Alum Creek Reservoir Beach
We’ve moved into late summer already, but you may be surprised to know that autumn migration has already started. Certain species have started heading south already, and shorebirds in particular start early. I know not everyone wants to think about autumn yet, but in the birdwatching world, July is the early start to this migration, which will continue to as late as November for some late species.
We tend to think of autumn migration being in September (a peak for many songbirds) and October, but shorebirds stretch that season both on the early and the late side. Some of these birds have a greater distance to travel, so that’s a fair excuse!
When we talk about shorebirds, we mean such birds that inhabit the zone between land and water- and sandpipers are a classic member of this group. These modest-sized birds can be found on beaches as well as the edges of lakes and ponds and rivers, where they probe the wet borders where land meets water for food. They have sensitive beaks for feeling out their food (mostly invertebrates), and they generally have dull feather colors. But there are a lot of them out there- though the average person who doesn’t walk along the seashore may not see many of them in their lifetime.
Last week, a sandpiper was spotted on the beach at Alum Creek Reservoir. This particular bird is uncommon if not rare in central Ohio- it’s more common up on Lake Erie during migration. So I decided to get up before dawn and make my way to the beach the next day to see if it was still there.
Alum Creek State Park is near Delaware, not far north of Columbus. The reservoir there is one of 4 that supply Ohio’s capital with water. The beach is popular in the summer.
Last chance to load up before hitting the park…
It was very early at the beach- the sun was rising, so there wasn’t a crowd there yet.
The beach at sunrise is very picturesque.
A bit of mist arose on the reservoir as the sun rose.
There were a handful of people on the beach who undoubtedly wanted to beat the crowd.
As the light increased, more details came into view.
There were a couple hardy swimmers out in the middle of the reservoir.
Canada Geese, Ohio’s most common geese, were foraging in the grass- the goose with the fashionable neckband is familiar, I saw it last autumn on the other side of the reservoir. These collars on geese are a way of tracking populations and movements of the birds.
What would large stretches of grass be like without Killdeer? These birds are the most common shorebird in central Ohio. They forage and nest quite a distance from water too- you may see them in parks or other places with lots of short grass as well as along shorelines.
Over one hundred Ring-Billed Gulls were on the beach. This is by far and away central Ohio’s most numerous seagull. They hang around the reservoirs, but during the day they may fly a good distance away to look for food- you can find them in shopping center parking lots and farmer’s fields as well as seeing them fishing along reservoirs and rivers. Much like the city-slicker Canada Geese, they aren’t very shy around people.
Notice this seagull looks different- it’s larger and is differently colored and marked. This is an immature Herring Gull, less common in central Ohio than the Ring-Billed but still present in smaller numbers. Immature seagulls and shorebirds can be a real pain for birders to identify, since many look similar. This is better left to experienced birders to figure out!
There were other interesting objects on the sand.
A power boat went by…
…sending small waves to impact against the beach.
Suddenly, a small shorebird flew by me and landed on the beach…
Could it be? Yes it was!
This is a Sanderling, a sandpiper that is migrating down from the Arctic Circle on its way to the Gulf Coast or even the far tip of South America- an amazingly long journey. There are many ‘peeps’ (small sandpipers) that look similar to it, but it stands out somewhat by having a plain white breast, black bill and legs, and a bit of black around the shoulder of the wing. I was happy to see it because it’s a fairly rare visitor to the area. This bird has already flown hundreds of miles to get here, and has hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles to go before reaching its warm winter home.
Note how small this bird is compared to the big seagulls. It blended in with them, comfortable with being in a group of birds as it looked for food in the sand. There’s safety in numbers!
This bird will often regurgitate sand pellets with bits of indigestible shell, ingested when eating molluscs or crustaceans. I’d be spitting up sand too if my food was just under the beach.
A couple of other birders were there to see it as well. This is a good find and may well be a life list bird for some. Another bird that was seen yesterday- an American Avocet- was nowhere to be found, unfortunately. But I felt lucky to see the Sanderling.
Whenever you’re on a beach, keep an eye out for birds while enjoying the scenery. You just might see something interesting.