Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Shorebirds of 5th Avenue

Despite its name this rural St. Catharines road does not have the trendy shops found in New York City but birding is a different matter.

I picked up Jean from work on Sunday afternoon and headed to west St. Catharines, once again in search of Bobolink. This time we would travel its entire length of 2.5 kilometres. From 7th Street Louth to 5th Street Louth we did not find anything too outstanding. Red-winged Blackbirds, House Sparrow, European Starling, and American Robin, the usual fare. The most exciting was an American Kestrel on a utility line and a Great Blue Heron in flight. The next block, 5th Street Louth to 3rd Street Louth, more of the usual fare. The best avian sightings have occurred in the last block, 3rd Street to 1st Street Louth and today was another exciting one.

This is my first attempt at pasting a map on a post. I hope it works. If not, I guess you can click on the link.


In the field where we recently spotted the Least Sandpiper, more shorebirds were found. Close to the road we saw 2 Killdeer and 1 Spotted Sandpiper. It appeared that more Spotted Sandpiper were further away in a flooded section of the field but smaller birds were there as well. I set up the spotting scope and of course the peeps flew away before we could identify them all. Something had spooked them. All the shorebirds in the field took to the air as a Red-tailed Hawk, with a Red-winged Blackbird on its tail, flew over.

Savannah Sparrow and Horned Lark played in the ploughed field as another species caught our attention. It was in the brush lined ditch that separates the two fields. The bird was brownish on the back, with 2 wing bars, and a whitish throat and belly. It was an Empidonax flycatcher for sure but which one? The eye-ring was lacking so that eliminated the Least Flycatcher. We listened to its short call, "wheet", as that is the only way to distinguish some of the Empids. After noting its field markings and voice we reset the scope on the shorebirds that had returned to the flooded field. An uninterrupted look this time, we determined that the peeps were 2 Semipalmated Sandpiper, #149 for the year list, and 1 Least Sandpiper.

While we were observing the shorebirds a pick up truck pulled up beside our vehicle. Another curious passerby? Cyclists had stopped to inquire what we were looking at through our scope. The gentleman in the pickup truck however was curious for another reason. The farmer had seen us from the other side of his field and noticed that I had left the tail gate of the Subaru open. There is evidence on this road of illegal dumping and he suspected we were up to the same terrible act. Rather than properly dispose of their trash, there are still some losers out there that choose to dump their garbage on a country side road. Once he saw our spotting scope he knew we were OK. He informed us of a family of coyotes that appear near the brush every evening at 8:00 PM. While we were talking another car pulled up behind our vehicles and the owner immediately honked the horn. The farmer would say goodbye and drive away to allow the car through. As it pulled up beside me it appeared the driver and passenger would have similar questions. Not this time. "Do you know it's illegal to block a road?" the driver yelled out at me as he slowly passed. "Ah, yeah.", I replied. I really don't believe my vehicle by itself was blocking the road. It could have been closer to the shoulder but there was plenty of room for vehicles to pass safely, even with the slight narrowing of the road to cross over a culvert. 5th Avenue is not even a major city or regional road. Would a parked farm vehicle evoke the same reaction? Lighten up buddy! I noticed how the driver did not make the same remark to the farmer who was twice his size. Sure, pick on the harmless birder. I have had many encounters like this while cycling on a club ride, "Get off the road!!", with an expletive or two for added effect, but never when I was birding. This was a first.

Continuing on with our birding we would not observe any Bobolink in the field of grass so we returned home to verify our observation of the Empid flycatcher. Listening to the Genus' songs and calls on the All About Birds site and reviewing our field guides (Yes, I did not have one with me in the field). Hey, I was looking for Bobolink and didn't think a guide was required for 15-30 minutes of birding. The National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America describes the call of the Willow Flycatcher as a liquid wit. An Alder Flycatcher's call as a loud pip.

We concluded that the Empid was an Empidonax traillii, the Willow Flycatcher, LIFER # 260!

Not too bad for 45 minutes of birding along a country road. Two species for the year list and a lifer too. Only 40 more and we'll be at 300. Oh, and 1 irate driver. Hey, it is like NYC, well maybe more like Toronto.

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