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12 September 2010 @ 06:33 pm
Sanderlings and Spiders  

After such a fantastic long weekend of birding, it was hard to go back to work and concentrate on the less-fantastic world of Intellectual Property law. I wanted to go out and see and photograph what the birders and photographers not constrained by a 9-5 work week were seeing and photographing, particularly as the weather remained gorgeous for much of the week. However, I remained chained to my work computer, with only the gulls and crows flying by our 26th-floor windows to provide a much-needed taste of nature.

One place I regretted not getting around to visiting last weekend was Andrew Haydon Park, where an unusually large flock of Baird's Sandpipers were being seen and photographed. So when the weekend came I decided it was time to go check out the river to see if this remarkable group of birds was still around.


At first glance there were no shorebirds to be seen either at Andrew Haydon or at Ottawa Beach. A few gulls were roosting on a log out in the water, a Bonaparte's Gull among them, and a few ducks were dabbling in the shallow water, but very little else was around. I started talking with a photographer who had also just arrived, and while we were talking a small flock of shorebirds flew in and began scuttling along the water's edge. There were seven of them, all very pale, and I was thrilled when I recognize them as Sanderlings.


They were running along the water's edge in a flock, so we positioned ourselves ahead of them and waited for them to pass by. When they reached us, I crouched down and began snapping away.

This was only the second time I'd seen Sanderlings in Ottawa, and the first time I'd photographed them here. With black bills, black legs, and a habit of chasing and then retreating from the tide in search of aquatic invertebrates, it is one of the most recognizable and widespread shorebird in its winter range, found on sandy beaches in nearly all temperate and tropical zones throughout the world.

Other photographers were present taking pictures as well, and although we all tried to avoid disturbing the birds, occasionally they flushed and flew to a spot about 20 feet away. At one point I counted more than seven birds flying by, and when they landed I noticed two Semipalmated Sandpipers among the Sanderlings.

Sanderlings and Semipalmated Sandpipers

Once again the Sanderlings began approaching us, and this time they were moving much slower, perhaps because they were further out in the water. As a result, I got some of my best photos yet of this species....which more than made up for the lack of any Baird's Sandpipers!


I stopped by Mud Lake afterward, where I found several interesting migrants such as Wilson's Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, a Black-throated Green Warbler trying to sing, a Black-crowned Night-heron, a moulting Scarlet Tanager, a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets, and perhaps strangest of all, a couple of Pine Warblers singing in their traditional territory in the conifers near the observation dock! I haven't heard any Pine Warblers here in a while, but perhaps they felt encouraged by the warm weather and bright sunlight.

My last stop of the day was the Richmond Lagoons where I was hoping to see some shorebirds and waterfowl in the lagoons. I was also looking forward to photographing some of the orbweavers which were so abundant here last year, in particular the Shamrock Orbweaver which I haven't yet seen this year.

Well, the spiders were abundant again this year, and this time they didn't seem as creepy or as menacing. When I was taking close-up macro photos of these huge spiders last year, I kept getting chills (despite the unusually hot weather) from being only an inch away from these deadly predators. This year, no chills, and no dread when I approached them! I still wouldn't want to inadvertently step into one's web, and was very careful about stepping off the trail into the long grass. But I think perhaps I'm getting over my mild phobia at long last!

The only two species I saw were Banded Argiopes and Shamrock Orbweavers. I saw an interesting spider at the beginning of my walk, and thought it might be something different because of its unusual black and white colouring. However, it turned out to be a Shamrock, which can be quite variable in appearance.

Shamrock Orbweaver

I found some other Shamrock Orbweavers in webs close by, including this one whose colouration seems to be more typical.

Shamrock Orbweaver

Orbweavers don't sit in the center of their webs all the time. However, when they're not in their web they're not that hard to find. If you check the vegetation to which the web is attached, you may find the spider in a curled leaf or underneath next to the silken line that forms part of the web's framework. The web this fellow had built was huge, perhaps two feet in diameter, and I was curious as to who might be the architect. I found another Shamrock Orbweaver trying to blend in with a curled over flower head.

Shamrock Orbweaver

The last interesting spider that I saw was this unique reddish orbweaver. I couldn't identify it as I didn't get any photos of the abdomen showing the full pattern; I would have had to walk through the middle of the web to get in the right position.

Orbweaver sp.

The birds were fairly interesting, as well. I had a Green Heron fishing at the edge of the first cell, a singing Swamp Sparrow, a Killdeer, a couple of yellowlegs, and, best of all, a Broad-winged Hawk soaring over! The hawk was a year bird for me, and I had great views of it as it passed overhead.

So far it has been a wonderful fall migration this year. The weather has been good, I've been seeing a lot of species which I missed during the spring, and the variety and abundance of birds has been fantastic. I only wish I had more than two days per week to go out birding; I wish I could convince work to give me the entire month of September off!