Sunday, 18 May 2008

Point Pelee May 9-11, 2008












TRIP REPORT
POINT PELEE, ONTARIO
May 9-11, 2008
David M. Gascoigne and Miriam Bauman

All pictures courtesy of Steven Rowe.

Friday, May 9, 2008
We left home at around 12:30h under sunny skies with the temperature around 15 degrees C. The drive was uneventful and we made good time, stopping only once at a Tim Horton’s along the highway to get a coffee.
Just north of Blytheswood we saw Cliff Swallows nesting under a bridge, in exactly the same spot we saw them last year.
We arrived at the Comfort Inn ($119.81 per night plus taxes) at 15:30h and checked in immediately. Within a half hour we had our luggage in the room and had left again.
About 50 km from home Miriam realized that she had not packed either hiking boots or running shoes and had only the dress shoes she was wearing. So we embarked on a shoe quest! Fortunately, there is a Mark’s Work Warehouse store directly across from the Comfort Inn and she quickly located a suitable pair of shoes, and they were comfortable from the moment she wore them. This was certainly a record for her; we entered the store, found the shoes and departed within less than ten minutes!
We headed directly to Hillman Marsh, always a productive spot in the Pelee area.
Upon approaching the marsh we chuckled at the sheer number of birders we could see - there was a veritable phalanx of scopes! Everyone was trying to see the Mottled Duck that had been reported earlier in the week - a stunning rarity for Ontario. The scene certainly evoked Mark Cocker’s book, "Tales of a Tribe!"
The birding at Hillman was terrific. There were hundreds of breeding-plumaged Dunlins, as well as large numbers of Black-bellied Plovers in stunning attire, along with smaller numbers, but no less impressive, American Golden-Plovers. Other shorebirds rounding out the list included a wonderful pair of Wilson’s Phalarope, nine Short-billed Dowitchers, a Ruddy Turnstone and a sizeable number of Semipalmated Sandpipers.
There was a great representation of waterfowl, and an adult Bald Eagle perched high atop a tree was a singular treat for everyone.
As for the Mottled Duck - it was located, in the company of a Mallard Drake, but against the far shore of the pond where it was not particularly easy to find or see well. However, most people got a decent look, and when the bird was at a good angle the diagnostic yellow bill was quite apparent.
There was a lot of scurrying from one scope to another as various birders announced "I have it!"
We returned to the Comfort Inn around 18:30h and enjoyed dinner in our room. We had brought with us an excellent organically produced Canadian Blue Cheese with organic mini toasts (in fact the whole meal was organic), followed by barbecued chicken wings, salmon filets and a chickpea and feta cheeese salad, with a lovely red wine. For dessert we had bananas and apples. It was truly delightful, and eliminated the necessity to go out for dinner.

All species May 9 - Great Egret, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, Mottled Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Greater Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, American Golden-Plover, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Short-billed Dowitcher, Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Dunlin, Wilson’s Phalarope, Ring-billed Gull, Bonaparte’s Gull, Caspian Tern, Forster’s Tern, Mourning Dove, Red-headed Woodpecker, Least Flycatcher, Tree Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Yellow Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Palm Warbler, Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle.

