A Week Late and a Warbler Short: Point Pelee, Ontario, Canada

Canada Birding

The Bird Nerds flew the coop and landed in Canada!  We decided to make a special trip to Point Pelee, Ontario while visiting Sarah’s Grandparents in Detroit, Michigan.  Point Pelee is a small Canadian National Park, located on a narrow peninsula extending into Lake Erie.  This is the Southernmost point in mainland Canada, and has a unique climate compared to the rest of the country described as a “Carolinian zone.” This is actually the northern tip of a band of deciduous forest that spans from the coastal Carolinas, through the Appalachians Mountains, to Southern Ontario.  In addition to the forest habitat at Point Pelee, there are beaches and a marsh, making this a very appealing resting point for a migrating bird in need of a meal after a long flight. The park is well-known among birders as a hot spot during migration season.  Sarah’s Dad, Jerry, described a past visit when he sat on the beach at the point, watching hundreds of birds fly overhead.

We arrived on Saturday evening, May 25th around 6pm, after an hour and a half drive from Detroit, entering Canada over the Ambassador Bridge. We stayed in Leamington, Ontario at the Seacliff Inn, a few miles away from the park. Although it was late for birding (we planned on waking very early the next day to get a full day in) we headed to the park to get a feel for the area.  After spotting some Orioles and Yellow Warblers in a parking lot, we decided to walk the Marsh Boardwalk. This boardwalk loops 1.4 km through the marsh and is overlooked by a huge observation deck.

Marsh Boardwalk trail at Pt. Pelee

Marsh Boardwalk trail at Point Pelee

Observation Deck at Marsh Boardwalk, Pt. Pelee

Observation Deck at Marsh Boardwalk, Point Pelee

We saw about 300 Red-winged Blackbirds and many Common Yellowthroat Warblers.  We also noticed some elegant charcoal and black colored birds, with long pointy wings flying overhead.  It was a Life Lister we were hoping to see: the Black Tern LL.

Black Tern

Black Tern sitting in the marsh

Black Tern sitting in the marsh

Ahead of us, Tim spotted a mysterious “mammal” – that’s right, we don’t limit our sightings exclusively to birds.  It turned out to be a Mink, which looks just like a Ferret with gorgeous reddish-brown fur, scampering ahead of us.  We read online this animal has the distinction of being the cutest member of the weasel family, and I have to agree.

It was getting late, so we decided to drive to the point before leaving the park. Normally a tram will take you from the visitor center down to the point, but at this hour we could drive the whole way.  We walked some of the trails and got a great look at some Barn Swallows, before the sun set over Lake Erie.  We headed back to Leamington to feast on Lake Perch and retire for the night.

French speaking Barn Swallows

French speaking Barn Swallows

Sunset over Lake Erie

Sunset over Lake Erie

And just like that, it was the morning of March 26th!

Morning view of Leamington Ferry Terminal

Morning view of Leamington Ferry Terminal

We drove back to the park, arriving around 7am. We headed straight to the Visitor’s Center, and found lots of noisy Wild Turkeys in the parking lot, as well as Orchard and Baltimore Orioles.  We waited a few minutes for the tram, but decided to walk the trails down to the point instead, via the Woodland Nature Trail.  Here we found more Orioles (they breed at Point Pelee and were busy working on their nests) and a stunning bird we haven’t seen in a year: the Indigo Bunting.

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

We continued to the end of the trail, and crossed the main road to the West Dune area.  At this point we were being accosted by bugs, and not seeing any Warblers besides Yellow Warblers and Common Yellowthroats. We feared that Spring migration season was nearing its end, and during the recent string of fair-weather days with strong south winds, most of the birds flown past Point Pelee to breeding grounds further north. This was confirmed by a group of birders from Nebraska, and then by some friendly local birders.  We were not lucky enough to see Point Pelee during peak migration, but we knew we’d come back in the future.  We walked to the Point and found a colony of Gulls.  Identifying Gulls is a bit like trying to tell the difference between the various shades of off-white paints at Home Depot, but after thumbing our books thoroughly, we decided they were probably mostly Ring-billed Gulls with a few Herring Gulls tossed in.

The Point at Pt. Pelee

The Point at Point Pelee – the absolute southernmost point in mainland Canada

A Gull

Ring-billed Gull (probably)

We could also appreciate the local Swallow population, who were very tame and allowed us to get a better look than we ever had before.  These are extremely quick and energetic birds, all you usually see is a flurry of movement while they are capturing bugs.

