August 18 2015. Townsend ON. We were scheduled to greet a new grandson today but the anesthetist couldn’t attend, so we all have to wait another day. Standing down from high alert, I visited a sewage treatment plant instead. Birders generally limit discussing the relative merits of sewage treatment facilities to birder gatherings (flocks,) for obvious reasons. But I’ll share with you that modern, large-scale, concrete and steel treatment plants with flood-lights, aeration tanks, and sludge-settling cells aren’t a lot of fun, except perhaps in December when they might attract lingering insectivorous migrants; and then birders can be seen hanging around them. Constructed wetlands with several linked sewage-treatment ponds: the first receiving untreated sludge and the last discharging supposedly clean effluent, are generally disagreeable places but they are enormously attractive to both shorebirds and swallows; it to one of these that I was drawn today.
After several weeks of slow birding, it was nice to see some new faces, old friends in a way. I’d seen them all in May on their way to the Arctic: Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, Lesser Yellowlegs, some Pectoral Sandpipers and Solitary Sandpipers.
All of them are now leaving the far northern reaches of mainland North America, anywhere from Hudson Bay to Alaska and they’re heading back to spend our winter in the food-rich tropical zones of North, South and Central America. They take a few days to pay us a fatten-up visit on the way.
For a while I thought the little Semipalmated Plovers were the day’s highlights. They have a lot going for them, visually anyway; and plovers of all shapes and sizes are really cool birds. The Killdeer is our local default plover, it’s with us for nine or ten months of the year and a common sight in open grassy areas. Even though they are common it would be hard to not admire their smart appearance.
But in the end a Sora stole the day; it was quite unexpected. Soras are small rails, rather like a diminutive chicken, but they inhabit marshes picking over the various wriggly lifeforms found therein. They are infrequently seen because well, they usually stay hidden among the reeds. I’ve heard several over the years, had momentary glimpses of a few and enjoyed lingering looks very rarely. I was able to photograph this one several years ago as it wandered around among the cattails below a marsh boardwalk. Curious and endearing little creatures.
Today, on the homeward stretch after walking around the rather malodorous settling ponds, I heard a familiar, sharp ‘keek’ off to my left. In the back of my mind I registered that something, perhaps one of the various sandpipers, sounded like a Sora. I paid it little heed. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a real Sora scuttling across open mudflats; a triumph of sorts and probably my best ever lingering looks. Alas no photos, not this time. But Bird of the Day for all that.