The First Shorebirds

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

On Sunday I left the house early to visit Ottawa Beach before it got too crowded. I arrived at 9:00 am and saw only two people on the beach, one of whom was leaving. Although there were some nice mudflats developing beyond the sandy spit, I still had to walk through a large, shallow puddle in front of the spit that I couldn’t navigate without getting my shoes wet. I headed east from there, checking out the gulls (no Bonaparte’s today), and then spotted six tiny shorebirds walking along the edge of the water. They were walking toward me, so I found a rock to sit on and waited for them to come closer.

There were four Semipalmated Sandpipers and two Least Sandpipers in the flock. The two Least Sandpipers spent some time preening in front of me; I thought this one looked cute as he tucked one leg up into his belly.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Eventually they flushed and flew west. I didn’t see where they had gone, but decided to check out the creek bed as it’s usually a good spot for herons and Spotted Sandpipers in the late summer.

Near the mouth of the creek I came upon the flock of sandpipers again, although I didn’t see the shorebirds until I was almost on top of them. Three Semipalmated Sandpipers and one Least Sandpiper objected to the intrusion and flew across the creek, leaving one of each species behind.

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

While the Least Sandpipers and Semipalmated Sandpipers look alike at first glance, the Least Sandpiper has a more reddish back and yellow legs whereas the Semipalmated Sandpiper has more gray on its back, a whiter face, and black legs. The bill is also relatively straight on the Semipalmated Sandpiper and droops on the Least Sandpiper.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Shorebirds are one of my favourite groups of birds. I could spend hours watching a mixed flock forage in the muck, and spent about 15 minutes watching these two birds. They didn’t seem to notice my presence as long as I stayed still.

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper

I watched them until the rolling “weet weet weet” call of a Spotted Sandpiper caught my attention; then I carefully made my way up the edge of the creek. I noticed a larger shorebird probing the bottom of the creek with its long bill, but it was a Solitary Sandpiper, not a Spotted. Further along the shore on the opposite side I saw a pair of birds hunkered down together. They were Spotted Sandpipers, and eventually I saw two more walking along the creek, both of which were juveniles.

I also saw a couple of Yellow Warblers, an Eastern Phoebe and a couple robins lurking in the vegetation, while an Osprey flew by overhead.

I left the creek bed and drove over to the other parking lot so I could explore the western half of the park. I noticed a large bird flitting around one of the shrubs and was surprised to see a Great-crested Flycatcher. I also heard an Eastern Kingbird calling from somewhere nearby. Both of these species were new for my AHP list.

A couple of American Goldfinches were foraging among some thistles growing by the water. Not only do the finches eat the thistle seed, they also use the down to line their nests. In fact, goldfinches don’t start nesting until late in the season when the thistles begin to flower. By the time their young are ready to fledge the thistle has gone to seed, providing a reliable source of food.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

I stopped to take a few photos since I don’t often get the opportunity to photograph them in a natural setting; nor do I often get the chance to photograph males in their bright yellow finery. The goldfinch was quite the little acrobat, often turning upside down to pluck out the thistle seeds.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

I checked out the marsh at the western end of the park and found a single Lesser Yellowlegs foraging in the mudflats amongst the usual mallards and Canada Geese. A Great Egret and a Great Blue Heron were hunting for fish further out in the water.

As I made my way back to the car I noticed a group of Cedar Waxwings flying above the lawn like a flock of swallows. Hordes of tiny flies had just emerged and filled the air; I even saw a Prince Baskettail dining on them as it skimmed over the lawn. When I caught sight of a bird moving among the branches of a tree I thought it was another waxwing at first; then I noticed the orange colour and realized it was a Baltimore Oriole.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

A few other birds were foraging high up in the deciduous trees closer to the parking lot. I identified a phoebe, a Warbling Vireo and my first Yellow-rumped Warbler of the fall. I also heard an Eastern Wood-pewee singing in another tree. A few other notable birds include a Bald Eagle flying above Carling Avenue, several Purple Martins foraging above the park, and a Turkey Vulture soaring so high up that at first I thought it was another Purple Martin. When I left the park I was quite happy with the 34 species I had seen.

On my way home I saw a bird sitting on top of a streetlight and stopped to check it out. It was the neighbourhood Merlin, keeping an eye on some noisy House Sparrows in someone’s yard. I’ve been seeing Merlins in the neighbhourhood since 2006, though never very frequently. It was nice to see him again after an absence of several months.

Merlin

Merlin

I couldn’t move too far back from the streetlight to get a better photo as a large tree was in the way; when I moved around to the other side the sun was shining from behind him. Still, it was great to see one of our smallest raptors after seeing one of our largest (the Bald Eagle) earlier in the morning.

Merlin

Merlin

The birds are definitely moving around, though whether due to post-breeding dispersal or the beginning of fall migration I can’t say. I’m beginning to get excited for the start of migration, and look forward to seeing many of the species I haven’t seen since the spring or even last fall.

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