I also saw eight Great Egrets and a Great Blue Heron in the large bay to the right of the mudflats, near the end of Scrivens Street. Although I usually see herons and egrets in the marshy bay at the western end of Andrew Haydon Park, this was the first time I’d seen them here.
Two Bonaparte’s Gulls were walking along the edge of the mudflats, while the third was swimming in the water. Although this species is quite common along the Ottawa River this time of year, these were the first ones I’d seen this fall.
Three Lesser Yellowlegs were also foraging at the water’s edge with several peeps. This one stopped to preen while the other two walked further out and eventually flew east to the mudflats near Scrivens Street.
There were about five peeps at the edge of the water, all Least Sandpipers except for one. The other was slightly larger, with a dark bib and a chunky shape. I was stumped at first in trying to identify it, for the shape and the colours didn’t match any of the peeps I am familiar with. The bib wasn’t extensive enough for a Pectoral Sandpiper, and it seemed too plump and lacked the faintly bluish-edged feathers of a Baird’s Sandpiper.
However, when I got home and checked my photos I could see the long wingtips projecting beyond the tip of the tail and the dark lores (the area of the face between the eye and the bill) interrupted by a pale spot above. This last field mark was a new one for me, and is described in The Shorebird Guide by O’Brien, Crossley and Karlson. It was definitely a Baird’s Sandpiper, though all the ones I had seen before were slimmer, and didn’t have the swallowed-a-basketball appearance as this one did.
I decided to check the creek again and found even more Least Sandpipers; altogether I counted about 15. One of them climbed up onto this tree trunk and began to examine it for food.
I didn’t find any birds of interest along the creek bed, so I drove over to Mud Lake next to look for songbirds. I only spent about an hour and a half on the ridge and along Cassels Street, and found 33 species including one Spotted Sandpiper, one Gray Catbird, two phoebes, a Great-crested Flycatcher, and this flycatcher which I thought might be an Eastern Wood-pewee even though it flicked its tail a couple of times like a phoebe.
Flycatchers are a tough group to identify, especially when they aren’t singing. I do most of my identification by voice alone, unless it’s an easy one such as Eastern Kingbird, Great-crested Flycatcher, or an Eastern Phoebe bobbing its tail. This is another photo of the same individual, showing him at a different angle.
Here is a Great-crested Flycatcher I found hunting in the same area:
I ran into Paul Matthews, and when he pointed out an Empidonax Flycatcher I didn’t pay too much attention as these birds are notoriously difficult to identify unless they are singing. However, when he said “Yellow-bellied Flycatcher”, that got my attention! I have only ever seen one of these birds before, at Shirley’s Bay in September 2010, and that one was identified for me by Chris Lewis and Paul Mirsky as it didn’t offer a very good view.
According to Cornell, the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher is the easiest eastern Empid to identify, as its yellow underparts distinguish it from the other eastern Empids. Sibley points out the low contrast between the olive malar and yellow-olive throat and notes that this distinguishes even worn Yellow-bellied Flycatchers with little yellow colouration from other species. In other words, the other Empids all have white throats that contrast sharply with the darker cheeks, while the colours of the cheeks and the throat blend together in the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Fortunately this individual gave us plenty of time to study him as he perched out in the open for a couple of minutes.
I also saw a pair of Baltimore Orioles, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and several warblers including Chestnut-sided, Black-and-White, Magnolia, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, and Cape May. There were quite a few Yellow-rumped and Cape May Warblers on the ridge. Most of the Cape May Warblers were bright yellow with streaked breasts and yellow throats, indicating adult birds. First fall Cape May Warblers are grayer and drabber and resemble first fall Yellow-rumped Warblers, especially since both species have yellowish-coloured rumps. One field mark I’ve learned to check for in first-year birds is the presence of a yellow or a pale supercilium.
This is a different individual; note the more heavily streaked breast. Note the slight, downward-curved bill, which can be useful for identification.
Cape May Warblers also have a dark cap, a semicircular cheek patch which is rust-coloured in breeding males and gray in all other plumages, and a yellow patch behind the cheek patch that curves upward toward the supercilium. These marks are useful in identifying drab first-year birds which are not bright yellow like the adults.
A female Red-winged Blackbird perching quietly in a shrub also caught my attention; I didn’t notice until after I got home and looked at my photos that she appeared to be injured. It looks like some of her feathers are missing above the rump.
With so many different shorebirds and warblers around, there is no question that fall migration has begun. With luck it will be a good one!