Tree Swallow

A very cooperative Tree Swallow

Bark Swallow puffed up

Barn Swallow puffed up

Tame Barn Swallow

Tame Barn Swallow

Portrait of a Barn Swallow

Portrait of a Barn Swallow as a Young Man

Before we headed back to Michigan, there was one more birding adventure ahead of us.  Some of the birders we spoke with recommended a nearby nature center that is managed as a refuge for migratory shorebirds called Hillman Marsh.

Hillman Marsh

Hillman Marsh Visitors Center. Quite a Welcome.

Hillman Marsh is owned by Essex County and is managed by the Essex County Conservation Authority.  It is situation on about 850 acres of formerly agricultural fields which are partially flooded each spring and fall to provide feeding grounds for migrating shorebirds.

248

Hillman Marsh Shorebird Cell – Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlins and Ruddy Turnstones along with various other birds.

The “shorebird cell” at Hillman Marsh is 85 acres of flooded agricultural land that acts as an all-you-can-eat buffet for migrating shorebirds.  There is a blind at one corner of the shorebird cell from which you can observe the birds, but they are still a good distance away.  A spotting scope would have come in handy here, but we had to make due with our binoculars.  We were able to positively identify hundreds of Black-bellied Plovers and Dunlins along with dozens of Ruddy Turnstones and Canada Geese.  There were various Gulls and Terns in the bunch as well (likely Caspian and Forster’s Terns and Bonaparte’s and Herring Gulls), but we weren’t able to get a good enough look to verify them.  A friendly birder we met there showed Sarah a pair of American Avocets through his spotting scope and also said that he had seen a single Whimbrel, but we were unable to pick it out of the crowd.

259

An unbroken chain of Canada Goslings

On the way out, we noticed that there was a gaggle of Canada Geese with numerous Goslings between us and the exit.  We know that Geese can be territorial, especially when it comes to offspring, and there is no way to win a fight with a Goose.  Luckily, the Geese saw us coming and decided to make way before we got too close.  As they relocated toward the center of the shorebird cell, we were able to snap this photo of the evacuation.

After only seeing two species of warbler all weekend, it was great to have thousands of shorebirds practically dumped in our lap.  As we were arranging the car and getting ready to leave, a single Killdeer LL landed in the parking lot.  This is a relatively common shorebird that we had somehow managed to never lay eyes on before.  It was nice to end the trip with the addition of a life bird.

272

Killdeer

And now . . . the lists!

Point Pelee National Park, Ontario, Canada

Park Orientation 5:43 PM-6:01 PM

American Robin
Red-winged Blackbird
Yellow Warbler
Tree Swallow
Baltimore Oriole
Common Grackle
Hairy Woodpecker
Gull sp.

Marsh Boardwalk 5/25/14 6:07 PM-7:36 PM

Common Grackle
Barn Swallow
American Robin
Red-winged Blackbird
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Eastern Kingbird
Canada Goose
Common Yellowthroat
Mourning Dove
Black Tern LL
Swamp Sparrow
Wood Duck
Great Blue Heron (flyover)
Double-Crested Cormorant

West Dunes 5/25/14 7:41PM-8:02 PM

Baltimore Oriole
Eastern Kingbird
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Tree Swallow
Yellow Warbler
Barn Swallow
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Orchard Oriole

The Tip 5/25/14 8:13 PM-8:45 PM

Red-winged Blackbird
Barn Swallow
Common Grackle
Eastern Kingbird
Orchard Oriole
American Robin
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull

Visitor’s Center to The Tip via Woodland Nature Trail 5/26/14 7:16 AM – 11:10 AM

Orchard Oriole
Wild Turkey
American Robin
Red-winged Blackbird
Yellow Warbler
Baltimore Oriole
Indigo Bunting
Red-eyed Vireo
Mourning Dove
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Cardinal
Tree Swallow
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
Barn Swallow
Eastern Kingbird

Marsh Boardwalk 5/26/14 11:26 AM-12:10 AM

American Robin
Barn Swallow
Red-winged Blackbird
Black Tern
Common Yellowthroat

Hillman Marsh 5/26/14 1:50 PM – 2:30 PM

American Robin
Red-winged Blackbird
Canada Goose
Dunlin
Black-bellied Plover
American Avocet
Common Grackle
Mallard
Brown-headed Cowbird
Ruddy Turnstone
Barn Swallow
Great Egret
Great Blue Heron
Yellow Warbler
Killdeer LL

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “A Week Late and a Warbler Short: Point Pelee, Ontario, Canada

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s