I love the smell of sewage in the morning.
It’s the start of the autumn bird migration season, and I’m at the Stirling Sewage Lagoons to see shorebirds. Shorebirds—a term used to describe the family of birds that includes the sandpipers, plovers, snipe and killdeer—are pausing their southbound migration from their Arctic breeding grounds to feed in the Bay of Quinte region. They’re using areas of shoreline, muddy fields and sewage lagoons to feed and fuel themselves for a long migration. They’re headed to their wintering sites in South America, some flying as far south as Tierra del Fuego in southern Argentina.
As I set up my spotting scope behind the fence line of the sewage lagoons, I see that the water levels are low enough to expose the muddy bottom. I photograph Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, a Solitary Sandpiper and many Killdeer that are feeding on a smorgasbord of microorganisms swimming in delicious goo.
Perched in the trees nearby are two hungry falcons that prey on these shorebirds, a Merlin and a Peregrine Falcon, both waiting for the right moment to swoop in and snag an unsuspecting sandpiper. Last autumn I was really lucky when a pair of rare Red-Necked Phalaropes dropped in here for a day, allowing for many photographs.
The Stirling Sewage Lagoons were not the first birding stop of my day. Before dawn, I parked on Springbrook Road beside a large alvar, an area composed of scrub and grassland on thin soil. Here I listened for and heard the unmistakable songs of Eastern whip-poor-wills and the peent and boom sounds of the Common Nighthawks. As the sun rose above the horizon, I heard a variety of sparrows and songbirds begin to sing and an Upland Sandpiper made his strange, bubbling wolf howl-like call as he alit atop a telephone pole.
With the rich odors of the Sewage Lagoons still simmering in my nostrils, I drive south towards Belleville and stop along the Moira river in Corbyville, where just below the dam a nice collection of Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs are feeding. With the low water levels, the river bottom has become exposed, and the decaying plant life is ideal for shorebirds to forage. In the heat of the day, I decide to enjoy a cool beverage and observe the birds from the patio of Signal Brewery. Serious birdwatching.
In the evening I grab some take-away sushi, and head back to Lions Park to watch the Chimney Swifts swirling about as they prepare to roost. I then drive to the very eastern end of Station Street where, high above the train tracks, I observe Common Nighthawks hawking for flying insects in the glow of dusk. Nighthawks use the large areas of gravel surrounding the train tracks here to nest in the summer, and territorial males can often be seen displaying in flight at dawn and dusk. During the final two weeks of August their numbers peak, with loose flocks of up to 60 birds being seen migrating through our area, typically close to marshes or above the Moira river.
Scrubland, sewage lagoons, train tracks and a brewery. Not your typical birdwatching sites, but interesting nevertheless.
Tom’s Birding Tip of the Month – August is a great time to see Hummingbirds in your garden. Remember to fill your hummingbird feeder regularly: mix 1 part sugar with 4 parts water.