Saturday 15 September 2018

Shorebirding at the Atlantis Niagara Winery in Beamsville

Shorebirds are one of my favourite groups of birds, though we do not always have excellent shorebird habitat locally here in Niagara. The past couple of years had been good but this year most of the usual spots are unsuitable due to high water levels, fields becoming overgrown, and various other reasons. Earlier this summer Ryan Griffiths, a local birder here in Niagara, discovered a great spot that is very accessible just off of the QEW near the border of Lincoln and Beamsville. The Atlantis Niagara Winery has a section of flooded field that has proven to be quite attractive to a variety of species. I have not had a chance to stop there very often, but fortunately several other intrepid birders have stopped in frequently and had some great finds.

For those of you interested in visiting the Atlantis Niagara Winery, I've attached a map showing the location of the shorebird habitat. Also note the large man-made pond to the immediate east, which often attracts shorebirds, while some of the fields in the area have been tilled and are proving quite attractive to Killdeer and other plovers. The orchard east of the pond has been flooded at times, and shorebirds sometimes can be found in there too. If visiting, the winery requests that you park in front of the main building as opposed to parking by the shorebird habitat.

On August 24, Judy Robins discovered a juvenile Wilson's Phalarope at Atlantis which was kind enough to stick around for several days. This prairie species is pretty rare in Niagara and some years go by without any records. Out of the three species of phalaropes, two (Red-necked and Red) are primarily ocean-going, generall only spending time on land when they nest in the Arctic. Wilson's Phalarope is the outlier as it is much more terrestrial, preferring shallow wetlands throughout the prairies (and a small population in the Hudson Bay lowlands). You would never see one in the open ocean like you would the other two species.

The Wilson's Phalarope was a little distant for my camera so I resorted to snapping a few digiscoped photos. The views, however, were awesome!

Wilson's Phalarope - Atlantis Niagara Winery, Beamsville, ON

Much more confiding was one of the Pectoral Sandpipers. While I have only ever seen Pecs during migration and on the wintering grounds I would love to make it to the Arctic one day to witness the spectacular displays that males will perform.

Pectoral Sandpiper - Atlantis Niagara Winery, Beamsville, ON

On the evening of August 31 Ryan Griffiths discovered a crisp juvenile Willet at the winery. Willet is a relatively rare species in the province with most records each year pertaining to birds along the Lake Erie shoreline in May, but Niagara has not seen too many records in recent years. Fortunately for the rest of us the Willet decided that it would stay at Atlantis for an extended period of time. Laura and I dropped in on our way home from Pelee on September 3 and lucked out with the Willet feeding at close range. An exciting new species for my Niagara list, and for Laura's Ontario list!

Willet - Atlantis Niagara Winery, Beamsville, ON

Willet - Atlantis Niagara Winery, Beamsville, ON

The Willet towered over all the shorebirds, presenting itself as an imposing presence in the wetland.

Willet - Atlantis Niagara Winery, Beamsville, ON

Willet - Atlantis Niagara Winery, Beamsville, ON

Last Thursday I was happy to see that a Baird's Sandpiper was working the very south edge of the flooded field. With a bit of stealth it was not too hard to approach close enough to see each detail on every feather. Photoshoots with Baird's Sandpipers do not seem to happen too much for me so I take advantage when given an opportunity.

Baird's Sandpiper - Atlantis Niagara Winery, Beamsville, ON

Baird's Sandpiper generally migrates through the Great Plains; however, small numbers, especially juveniles, pass through Ontario in August through October. This autumn anecdotally quite a few have been seen in southern Ontario, though I can't say this with certainty.

Baird's Sandpiper - Atlantis Niagara Winery, Beamsville, ON

Compared to the typical "peeps" that we see in large numbers in southern Ontario (Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers), Baird's Sandpipers have a much different profile due to the length of their primaries which extend beyond their tail. This gives them a sleek and attenuated appearance, which, when combined with the crisp scaling of their scapulars and wing coverts, make them a very attractive shorebird indeed.

Baird's Sandpiper - Atlantis Niagara Winery, Beamsville, ON

Baird's Sandpipers prefer drier land than many of the other shorebirds and they are commonly observed in recently tilled fields or other habitats far from water. When they do enter water they typically stick to the edge, whereas other species will wade much deeper.

Baird's Sandpiper - Atlantis Niagara Winery, Beamsville, ON

The field between the shorebird habitat and the North Service Road is proving to be very attractive to the Killdeers. I have been checking for some of the more unusual plover-type shorebirds that prefer this habitat, including Buff-breasted Sandpiper, American Golden-Plover and Black-bellied Plover. So far I have lucked out with the latter two species. Here's hoping we can luck into a Buff-breasted before their window closes by early October or so.

American Golden-Plovers - Atlantis Niagara Winery, Beamsville, ON

American Golden-Plover - Atlantis Niagara Winery, Beamsville, ON

It has been an excellent autumn at the Atlantis Niagara Winery so far. Hopefully the habitat remains over the next two months, and if it does, it will be very interesting to see what else will drop in.

No comments: