A Sad Day Birding
One of the things I looked forward to most coming back to work in Saskatchewan for the summer was the chance to go shorebirding on my days off. I visited Reed Lake, Chaplin Lake, Pelican Lake, and Francis Lake several times last year (I even managed to work in a convenient lunch break on the causeway at Chaplin Lake on days monitoring hawk nests in that area.) I don’t pass that way for nest checks this year but they are all within driving distance for a good day of birding, although I was very disappointed to discover so far the road to Pelican Lake is a little too mucky for my car.
Revisiting Francis, Reed, and Chaplin lakes for the first time this year on the 17th of May I was struck by how high the water levels are. Last year I wouldn’t have known Francis Lake was a lake if it hadn’t said so on the map; it looked more like a marshy area. This year it really looks like a lake. The shoreline has altered greatly at my favourite spots on the other two lakes– favourite spots for the shorebirds themselves.
Both Reed and Chaplin lakes have roads crossing them, which are convenient for birding. At Chaplin the road is raised quite high above the water level so birds don’t seem to spend a lot of time on it, but at Reed Lake they seem to find it a convenient substitute for the beach.
I returned to Reed Lake yesterday, which was a fairly windy day. The waves were rolling in like it was the ocean, so there was even less shoreline than before.
The shorebirds don’t seem to act overly concerned about traffic. They fly away from approaching vehicles, but often settle back down on the road just a little farther up.
On May 17th there was a pair of piping plovers (an endangered species) who were very determined to stay on the road. I didn’t see them yesterday, but other birders have reported them recently. Hopefully they were hanging out somewhere safer.
I was hoping to see the black-bellied plovers and particularly the red knots (also endangered) others had seen there.
Well, only one live one. Shortly after I saw that knot fly away I came across a flattened shorebird on the road. A red knot. And then another, and another, and another. I also searched the grassy verge and altogether found eleven roadkill red knots, as well as one sanderling, all within probably less than a quarter-kilometre. Perhaps they were roosting on the road at night?
It was horrible. Red knots are such beautiful, amazing birds.
There was a very small silver lining, as one of the birds was banded, which I reported to the bird banding laboratory. My guess is that it was banded in New Jersey, on the Delaware Bay, a major stopover site. Or perhaps on its wintering grounds, such as in Argentina. I’ll post an update when I hear back. (Update: I have learned from rewatching Crash: A Tale of Two Species that the green flag means that it was banded in the USA.)
I apologise if you find these photos gross.
If you are interested in learning more about red knots, PBS has an interesting documentary called Crash: A Tale of Two Species, which you can watch online.