Rare bird lands in Lambton marking first Canadian sighting

Marsh Sandpiper spotted at the Thedford Lagoons. May 2022. (Photo by Matt Parsons)

Lambton County is now home to Canada’s first recorded sighting of the Marsh Sandpiper.

The shorebird was spotted on Saturday at the Thedford Lagoons by local birder James Holdsworth.

Since then, hundreds of bird enthusiasts have flocked to the area to catch a glimpse of the species that belongs in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.

Ontario Field Ornithologists President Jeff Skevington said he couldn’t resist making the trip down from Ottawa to see the rare bird.

“It’s really unusual to find a new bird for Canada at this point. And if we do have a new bird show up in Canada, it’s almost always on one of the coasts. So, it’s remarkable,” said Skevington. “This particular species has occurred in Alaska and California, so there’s always a chance of it showing up in coastal British Columbia, but to have it pop up in Ontario is a total mystery. It’s way, way lost.”

Skevington said one of the habitats that’s probably been most decimated on a world scale is wetlands. He said the muddy, shallow waters at the Thedford Lagoons is one of the reasons the bird was attracted to the area.

“Thedford is right near Lake Huron, so it’s on a fairly significant migratory flyway and a lot of birds pass through that area. So I think it’s a bunch of things — there’s not a lot of other places to go and it’s on a flyway.”

Skevington gave kudos to Holdsworth, adding that a lot of the shorebirds are kind of tricky to tell apart.

“I think many birders would have probably passed this one by because it looks kind of outwardly similar to some of our other shorebirds,” said Skevington. “This one is really recognizable because it’s got a really long needle thin bill — it’s very, very different than anything we have locally.”

Skevington said Lambton Warden Kevin Marriot and Lambton Shores Mayor Bill Weber were amazing at helping OFO set up camp in Thedford. He said they came up with an agreement Saturday night where the organization would assume the liability risk.

“When you’ve got a rare bird like this, they don’t always stay for multiple days — often it can only be a matter of minutes or hours that they’re present for — so getting a quick decision on Saturday night was pivotal and that’s why so many people came right away on Sunday.”

Skevington said they’ll be pushing 800 visitors by the end of Tuesday. He said the big excitement didn’t stop at just seeing the bird.

“It was seeing the faces on people who’ve just started birding and looking through the scopes and seeing something new and it was just generally really exciting to see all of the people and their reactions. So, it’s kind of a neat hobby because it’s more than just birding, there’s a big social aspect to it.”

Skevington said to coincide with the bird sighting, OFO launched its Birding Ambassadors program, something the nonprofit has been working on for about six months. He’s hopeful they can get hundreds of people across the province to sign up to be ambassadors.

To learn more about the program, click here.