Stormwater Management Ponds:
Often Overlooked Birding Hotspots

Great Blue Heron standing in shallow blue water.

Great Blue Herons are among the many birds you can expect to observe while birding around a stormwater management pond.

Stormwater management ponds are located throughout large cities and can be found in residential, commercial, and industrial areas. These human-made ponds and their adjacent habitats are often overlooked as birding hotspots. Last week, after receiving a tip from a blog subscriber, I decided to check out a stormwater management pond that I had not yet visited, and was rewarded with great views of a variety of birds.

Female Red-winged Blackbird perched on a dead twig.

Female Red-winged Blackbird.

The pond I visited is located in the northwest part of London, Ontario in the area known as Hyde Park. I accessed the area from Gainsborough Road, where there is a small area for parking. Upon exiting my truck, I immediately heard the calls of the Red-winged Blackbird and American Robin. Grabbing my camera and binoculars, I headed north along the paved path. On each side of the path was a narrow meadow-like habitat consisting of mixed grasses and small shrubs. Hearing rustling to my right, I turned to look, and from the dried stalks of grass appeared an Eastern Cottontail. Further down the path a small pond came into view, with a  wooded area on either side. I was eager to see what species I might encounter next.

Eastern Cottontail standing in a meadow of dried grass stalks.

This Eastern Cottontail was the only mammal species I observed on this day.

As I continued on, a Northern Flicker could be heard calling and drumming from the woodlot to the east, as an Osprey circled the pond. The small shrubs lining either side of the path contained several Field Sparrows. I’m sure anyone who recognizes the song of the Field Sparrow will agree, it is a lovely trilling sound. Other sparrow species observed around the area were Song and White-throated, both singing beautiful songs of their own. Eastern Phoebes could be seen flying within the meadow, briefly landing on the grass stalks.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe.

I watched as the Osprey hovered over the pond, and anticipated this bird to plunge into the water after a fish. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. The large raptor banked to the east and disappeared over the treeline. The rattling call of a Belted Kingfisher echoed over the pond as it moved about the small trees that circle the area. On the far bank I could see a Great Blue Heron wading in the shallow water. As I made my way around the pond, it became clear that this bird was more fixated with what was below the surface than it was on my presence. I raised my camera as it slowly stalked its prey. With a quick strike and a large splash, the heron captured something. Whatever the prey was, it was not visible to me and was immediately consumed as the bird threw back its head.

With ripples in the water surrounding it, a Great Blue Heron strikes at its prey..

Great Blue Heron capturing a meal.

At the water’s edge I could see movement. I raised my binoculars to see a Spotted Sandpiper running along the muddy bank, while a Killdeer called not too far away. Scanning the bank with my binoculars, the Killdeer quickly came into view.. These and other small shorebirds blend in extremely well with their surroundings and can easily go overlooked without the aid of a pair of binoculars. I watched and listened as three Greater Yellowlegs circled overhead, but these birds must have been aware of my presence and continued north.

Great Blue Heron wading in shallow water with water dripping from its bill.

In the blink of an eye, a Great Blue Heron can capture and consume its prey.

Bank, Barn, and Tree Swallows were all observed darting over the pond while feeding on insects. Surprisingly, waterfowl was almost nonexistent with only a few Mallards and pair of Canada Geese present. Quite often during migration, stormwater management ponds are popular stopover areas for a variety of migrating waterfowl. In total 19 species were observed on this day, which made for a rewarding morning.

Killdeer foraging along the bank of a small pond.

Killdeer and other shorebirds blend in extremely well with their surroundings. Watching for movement and scanning the bank with binoculars is often the best way to locate them.

Stormwater management ponds are easily found by searching Google maps. These online maps will show the pond itself plus any access points. Be aware that some of these ponds may not be on municipal property, or access may be restricted. Please be sure to obey the rules of any posted signage at the pond you visit.

Spotted Sandpiper foraging along a gravelly bank.

Spotted Sandpiper.

Spring migration can be one of the best times of the year to view a variety of birds at one of these habitats. I am a huge fan of shorebirds and these ponds can be one of the best locations to view these birds close to home. It has been at stormwater management ponds that I have achieved some of my best views of Great Egrets in our area during migration. If you have never birded around a stormwater management pond, I highly recommend visiting one in your area.

Good birding,
Paul

 

 

 

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