Despite the fact that fall is still more than seven weeks away, it is time to start thinking migration. Many birds, including shorebirds, begin to migrate across our area as early as August. Several sightings have been reported already from around the area; I personally have noticed an increase in Yellowlegs within London, making now the perfect time to get out and search for these early migrants.
With shorebirds having already begun their journey south, there are several locations in and around the Forest City where they can be readily observed. The Coves, located only minutes from the city’s core, is an excellent place to view shorebirds as they stop over to rest and feed. With the lack of rainfall this summer, water levels are currently low; this provides shallow water and exposed muddy flats, the perfect habitat for shorebirds. Spotted Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, as well as Solitary Sandpipers are among the species readily observed at The Coves.
Great Egrets frequently stop over at The Coves during August, making it one of the best locations in the city to view these beautiful birds. I recommend weekly visits to The Coves this month, as more birds will show up as the season progresses. To access The Coves, turn onto Greenside Avenue from Springbank Drive. Parking is available at the side of the road. From there, it is a short walk back to Springbank Drive where excellent views of The Coves can be taken in from the sidewalk on both sides of the street. There is a traffic light at the intersection of Greenside Avenue and Springbank Drive, making crossing the four lanes quite easy and much safer.
Several of the newer subdivisions in the city have stormwater management ponds within them. These too are excellent areas to locate shorebirds within the city. Take a look at a map of London for some of these newly created ponds mostly on the corners of the city. A short car ride to these locations can often yield great results. One pond in particular that seems to attract a variety of shorebirds, herons, kingfishers, and even egrets is located behind the Canadian Tire store on Wonderland Road. Be sure to make these small, man made ponds, a part of your fall birding, as they can provide a temporary home for several species.
Venturing out of London can also be very rewarding for observing shorebirds. One of my favourite locations is the Port Stanley sewage lagoons. This area is birder friendly with two observation towers overlooking the four ponds. Several species of shorebird can be observed foraging along the muddy banks from the elevated towers. Birds at this location are not viewed as close as at other locations, so be sure to take binoculars or a spotting scope. To get to the Pot Stanley lagoons, follow Highway 4 south to the town of Port Stanley. Once you arrive in town, turn right on Warren Street (the first street on your right at the baseball diamond). Proceed through the four way stop (here Warren Street turns into Lake Line). Continue on Lake Line to the top of the hill, and make a right on Scotch Line. Follow the bend in the road and you will see the first of the two observation towers on your left.
Other popular area spots for observing shorebirds, although longer drives, are the sewage lagoons located on Pike Road in Strathroy, Ontario and the West Perth Wetlands on Frank Street in Mitchell, Ontario. The West Perth Wetlands often attract the widest variety and less common shorebirds, making it well worth the one hour drive from London.
Having success locating shorebirds is very much dependent on water levels. These birds require shallow water with exposed mud or sand for feeding. Too much water and shorebirds simply will not be present. As mentioned previously, water levels at many locations are currently ideal for attracting shorebirds. Having said that, venturing out to find shorebirds after a moderate rain can be quite successful. As the fresh rain is absorbed into the muddy flats, many of the invertebrates that shorebirds feed on are forced to the surface creating a feeding frenzy.
Shorebirds are among the most difficult when it comes to identification. Many birders struggle to identify the different species that make up this group of birds. Adding to the confusion at this time of year is the addition of juvenile birds, as well as those transitioning from breeding to winter plumage. Remember to observe the subtle differences in field marks when trying to identify shorebirds. Pay close attention to size, leg colour, bill length, as well as any distinct plumage features to assist with identification. Managing a quick photo, even a low quality one, can often lead to proper identification upon returning home. If you have a photo of a bird you are having difficulty identifying, feel free to contact me. I am always happy to help fellow birders with identification.
Although it does not garner quite as much hype as spring migration, fall migration is an exciting time of year. Large concentrations of birds can be observed in rather small areas, providing excellent views and photographic opportunities. If you are like me and keep a life and year list, the large number of shorebirds can boost your totals fast. With their long legs and bills, plus their unique behaviour, shorebirds are among the most interesting birds to observe. Take the time this month to get out to some of these area hotspots, and enjoy the beautiful shorebirds that are passing through our area.