During fall migration, beaches are great birding destinations. Here in Southwestern Ontario, birds regularly follow the shoreline of the Great Lakes during migration passing though several public beaches on route. Large numbers of shorebirds, gulls, terns, and other waterbirds can be found throughout September at area beaches resting and feeding as they make their long journeys south.
After Labour Day is when I like to visit area beaches as crowds of people are replaced with crowds of birds often resulting in close encounters with a variety of species. Shorebirds in particular are not overly shy birds, so if you are looking to photograph birds with a shorter telephoto lens great opportunities exist.
My favourite beach close to home is located only 30 minutes away in Port Stanley, Ontario on the north shore of Lake Erie. Each fall, I make multiple trips to to this small village to observe and photograph the abundance of birds that pass though during fall migration. This past Tuesday, I made my first post-Labour Day trip to Port Stanley in search of fall migrants.
Arriving at the main beach around 10 a.m., I strapped on my camera and binoculars and made my way towards the pier. I always begin my visits to Port Stanley’s main beach by walking out on the pier as the area where the sand beach meets the concrete pier has always been an excellent location for viewing sandpipers and other shorebirds for as long as I can remember. Not surprising, as I approached the pier a Ruddy Turnstone was observed preening at the water’s edge. After capturing several images I made my way out onto the pier.
Looking over to the east breakwater I could see hundreds of gulls as I scanned with my binoculars. Mixed in with all the gulls were several Double-crested Cormorants. As I approached the end of the pier, I looked over the railing to the lower ledge as this is often where shorebirds can be observed preening and foraging on insects.
Located between the rungs of one of the pier’s ladders, I observed a Least Sandpiper preening. At only 6″ these sandpipers are the smallest of the shorebirds often making them a challenge to locate. Fortunately, this particular bird was less than 20 feet away providing great views, and in true shorebird fashion did not mind me watching and taking pictures. Further out on the pier, several Sanderling, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and more least Sandpipers were observed. Several groups of these same birds were also observed flying past the lighthouse as they made their way over to the east breakwater.
While out on the pier, I noticed several Monarch Butteries as they flew past presumably migrating with the northeast wind. As I made may way back towards the beach, I followed the concrete path circling the newly created Hofhuis Park.The calls of Killdeer could be heard coming from the freshly mowed grass. As I scanned the group of Killdeer a lone American Golden-Plover came into view. Raising my camera I captured several images of this bird, a first for me.
Happy with this sighting, I continued around the loop heading back towards the main beach observing several more Ruddy Turnstones. Looking up into the sky, an Osprey with a fish in its talons flew by with a Herring Gull in hot pursuit.
Heading west along the main beach more Monarch Butterflies were observed both in the air and on the beach. Many of the Monarchs were observed drinking from the wet sand. Continuing on, I encountered more Sanderlings as they foraged in the sand and stones.
Further down the beach, large flocks of gulls and terns could be seen resting in the warm sand. The usual Ring-billed and Herring Gulls were observed, but so too were large numbers of Bonaparte’s Gulls. These small gulls reside in the boreal forest during the breeding season and are the only gull that regularly nests in trees. During fall migration Bonaparte’s Gulls can be observed around Great Lakes and will even overwinter here in warmer years. Within the mixed flock of terns on the main beach, Common, Forster’s, and Caspian were among those identified.
Many area beaches also have other great birding habitats within close proximity offering excellent opportunities to observe a variety of bird species during fall migration. For example, Hawk Cliff also in Port Stanley, records thousands of raptors as they pass through each fall while warblers and other migrating songbirds stop to rest and feed in the surrounding Carolinian forest. Other possible destinations for birding both beaches and forest habitats along the Great Lakes in Southwestern Ontario during fall migration include Port Burwell Provincial Park, Pinery Provincial Park, Rondeau Provincial Park, and Point Pelee National Park to name a few.
In Southwestern Ontario we are incredibly fortunate to be within an hour’s drive of at least one Great Lake and the accompanying public beaches no matter where we live. Looking at the long range forecast for the remainder of September it seems we have some fantastic weather on tap. If you get the opportunity, take advantage of the beautiful weather and plan a day trip to an area beach near you. Regardless of which location you choose, I am sure you will be impressed with the excellent views and wide variety of birds present as fall migration continues.
* I am excited to announce that my first shipment of Art Cards featuring my new fall and winter images were delivered to area shops this week. You can see the images available and where to purchase these cards here. *