Great Egret

Great Egret

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Avocet and other shorebirds

Fall bird migration has been underway for several weeks now, and one of the best places to observe it right now is at sewage lagoons.

The Blenheim Sewage Lagoons were not very productive for shorebirds in the spring, as two of the sprinkler cells were totally dry due to some maintenance, and the other two cells were mostly void of water due to the dryness of the season.

Fortunately for birders, this has improved.....and just in time. Two of the sprinkler cells that had maintenance done since the spring now have lots of water....almost too much. But the other two cells have a bit of water, so there is something for everyone...short-legged and long-legged shorebirds are welcome!

There are lots of Killdeer, of course. It is not uncommon to see 30-50 birds scattered about. Least and Semiplamated Sandpipers are building in numbers, both species of yellowlegs are present and an occasional Stilt Sandpiper, more common in fall than spring, is around.
Stilt Sandpiper with smaller peeps

A small number of Pectoral Sandpipers are appearing.

Pectoral Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitchers are around in small numbers.
Short-billed Dowitchers

Yesterday morning, an American Avocet was reported. It is one of the larger, and more striking shorebirds, in my opinion. Some shorebirds can be quite challenging to identify....not so with the American Avocet! It is much more common in the mid-west, where it breeds in the vicinity of sloughs on the mixed grass prairies. But after breeding, when birds tend to wander, sewage ponds may look for all intents and purposes like a prairie slough, so on occasion when an avocet might be passing through the area, sewage lagoons will attract them.

I got a text from Garry Sadler that the bird was still there in the late afternoon, so I decided to head out and try for it, as I don't see them every year. And there it was. This one still has some of its brownish-orange colouring of a breeding bird, but that will disappear in a few weeks as it turns to pale gray and the rest of the bird will be black and white. The amount of curvature in the beak leads me to believe it is likely a female, as the male has less of a curve. It is a bit hard to tell for sure, as the amount of curvature appears to change depending on the angle one views it.
American Avocet
The bird was a bit skittish, and didn't allow me all that close. In spite of the appearance of these photos suggesting I was quite close, my camera and telephoto lens combination was the equivalent of a 22X binocular, and the image was cropped about 50%. Also I was on the lower side of the berm with just my head showing, but even at that the bird was reluctant to stay right where it was.
After a short time, it decided to move elsewhere in the sewage lagoon complex. I watched it as it flew over the larger ponds, and it was on the southern shore of one of the other ponds last time I saw it.

Will it stick around? Who knows......but one year one remained in the general area long enough for me to find it at Long Pond in Rondeau during our Christmas Bird Count!

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