it was such a gray day I didn’t stay long, nor visit any other trails.

For most birders, August is a month of transition. The breeding season is over, and migration is just about to begin. Some birds, such as the shorebirds, are already migrating. For me, August is a month of anticipation. While it is disheartening to think that I won’t hear the songs of the Yellow Warbler or the Common Yellowthroat until next spring, I can’t help but eagerly await the arrival of the warblers, vireos, thrushes, blackbirds, kinglets and sparrows as they begin their journey south.


  • Lifer #269 American Woodcock
  • Lifer #270 Sora

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