A Solitary Sandpiper at Lower Reesor Pond in Toronto

A Solitary Sandpiper at Lower Reesor Pond in Toronto

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Bob and I recently visited Lower Reesor Pond in north Toronto because it is fairly close to our home and the day’s weather was uncertain.  There had been recent reports of a Green Heron sighted there, and we were keen to see for ourselves what waterfowl might be on location.  One of the birds that pleased us that day was a Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria).

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Bob and I only became aware of Lower Reesor Pond a year ago and that was by sheer accident.  On a lengthy bicycle ride from our home, we were forced at one point to make a detour because of bridge construction over the Rouge River.  That is when our eyes honed in on an apparent wetland where several people were making use of a modest sandy point provided for observation of a small pond.

spotted sandpiper at lower reesor pond - toronto

On this, our first return visit to the pond, it was impossible to miss the beautiful Trumpeter Swans that were gliding across the water’s surface, but we had to really scrutinize the perimeter of the pond as well as certain shallow, reedy areas in order to pick out this Sandpiper.  As it teetered amongst the tall marsh grasses in constant search of food, the Solitary Sandpiper was very elusive even though the vegetation was sparse.  Because its upper parts are a fairly dark blackish brown speckled with white, the bird easily disappeared into the shadows cast by the bulrushes.

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Solitary Sandpipers are more inclined than most sandpipers to frequent quiet woodland pools and tarns, but they also inhabit more open places.  Shallow muddy edges of fresh and brackish water, such as that at Lower Reesor pond, margins of lakes, rivers, sloughs, open muddy part of marshes, and even cattle wallows are some of their favorite haunts.  Last summer, Bob and I came across one at Fernwood Farms in Stayner, Ontario, where a large puddle had formed from the previous night’s rain.

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Bob and I moved along the edge of the pond following traces of a trail on the crest of the berm and soaked up the pleasant summer sights and sounds.  Numerous Cedar Waxwings were dipping and diving over the water’s surface as they plucked insects in mid-air, and generous stands of Jerusalem Artichokes were abuzz with bees and other small insects.  As Bob peeked through the fringe of bulrushes, he caught sight of movement on the water’s surface.  We did not expect to see a Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) walking on the water.

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That is when we realized that the Spotted Sandpiper was taking advantage of the thick matte of water lily leaves as a platform from which to forage for food.  It gingerly stepped from lily pad to lily pad which were, in some cases, the size of dinner plates and so afforded great support for the bird.

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Bob and I are not so skilled at identifying shorebirds so had to seek advice from the experts at Toronto Birding and Ontario Birding for assistance in differentiating these two birds seen at Lower Reesor Pond.  My guess was correct that this was a juvenile Spotted Sandpiper, and I felt proud of myself for making the distinction.  The difficulty arose because, in breeding season, Spotted Sandpipers have roundish black spots on their underparts, whereas young and even adults in the autumn have plain white underparts with a bit of grey shading on the upper breast and narrow dusky bars on the wing coverts.

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This young Spotted Sandpiper was having a heyday plucking insects from the folds and flaps of the pond lilies.  It was more challenging for us to keep the bird in our sights than it was for the Sandpiper to come up with a substantial lunch.  The slight metallic lustre of its greyish brown upperparts seemed to blend in perfectly with the reflection on the water, and its bright white belly so matched the  shimmer of sunlight off the leaves that the bird essentially vanished from view even as we kept a close eye on it.  After observing the Sandpipers for a brief time, Bob and I continued on our hike of the pond environs and were thrilled with even more wildlife sightings.

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Frame To Frame – Bob and Jean