Saturday May 10, 2008
We found the Comfort Inn an excellent venue, but they seem to have a screw up with their wake up call system. We did not get our requested wake up call this morning, nor in fact did it happen the following morning either. However, we were awake in good time anyway, but it could have worked otherwise.
We had arranged to meet our friends Steve and Wendy at the Visitors’ Centre at 06:30h, so after a very good complimentary continental breakfast, we left for the Park. We were at the entrance by 05:45h but were delayed for about ten to fifteen minutes by a vehicle ahead of us. For whatever reason the driver seemed to be having trouble paying his entrance fee and cards were exchanged back and forth; finally he paid cash and other vehicles were able to move on through.
Steve and Wendy showed up right on time and we took the tram to the Tip. It was a cool and windy morning and passerine migration at the Tip was virtually non-existent. Most of the sandbar which formerly reached out into Lake Erie has been eroded by wind and wave action and Point Pelee is now, in fact, Pointless Pelee! There was evidently a large shoal of fish just off shore and there were great numbers of Double-crested Cormorants, a lone Horned Grebe, Common Terns, Bonaparte’s and Ring-billed Gulls, Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple of Common Mergansers all engaged in a feeding frenzy.
We retraced our steps back from the Tip and began to walk towards the Visitors’ Centre along the road. It was getting a little warmer, but the birding at this stage was still very spotty, with little to see other than a few relatively common species.
Wendy suggested that we leave the road and move onto the Woodland Trail to wend our way back that way. What an inspired suggestion this turned out to be! The activity was concentrated in several "good" spots, always at a location near water, but the birding became very exciting indeed. It was vintage Point Pelee in the way we are accustomed to it at peak spring migration. We saw many species of wood warblers, the best being a female Cerulean Warbler (a lifer for Miriam) and a Prothonotary which positively glowed! There were Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Ruby-crowned Kinglets in profusion, flycatchers and others. One of the clear highlights was the nest of a Carolina Wren with four ready-to-fledge young, being fed by an adult.
Upon arrival at the Visitors’ Centre we had lunch and then moved off to Tilden Woods. We had great looks at a White-eyed Vireo, but the Yellow-breasted Chat that had been reported from the cemetery was nowhere to be found.
Steve and Wendy had not had the opportunity to visit Hillman Marsh on the way down, so we left the Park and drove over there. In addition to the species seen yesterday, we added three Cackling Geese, two Northern Pintails and a Lesser Yellowlegs.
We decided to return to the Park to cover the Marsh Boardwalk. When the motion made Wendy feel a little nauseous, she went back to terra firma but Steve, Miriam and David walked the length of the boardwalk. There were no Black Terns present, a species that I think I have always found there, but there were lots of Common Yellowthroats to be seen at very close range. Barn Swallows were swooping and gliding everywhere.
We went back to our respective motels to relax a little and clean up before dinner. Wendy had made a reservation at Paula’s, a local fish eatery, and we had a delicious meal of Lake Erie Perch. This establishment is a local landmark run by several sisters who treat you like members of the family. Upon leaving one of them even gave us all a hug, announcing that "Hugs are free!’
By the time we arrived back at our room we were tired after a long day of birding, and it was not long before we were in bed.
It had been a great day - good friends, good birds, good food. We were well-contented and looking forward to the morrow.

All species May 10 - Horned Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Mute Swan, Cackling Goose, Canada Gose, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Lesser Scaup, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Merganser, Turkey Vulture, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Short-billed Dowitcher, Lesser Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Sanpiper, Least Sandpiper, Dunlin, Ring-billed Gull, Caspian Tern, Common Tern, Forster’s Tern, Mourning Dove, Red-headed Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Acadian Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxwing, Carolina Wren, Winter Wren, House Wren, Grey Catbird, Veery, American Robin, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, American Crow, Whit-eyed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, American Goldfinch, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Palm Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, American Redstart, Prothonotary Warbler, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Scarlet Tanager, Summer Tanager, Chipping Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-winged Blackbird, Rusty Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, Orchard Oriole.

Sunday May 11, 2008
As earlier reported our wake up call did not materialize, but we were awake at 05:40h anyway. We enjoyed the continental breakfast in the lobby and left for Point Pelee National Park at around 06:30h. We met Wendy and Steve at 07:00h as arranged.
There were problems with the only tram in service (two wheels had fallen off!) so we decided to walk down to the Tip. After a few wrong turns on the trail we arrived at a cold and blustery Point. The wind was blowing fiercely and the waves were whipping on shore. The waters looked like a primordial maelstrom, cold, uninviting and dangerous. The birds, however, thought otherwise, for terns, cormorants and gulls were all feeding voraciously.
By this time the tram had been repaired and was back in service, so we rode back to the Visitors’ Centre. The day was gloomy and the clouds looked ominous.
Steve had what turned out to be the brilliant idea that we should bird Sleepy Hollow. This less-frequented area had a wide range of species, including a stunning male Golden-winged Warbler, which obligingly perched in the open for us all to enjoy - and it was a lifer for Miriam. A Black Tern cruised up and down the edge of the lake.
It had started to rain when we first arrived at Sleepy Hollow and it got heavier and heavier as we birded there. It did not deter the birds, however and we saw numerous other warblers, two magnificent male Scarlet Tanagers, Least Flycatcher, Grey Catbirds, Blue-grey Gnatcatchers and others.
The rain finally drove us back to our cars, wet and somewhat cold, but well-satisfied with the birding. Our upturned binoculars got thoroughly rained on, so at times it was like looking through multiple little prisms!
The rain by now was incessant and, if anything, getting heavier. We decided to leave Point Pelee and head towards Rondeau Provincial Park, with the intention of birding the Spicebush Trail. As we drove, however, the rain showed absolutely no sign of abating, and we finally decided to call it a day and head for home.
We said goodbye to Steve and Wendy via cell phone and congratulated ourselves on a fine weekend of birding.

All species May 11 - Double-crested Cormorant, Turkey Vulture, Spotted Sandpiper, Ring-billed Gull, Black Tern, Common Tern, Mourning Dove, Chimney Swift, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Great-crested Flycatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxwing, Grey Catbird, American Robin, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Blue Jay, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, American Goldfinch, Golden-winged Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Palm Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Scarlet Tanager, Chipping Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, Orchard Oriole.

A complete list of all species can be emailed as a separate file in PDF format if required.







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