A Buff-breasted Sandpiper in Ottawa

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

On Wednesday, August 29th a Buff-breasted Sandpiper was found along the Ottawa River close to Ottawa Beach. It was still there the following day, so I stopped by the river after work to see if I could find it. There were a number of people on the beach that evening, walking dogs or parasailing (it was still warm with temperatures about 27°C), but I didn’t see any birders or photographers. I checked both Ottawa Beach and the mudflats off Scrivens Street but saw no shorebirds, either. Although this was the second Buff-breasted Sandpiper seen in Ottawa within a week (the first was at Shirley’s Bay but didn’t stick around until the weekend), these shorebirds are very uncommon in Ottawa; I haven’t seen one since my trip to Nova Scotia in 2008 and was eager to see this species again.

The sandpiper was still present on Friday afternoon. I woke up early on Saturday to go birding but decided to stop in at the Rideau Trail first, where I discovered a small flock of migrants beneath the hydro towers. This group included a Great Crested Flycatcher, a couple of White-throated Sparrows, a Black-and-white Warbler, either a Bay-breasted or a Blackpoll Warbler, two Philadelphia Vireos and a Red-eyed Vireo. A Common Yellowthroat was attempting to sing as well.

Next I visited Sarsaparilla Trail and was not disappointed. In the trees near the picnic shelter I saw a Black-throated Green Warbler and a Bay-breasted Warbler (still with some “bay” along the sides), while in the woods I found a group of Golden-crowned Kinglets foraging for food at the top of the evergreens. At the large pond, several Swamp Sparrows and a Common Yellowthroat were scurrying about in the vegetation near the end of the boardwalk; three Black-crowned Night Herons, one Green Heron, and two Belted Kingfishers were hunting for fish; five Northern Flickers were perching in various trees; and three hawks were flying about. The largest was a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk, and it was repeatedly chased by a persistent accipiter; there was a noticeable size difference between the two species. A second accipiter was also in the same area. Although I heard what I believed to be a Red-shouldered Hawk in the same area a few months ago, this was the first time I’d seen this species at Sarsaparilla Trail. The crescent-shaped translucent “windows” were visible in the wings while it was flying.

Red-shouldered Hawk

From there I drove over to Scrivens Street where I found a number of birders, photographers and shorebirds at the water’s edge. I was told the Buff-breasted Sandpiper was still around, though it wasn’t with the group of shorebirds closest to the birders. Most of the birds were Semipalmated Plovers, a smaller, cuter relative of the Killdeer.

Semipalmated Plover

The Semipalmated Plover breeds throughout the North American Arctic and subarctic, often on gravel bars along rivers and ponds, and winters along the coastlines of the southern states, the Caribbean, and South America. During migration, the Semipalmated Plover is often found along sandy beaches and mudflats and, while it mingles to a small extent with other shorebirds, it tends to to remain aloof, particularly at high tide when it is resting on beaches. This bird has been observed swimming short distances across small water channels while foraging. Chicks also swim short distances to follow parents to small islets on shallow lakes.

Semipalmated Plovers

A single sandpiper was resting among the plovers. The black legs, straight bill, and greyish plumage indicated this was a Semipalmated Sandpiper.

Which one of these semipalmated shorebirds is not like the other?

After his brief nap, he started probing the water for food.

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Then another group of shorebirds flew in to join the plovers, and the Buff-breasted Sandpiper was among them!

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

This shorebird has a small head and a longer neck than most sandpipers, giving it a dove-like appearance. It is larger than the “peeps” and has bright yellow legs and a short, sharp black bill. The pale, buffy colour of its breast extends to the face.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper with an eye on the sky

Buff-breasted Sandpipers breed in dry, grassy tundra and usually migrate through the middle of the continent from their arctic breeding grounds to southern South America. During migration it is typically found in areas of short grass such as pastures, plowed fields and, rarely, mudflats.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

The sandpiper started walking toward the group of people standing on the sand, and then the group spooked and flew a short distance to the east where they began probing the puddles again.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

When it flew off toward the edge of the water, I opted not to follow it but instead took a walk down the water’s edge to the west end of Andrew Haydon Park. Along the way I spotted a single Great Blue Heron and Great Egret hunting in the river, an American Pipit flying over the beach (identified by its call), another accipiter, one Blackpoll Warbler, a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a Hooded Merganser in the western pond. The only other shorebirds I saw were a single Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper and Greater Yellowlegs. It was getting to hot by then to go anywhere else, so I went home quite pleased to have caught up with the Buff-breasted Sandpiper at last!

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3 thoughts on “A Buff-breasted Sandpiper in Ottawa

  1. Pingback: Highlights from 2012 | The Pathless Wood

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