Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ruffing it in Oakville

I awoke Tuesday morning with plans on finally getting out on the road bike that evening but a report on the Ontbirds listserve early in the morning had changed my mind.

A male Ruff, in breeding plumage, was reported in a flooded field between Milton and Oakville. I entered the location using a well known search engine and found it was just under an hour's drive from my home. This was doable, especially for a very rare spring transient.

Upon reaching the field on Brittania Road we parked on the opposite shoulder, waiting patiently, as traffic raced by, to join 2 birders present on the north shoulder of the regional road. They did not have a scope but they were sure that the large shorebird 200 metres away was indeed the Ruff. As soon as I had the bird in view it flew eastward and I was able to follow it with the scope until it dropped out of sight behind a line of grass separating two fields. We stayed a short time in hopes of the Ruff rejoining the mixture of Lesser (#120 for the year list) and Greater Yellowlegs (#121). Seeing these two very similar species together was worthwhile. Alone they can sometimes be difficult to identify. A pair of Wood Duck (#122) were also found in the flooded field.

The shoulders of the road, as posted on the listserve, were very narrow and vehicles passing at 80 km/hr+ intimidating. Another birder with a scope had joined our small group but all would soon leave, including Jean and I , leaving one birder by the road side. We thought we should try further east, possibly walking down a railway line. This would not be possible. We returned to the field, this time within the safety of our car on the north shoulder, approximately 150 metres east of the lone birder. We still could not spot the Ruff. I drove towards the patient birder and he waved slightly. Did he have it? Yes, it had returned to the open, flooded field! We obtained some great views of an amazing male Ruff with a black crown, rufous ruff, orange bill and black breast. We stayed for some time taking in this rare visitor to the Great Lakes region and I noticed more birders, 100 metres east of our location, enjoying the view as well. Traffic would slow down and curious commuters would stop and ask what we were looking at and appeared excited as we described the bird and showed them images from our shorebird guide.

Content with our time spent on a narrow gravel shoulder, as cars sped by, we bid our fellow birder a good day and headed home with another lifer ticked (#258). One hell of a lifer I might add.

Sorry there are no images to accompany this posting. The Ruff was too far away and in the excitement we did not capture any images of the flooded field. You've seen one, you've seen them all. For those non-birders reading this post, including mother-in-laws, click here for some information on the Eurasian species and here for an image of a male in breeding plumage.

That guilty feeling of choosing to chase a reported bird rather than ride my bike, which grew stronger with every cyclist we passed en route to the location, was nonexistent during the drive home. The bike is still hanging in the garage and will be there tomorrow. The Ruff on the other hand may not. I think the right choice was made.

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