With shorebird migration now underway, I decided to make a trip this past week to the West Perth Wetlands located in Mitchell, Ontario. These wetlands are a well known stopover for shorebirds looking to rest and feed as they move across Southwestern Ontario. After checking the recent sightings reported to eBird, and hearing from a blog subscriber who was there the previous week, I was quite confident there would be a nice mix of shorebirds present.
Upon arriving at the wetlands, I looked out over the first pond and immediately saw hundreds of shorebirds. I knew at that moment it was going to be a great day. Glancing along the near shore I was instantly treated to excellent views of several Lesser Yellowlegs and Killdeer as they foraged close to the bank. I caught the movement of a smaller sandpiper out of the corner of my eye, so I raised my binoculars to get a better look. This bird was much smaller than the adjacent Killdeer and displayed yellowish legs indicating it was a Least Sandpiper, the smallest of the “peeps”. As I scanned across the pond I could see two Wilson’s Snipe, a Short-billed Dowitcher, and a Stilt Sandpiper feeding in the shallow water along the far bank. After circling halfway around the first pond I quickly added more shorebirds to my count, including a Solitary Sandpiper feeding on what appeared to be a large tadpole. I counted 10 species of shorebird in total on this trip to the West Perth Wetlands. A complete list of the shorebirds I observed is as follows:
- Least Sandpiper
- Pectoral Sandpiper
- Stilt Sandpiper
- Solitary Sandpiper
- Lesser Yellowlegs
- Greater Yellowlegs
- Short-billed Dowitcher
- Wilson’s Snipe
- Semipalmated Plover
Several waterfowl species were observed on the various ponds throughout the wetland. Mallards were the most prevalent, but other notable species recorded were Blue and Green-winged Teal, Wood Ducks, and Northern Shoveler. Songbirds were also abundant, with the highlight for me being several Bobolinks. In total, I observed 43 bird species including the 10 shorebirds on my visit.
Painted and Snapping Turtles were present throughout the network of ponds, as well as three species of frog: Bull, Green, and Northern Leopard. Monarch, Viceroy, and Red-spotted Purple Butterflies could be seen nectaring on the variety of wildflowers surrounding the ponds. Dragon and Damselflies circled the ponds with Green Darner, Widow and Twelve-spotted Skimmers the most abundant. Mammal species I observed included Groundhogs and Muskrats.
What makes the West Perth Wetlands such an amazing place for birding is not only how many shorebirds it attracts, but how close you can view them; this not only provides excellent views, but is perfect for those like me who wish to photograph these beautiful birds. With a pair of binoculars you can easily scan the far banks and still have great views of the distant birds. To make things even better, the network of trails completely circles each pond, which allows you to stealthily approach birds that were previously viewed from a distance. The mowed grass trails are incredibly easy to walk on (with the exception of a few Groundhog holes you must watch for) and the slight rise in elevation offers the perfect vantage point across each of the ponds. A picnic table in the parking lot provides a perfect place to rest or break for lunch.
Birds are constantly on the move at the wetlands, both coming and going as well as aggressively defending their feeding spots, making it perfect for flight photography. The West Perth Wetlands is the best location near London I know of that provides not only quantity, but variety of shorebirds with the opportunity to view and photograph them from a close distance.
To get to the West Perth Wetlands from London, take Highway 23 north to the town of Mitchell, Ontario. Once in Mitchell, turn right on Frank Street (the first street on your right as you enter town). Proceed down Frank Street a few hundred yards where you will see a baseball diamond. Turn right at the diamond and follow the road to the end where you will find the parking lot.
Shorebird identification can be tough, so I recommend taking a field guide and a pair of binoculars. Remember to pay close attention to the subtle differences in each bird. Making note of the size and leg colour can help distinguish many of the smaller sandpipers. With such an incredible variety and quantity of shorebirds at the West Perth Wetlands, it is the perfect place to practice shorebird identification. In many instances you can do side by side comparisons of the various birds. If you have never visited the West Perth Wetlands before, I highly recommend checking it out this migration season. I know I will be returning a few more times before the end of the season.