“If I were a Hudsonian Godwit, I’d probably take advantage of this chilly north wind and be on my way today,” I said to myself on Sunday morning. After all, the Godwit has a long way to go en route to its wintering grounds in Argentina and Chile.
It was presumptuous to think I could read the mind of Godwit, of course, considering I had never seen a Godwit until two days earlier. That’s when I had learned, from avid birders who had come to Bowmanville Marsh in late September, that the famous and rare visitor they were hoping to see was a Hudsonian Godwit.
Hudsonian Godwits only nest in a few small areas along Hudson’s Bay, the Beaufort Sea coast, and Alaska. I’m told they don’t typically stop in this area during their migrations. So the reports of sightings quickly made waves among birders.
The Godwit was only one of September’s highlights. For much of the month I was focused on the many stunning flowers – for some reason, most of them yellow – that light up the early autumn.
At the side of one busy new road, a great variety of Rudbeckia had taken root in the gravel and come up through tangles of vetch and thistle.
Calendula just keep on giving from August into October. Here a fly seems to have used its brush-like antenna to paint delicate outer tips around the flower, and then paint itself onto one of the petals.
Some flowers provide colour long after they’ve bloomed and dried – in this case by providing a perfect perch for dragonflies.
The resident population of monarchs grew during September, joined by a stream of butterflies gathering for their migration to Mexico. They were still in the cool of early morning, but especially active in the warmth of afternoon.
On one such warm late September day a small flock of birds surprised me by landing just a few feet away on the marsh mud flat. Fooled by the distinctive black polka-dot eye, I first assumed this was some variety of grackle.
But it was a Rusty Blackbird sporting its gorgeous autumn plumage. I haven’t seen one before, but I dearly hope I will see one again. Allaboutbirds.org says this bird is “in steep decline” with populations having dropped from 85 – 99% over the past 40 years, adding that “scientists are completely puzzled as to what is the cause.”
Low water levels this fall make for extensive mud flats on the Lake Ontario marshes. For a lot of migratory birds all that mud is a magnet.
The Yellowlegs are a reliable spring and fall visitor here.
There were many more members of the sandpiper class stopping by recently, and one attracted wide notice.
The Godwit, pointed out to me by a birder on September 30, stands a good bit taller than the Lesser Yellowlegs.
One Godwit seemed to favour the same small region of mudflat day after day.
When a cold north wind arrived early Sunday morning, and I couldn’t spot the Godwit anywhere all day, I guessed it had departed for a stopover further south. I guessed wrong.
In Monday’s sunshine it was back in its spot. As the sun sank low the Godwit preened its feathers, oblivious to the commotion caused by a couple of Northern Shovelers.
It’s a great trick, to stand in soft mud on one foot and scratch your ear with the other foot.
Watching all the preening and cleaning, I thought perhaps the Godwit was getting itself in tip-top shape for a long flight. But you’d be better off asking a bird who knows.
Photo at top of page: Tall Godwit (larger image here)