When it comes to shorebirds many species begin their fall migration in late June with Least Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs being the first to make their way south. As summer progresses, shorebird numbers steadily increase throughout Southwestern Ontario and by August shorebirds can be found in large concentrations throughout our area. Consequently, this is when I begin my search of area drainage ponds, sewage lagoons, and wetlands hoping to observe and photograph these long distance migrants.
One of my favourite places to observe shorebirds is the West Perth Wetlands located in Mitchell, Ontario. A series of shallow ponds and exposed mudflats provides an ideal habitat for shorebirds looking to rest and feed as they migrate south. Navigating around the wetland is quite easy thanks to a network of meticulously maintained mowed grass trails that sit on top of the berms surrounding each pond. Not only does this make for easy walking, it also provides an excellent vantage point for observing and photographing birds and other wildlife readily located along the edge of each pond. Naturalization of the sloping banks from the top of each berm to the water’s edge has occurred consisting of variety of grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs all of which attract a nice mix of both songbirds and butterflies.
After checking eBird and seeing that good numbers of shorebirds had been reported at the West Perth Wetlands, I grabbed my binoculars and camera and made the one hour drive from London hoping to observe some of these birds. Upon arriving at the wetlands, I could hear the echoing calls of several birds coming from the other side of the berm as I strapped on my camera and binoculars. Following the trail from the parking lot up onto the berm the first pond came into sight, and so too did a large flock of shorebirds.
Raising my binoculars and scanning the first pond, it became evident that Killdeer and Lesser Yellowlegs were the most abundant of the shorebirds as dozens of these birds could be seen foraging on the large mudflat in the centre of the pond. After observing these birds for several minutes, I began to circle the pond in hopes of locating more shorebirds.
As I made my way down the trail I observed a lone Killdeer watching over three small chicks. In my opinion, you can’t find a cuter baby bird than a Killdeer. These tiny balls of fluff were a treat to watch as they foraged in the mud and waded in the shallow water.
Coming to the end of the pond, I scanned through the abundance of vegetation with my binoculars and counted the heads of four Great Blue Herons. I decided that if I made my way to the other side of the pond I would be able to get an unobstructed view of at least three of the birds. As I rounded the corner a fifth heron flew in from the east. I raised my camera and captured several images of the bird before it landed in the middle of the pond.
Continuing east deeper into the wetland, I came to the second pond. As I looked down at a small section of mud bank in the near corner of the pond, I was treated to an extraordinary view of four shorebirds perfectly lined up from smallest to largest. Fortunately these birds were not moving around too much and I was able to capture several images of this unique scene. As mentioned, Killdeer and Lesser Yellowlegs were the most prevalent shorebirds present on my visit, but I was also treated to exceptional views of Spotted Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, and Solitary Sandpipers.
The West Perth Wetlands is a great place to bird and not just for shorebirds. Songbirds are also plentiful in the mixed habitat within and surrounding the wetland. Warblers including Yellow and Common Yellowthroat were both observed. Other notable species observed included an Eastern Meadowlark, Chimney Swifts, and two Green Herons. Cedar Waxwings and American Goldfinches were plentiful in the row of evergreens located at the southeast end of the property.
A collection of butterflies were also observed, and to my delight Monarchs were the most abundant. Swallowtails, Viceroys, and both American and Painted Lady were all photographed. Dragon and Damselflies were present in good numbers with a variety of each observed.
The West Perth Wetlands really is an impressive place to get out and enjoy nature. Whether you are searching for birds, insects, reptiles or amphibians there is something for everyone. One non nature observation I made that I think is worth sharing is that of a gentleman using an electric mobility device to get around the wetland, demonstrating that the well-maintained grass tails are accessible to everyone. If you are searching for a fully accessible location for birding, the West Perth Wetlands is a great option.
Throughout August and September, look for shorebird numbers to increase further in Southwestern Ontario as they make make their way south. Area wetlands, sewage lagoons, and stormwater management ponds area all great places to observe shorebirds as they are drawn to these habitats to rest and feed. If you are looking for a place where great views of an abundance of shorebirds can be obtained, I highly recommend a visit to the West Perth Wetlands.