July 13, 2015 (written to accompany photos of Spotted Sandpipers on my Flickr site.
(note: if you see a photo with a hand icon over it—like the map–kids set immediately below, you can click it to enlarge and scroll through the images of its group. To return to the full post, click the x in the top right of the image. Full size images, not in a set, will not show a hand icon….)
With the grandkids safely returned to their home in Yokohama, and us missing them terribly, my wife Nana and I decided to spend the last half of our first empty-nest afternoon at a favourite spot we’d enjoyed with them, Bertram Creek Park, on the east side of Okanagan Lake about 13 minutes south of our home.
We just wanted one of those “idle pleasures” times, where we sit and sip in the shade while enjoying the boaters in the distance and waves wandering in to lap the shoreline.
Of course, I took the camera—just in case the Osprey came around for a feeding as we’d seen her do before.It was a lovely afternoon, with wonderfluffy clouds providing sudden moments of relief from the searing Okanagan sun and enabling us to stay put for another few moments before urging us further into the shore-shade up the beach. As the sun slowly rowed its way west, little happened. No Osprey, one distant gull (a “lakegull,” the kids had concluded, since there’s no tide here), a few ants and wasps that for the most part opted for co-existence, and a friendly pair of young Mallards that swam by, only 20 feet away, eschewing entreaties to come in for a chip (I know, I know!) as the lake provides plenty of natural duck food. Eventually, however, we found that we’d moved quite near to where the tiny creek flows into the lake, in the best shade of the day.
Nana noticed it first and called my attention to a small sandpiper bobbing as it foraged among the rocks on the shore near the creek mouth.
“Spotted,” I said.
“No, I don’t think so,” she replied, reminding me of our grandson who is so precise in his observations and never shy about setting me straight. “It’s so small—maybe a Least?”
I looked more closely. “It’s a chick!” I said. “A Spotted Sandpiper chick. No spots at this age, though.”
I extracted the camera and checked the bird through the lens. “Still a bundle of down. Worth a few shots, I think. Wonder where its mom is.”
While the baby kept a respectful distance, it nevertheless approached within range of my zoom, and I snapped a few shots. When I got up to get a better angle, it turned back towards the creek mouth. I decided to go up and over the creek and approach from the other side. I thought about how much our nine-year-old granddaughter would have loved this moment of the hunt.
That’s when I heard the mom. I wasn’t sure at first, as the peeps seemed to be coming from up in the bushes. Could be a squirrel, I thought, or one of those ventriloquist Columbia Ground Squirrels…. But I think I knew it was the mom.
It took only a few seconds to locate the second bird and to determine that it wasn’t another “peepling.” I watched as the chick withdrew towards the water and mom ventured towards me, squeaking with increasing urgency and doing her best to draw me up the creek, away from the shore.
In the precious late afternoon light, Mom gave me wonderful views both near the creek mouth, then in the shaded vale. I snapped a lot of shots, trying to take advantage without making her too anxious. She was a determined protector; I admired her courage and tenacity.
Several minutes later, when I returned to my perch on the shore, Nana spotted the chick again, and we watched as it searched for, then settled into a safe place to wait until Mom returned. It was inspiring to observe its survival skills and a joy to document them.
This would not have been a particularly remarkable encounter for most birders, I think, but it remains an ephemeral moment that we will hold dear, just as we treasure the three and a half weeks we enjoyed with our own grand-chicks!
If you’ve taken the time to read this only to find the ending rather anticlimactic, I apologize, but I hope you enjoyed the photos….