Foam Lake Birding No. 13

No. 13
After three articles about swimming birds, it is time to move on to something else for awhile. “Lucky 13” is going to be a wader. Waders are a diverse group of related and unrelated birds that range in size from sparrows to geese. Some are brightly coloured; others may be a very drab brown, but all have similar feeding habits. With their long legs and bills, they walk the shores and shallows of suitable wetlands picking food from the mud and water. However, it should be pointed out that there are a few that do like fly out to fields and meadows to feed.
This week’s subject, the American Avocet, is one of our most beautiful birds. This crow-sized wader has a pinkish tan head, neck and upper breast, white underside, and striking black and white wings and back. The long black bill is curved slightly upward; the legs are a pale blue. With or without binoculars, this bird is unmistakable. There is no other bird like it. Males and females are the same. It does not feed on shore, but in the water as deep as its legs will allow. The long bill is dipped fully into the water and moved from side to side in a sweeping motion straining the water for small swimming creatures. The bill is very sensitive and once an unfortunate water bug touches it, the bill snaps shut catching it.
I know it is becoming repetitious, but it must be pointed out that because of Avocets that are in Europe, ours had the word, American, added to it. Again, for reasons stated before, I usually refer to it simply as the Avocet.
This week’s picture of a single Avocet was taken at the Foam Lake lagoon just north of town. This bird was not alone as there were four other Avocets just a few metres back. The location may not be appealing for obvious reasons, but it is an excellent place to observe water birds. After all, the birds do not mind. In order to get a good long look, it is best to observe water birds from a vehicle if possible. Birds tend to allow a person in a vehicle to approach quite closely, but become skittish if one is on foot. Many of the pictures in these columns were taken from inside a vehicle using a window mounted camera. Another excellent location is the Foam Lake Heritage Marsh. The roofed over lookout tower provides good viewing from outside the confines of a vehicle. However, a scope is almost a necessity as the distances are too great even for binoculars.
It is only in the last few decades that the Avocet has become common in our area. Prior to that, one had to go to the grasslands in the southern part of the province and observe it in the many alkaline sloughs present there. Being a bird of the open prairie, the clearing of farm land probably had a lot to do with it expanding its range northward. Whatever the reasons, it surely is nice to have it present here now. If at all possible, try and get a look at it before it starts its migration to the southern USA and Mexico. For people who like birds, this one will not be forgotten.