Something was definitely moving along the water’s edge, we just could not immediately focus in on it. It took us a while to adjust our eyes and calibrate our brain to pick up the small stealthy bird scurrying around on the sandy shore on the opposite side of the creek. It was a small shorebird with spotted underparts and sand brown upper parts. If it would not move around it would be nearly impossible to see against the sand and pebbles along the shoreline. I have not seen many shorebirds in my life and this one was definitely a new one. While it was working the shoreline for a morsel to eat its tail was continuously bobbing up and down. Ultimately, this is what gave it away…, it was a Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius, Lifer #162, AB Big Year #114). The Spotted Sandpiper is a true American as it can be found from the Canadian high arctic during the boreal summer down to the shorelines of Chile during the austral summer.
It has been raining over the last few days, but this morning there was a break in the weather so without further ado, we went down to the Whitemud Creek to check out what we could find. On a whim we decided to take the trail along going south along the Whitemud Creek from Snow Valley. Usually we stick to the northern section, but I have been curious for a while now to check out some oxbow ponds in the southern section. Right off the bat we saw a subtle movement along the water’s edge. Something tiny and well-camouflaged was scurrying around on the muddy bank. A closer look revealed that it was a small shore bird that was definitely a lifer. After a bit of studying Merlin and discussions back and forth we reached a unanimous verdict, it was a Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius, Lifer #162, AB Big Year #114). The identification was unmistakable, the spotted under parts, orange bill and bobbing tail as it walked around along the water’s edge. That was a great start to a pleasant morning nature walk. The sandpiper was a welcomed bonus, but the real reason we went to this part of the creek were the oxbows. We did find two oxbow ponds nestled among the vegetation along the trail. We did not have the time to explore them today, but now that I know where they are I am looking forward to coming back and spend some more quality time exploring them. Todays picture shows a wide meander in the Whitemud Creek, this is how oxbow ponds are formed. When a river or creek creates a wide meander like this neck of the meander progressively becomes narrower until it is only a land bridge. Sooner or later the river cuts through the neck, e.g. during high water flow regimes during the spring melt, cutting off the meander and forming an oxbow lake. Oxbow lakes are U-shaped and become free-standing bodies of water with very little or not flow and provide a unique habitat quite different from the habitats along the fast flowing water in the main creek.