Sunday, August 23, 2009

Shorebirding at Rock Point

August 12

Due to prior commitments, Jean and I could not attend this year's Ontario Field Ornithologists (OFO) trip on Sunday August 9 so a visit to Rock Point Provincial Park later in the week was planned. It was the first week of our 2 weeks of vacation and our calendar was empty. The Weather Channel would determine the day of our visit and Wednesday's forecast was the most appealing.

Shorebirds observed during Sunday's OFO trip included, Semipalmated Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Sanderling, Least Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Stilt Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Short-billed Dowitcher, Killdeer, Semipalmated Plover and Black-bellied Plover. In total, 56 bird species were observed. Our trip looked promising. We invited my parents to join us for the day with a plan to follow the annual OFO trip route.

Rock Point Provincial Park is on the shores of Lake Erie and provides great viewing of shorebirds that have stopped to refuel while migrating to their winter homes. We started our hike on the limestone shelf, an excellent area for observing corals, bryozoans, crinoids and other reef organisms from the Devonian period.

We crossed paths with a family returning from their morning of exploring the park's shoreline. A young boy in the group observed my scope and binoculars and asked if we were birding. He then informed us he spotted a Ruddy Turnstone and that the action was that way as he pointed towards the bend in the shoreline.

It was not long before we encountered our first shorebirds. In a small shallow pond, 8 Semipalmated Sandpiper, 1 Semipalmated Plover (#167) and 1 Spotted Sandpiper were observed.

Yes, another juvenile Spotted Sandpiper (we have yet to see an adult this year). The Semipalmated Sandpipers were startled by our (and 2 additional birders) presence. As the birds took flight, Jean spotted a White-Rumped Sandpiper amongst the small group of peeps.

Avian activity was also occurring in the Willows behind us. Flitting in the trees were Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (3), Song Sparrow (1) and Tennessee Warbler (1). Rounding the bend we were greeted by a large number of shorebirds. John Black's trip report informed 200+ Semipalmated Sandpipers were found on Sunday. It appeared that this species was still the majority. I counted 160 while walking along the beach. My dad was the first to find a Ruddy Turnstone (#168) through his binoculars (the pair dad trustingly allowed my brothers and I to use on our family vacations). Dad was lucky enough to observe the bird turning stones. "Good spotting dad." I would say as I finally observed the Ruddy Turnstone (no longer turning stones).

As mentioned, there were many Semiplamated Sandpiper and as encountered on the OFO trip we found 5 Short-billed Dowitcher (#169) searching through the mud in a sewing machine-like motion.

A "croc" waiting silently for prey to come within reach.

Additional shorebirds found included 6 Sanderling (#170) and 2 Least Sandpiper. One bird had us guessing a couple of days later. Looking through digiscoped images we found a bird we could not identify confidently. Wishful thinking was leaning towards Baird's Sandpiper but all was not right with that identification. It could be a White-rumped Sandpiper but its primaries did not extend beyond its tail. Posting an i.d. confirmation on the Birder's World forum had a response suggesting Sanderling. Oh, yeah. That fits. The only Sanderling we have come across have been juveniles. We have no experience with other plumage of this species. I now think we have a "moulting adult" Sanderling.

Waterfowl spotted on the lake included, Mallard (females with many young), Canada Goose, Common Merganser (1) and Red-breasted Merganser (1 male).

Hey! How did that red coloured rock get here?

In addition to the fossilized sea creatures, there are lines (Glacial Striations) on the limestone shoreline. They were caused by glaciers 11 to 12 thousand years ago. The red rock is Grimsby Sandstone and was most likely deposited by the advancing and retreating glaciers.

Returning to our car we walked along the wooded trail above the beach and spotted a Ruby-throated Hummingbird as it zipped past us on its way to the next flowering plant. We reached the boardwalk for the observation deck, my dad leading the way. His interest in why things are there and how they work has yet to falter.

Standing on the wooden deck atop the sand dunes my dad was laughing (while shaking his head). A sign beneath the deck read, "Sensitive Area. Sand Dune Stabilization Project. Do Not Enter.". My dad remarked, "look at all the footprints on the slope of the sand dune!". It is unfortunate that there are some people that will ignore requests such as this.

After a break we checked out the beach area used for swimming and my dad searched for the perfect skipping stone. Jean's grandmother asked my father what it was like being retired shortly after his retirement. He replied, "like I'm 10 again.". 15 years later, he is still that 10 year old. I can only hope that my retirement will be as enjoyable.

Our next stop was the evaporating ponds north of the park. On the OFO trip an employee from the company that owns the ponds would open the gate allowing the group access to the entire area. We would simply scan the waters from the outside of the chain link fence. We spotted 2 Great Egrets and 3 Great Blue Heron in the reeds and 6 Caspian Terns resting on the sandbanks. Another birder came along (I had seen him on previous OFO trips) and he picked out some Hooded Mergansers sunning on a rock. Wow! Good spotting! Even with our scope it was difficult to identify the birds as mergansers. The gentleman informed us that he had seen a Baird's and Stilt Sandpiper while at Rock Point. It appears timing is everything. I highly doubt that the Stilt Sandpiper was present while we were on the shoreline. Interestingly enough, our lifer Stilt Sandpiper was observed at the evaporation ponds on the 2007 OFO trip. The long-legged sandpiper with a slightly down curved bill would not have been overlooked by Jean and I if it was there (at least I hope we're better than that).

Further down the road was another pond but the water levels were to high for shorebirds. We stopped at the nearby feeder canal to check out a lock once used by barges travelling between Welland and Port Maitland (I knew my dad would like this spot).

Our last attempt at birding this day was exploring the sod farms (from the road side) for Black-bellied Plover. During this year's OFO trip, the plovers were observed at the Poth Road farms. We found none. Only a couple of humans with a remote control model airplane and 2 Lesser Yellowlegs in a flooded field further down the road. Travelling north along Townline Road we came across a harvested section of a sod farm. In the dirt we found what we were looking for, 20 Black-bellied Plover (#171) along with 24 Killdeer.

Our day of birding completed, we stopped at Hippo's in Lowbanks on the Lake Erie shore for a delicious Lake Erie perch dinner.

Shorebirds and a perch dinner. A fantastic way to spend a day, especially with my mom and dad. During our birding adventures it has been great having both our parents tag along and to know when they're with us that they are enjoying the day just as much as Jean and I. We have yet to hear a groan from the back seat of the car, "A sod farm?" or "Are you serious? A sewage lagoon? You're stopping here?". If our parents had not taught us to be interested in our surroundings when we were young I don't think we would be birding today. Many thanks to them all for showing us the way.

My parents & I, Rock Point, August 2009

Jean with her dad and his wife, Fort Erie, July 2009

Jean and her mum, Crawford Bay Wetlands, June 2009

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