Eurasian Ruff.  DON CASSIDY

Fall migrations have started. In fact by mid-August some of our Lakeland songbirds, the warblers, have already flown the coop and are heading south to their other home.  

On dugouts and sloughs, non-descript ducks are gathering. In bullrush stands, masses of red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds, with the odd starling mixed in, are readying to travel many a mile. 

For the dedicated bird watcher, fall migration brings both joy and sadness: the joy of seeing many species one more time, and the sadness that it will be months before they return.

On August 31, I was out on a major cycling journey through Calgary, hoping to clock at least 65km. With my camera slung over my shoulder and a route that passed waterbodies and treed areas, I hoped for a good opportunity. Little did I know that when I clicked the shutter on a bird that I’d never seen before that I’d entered an odd side of birding—being the first to spot a rare bird.  

After searching through bird books at home and coming up empty handed, Elaine posted one of my photos on the Facebook site “What’s This Bird?”  Within seconds the posting ignited the birding community.  A fellow contacted Elaine to let her know that this bird was last seen in Alberta in 2001, and had only been seen in the province 15 times. This was truly a rare bird!  

Our phone started ringing.  Elaine received Facebook requests asking about the bird’s location. 

We were both surprised.  Having seen questionable human behavior during rare bird sightings, I felt reluctant to reveal the location to anyone. I felt that any bird deserves peace and solitude, and this rare bird was no exception.  

Yet the real enthusiasm of birdwatchers was something to cherish as well. We provided a general location, and knew that those who really wanted to see the bird would likely find it.

After filling out a rare bird form for the Royal Alberta Museum and sending the accompanying photographs, I felt a sense of relief and was ready to move on to other birdwatching adventures.

What was the rare bird, you ask? It was a Eurasian Ruff, a bird that at best would fly along North American coastlines, but not usually through our fine province. The Ruff mates in northern Russia and “winters” in West Africa.  

Fall migrations?  Be sure to watch the skies and the sloughs.  You may indeed “ruffle” your own birding sensibilities and face your own dilemma.