Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists flock to Point Pelee National Park

Neil Carleton 2by Neil Carleton

They went, they saw, they heard, and they’ll never forget the unique experience of visiting the best location in inland North America to observe the northward migration of songbirds. Twenty-four members of the MVFN arrived May 4 on a chartered bus with binoculars, spotting scopes, field guides, and an enthusiasm for nature.

Point Pelee Postcard
Located near Leamington in southwestern Ontario, Point Pelee National Park is the most southerly mainland point in Canada. It’s a 15 square km sandspit that extends southward about 8 km into Lake Erie. The Park’s landscape of marsh, forest, fields, and beaches is a lush Carolinian oasis which produces a complexity of life that is unequalled, even in Canada’s larger national parks. It’s also a critical stopping-off point for a wide variety of migrating songbirds and raptors. Some of these avian commuters arrive from the Arctic in the fall, or from as far south as Brazil in the spring. Photo: © Neil Carleton
Pelee 9 Welcome Birders Banner May 5 2015
Birding has become an important component of the tourism industry in the Windsor Essex region. Thousands of visitors participate in the spring Festival of Birds at Point Pelee National Park http://friendsofpointpelee.com/festivalofbirds-home. Other birding events in the area take place during the year at Holiday Beach Conservation Area http://erca.org/conservation-areas-events/conservation-areas/holiday-beach/; Hillman Marsh http://erca.org/conservation-areas-events/conservation-areas/hillman-marsh/; Ojibway Park http://www.ojibway.ca/index.htm; Rondeau Provincial Park http://www.ontarioparks.com/park/rondeau; and Wheatley Provincial Park http://www.ontarioparks.com/park/wheatley. Photo: © Neil Carleton
Pelee 10 Sanctuary Lookout Group May 5 2015
Meeting at 6:00, in the dim morning light at Point Pelee’s Sanctuary Lookout, proved conclusively that it’s the early birder who gets  a remarkable sighting. The surprise arrival of two bald eagles was an exciting event. Moments later all eyes were glued on their spectacular performance as the pair cartwheeled out of the sky with talons locked in a mating ritual. Here are links to two short videos of similar kinds of sightings. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAwcoFoAk_k http://www.arkive.org/bald-eagle/haliaeetus-leucocephalus/video-09d.html Photo:© Neil Carleton

 

The Park’s 102 km of marsh is one of the largest remaining segments in southern Ontario. Its large size and the tremendous diversity of life it supports were important factors in being named a Ramsar site of international significance. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramsar_Convention The group’s outing at the Marsh Boardwalk, a 1 km loop of floating boardwalk, tested everyone’s sea legs. Sorting out the individual voices of the wetland chorus allowed us to spot birds in flight, slipping and bouncing through the cattails, and being at home on the water’s surface. Listening to the loud, liquid, gurgling song of a marsh wren at close range, with a sewing machine finish, was a fine way to celebrate the arrival of spring. Here’s an Audubon link to a variety of marsh wren recordings http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/marsh-wren
The Park’s 10 square kilometres of marsh is one of the largest remaining segments in southern Ontario. Its large size and the tremendous diversity of life it supports were important factors in being named a Ramsar site of international significance. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramsar_Convention The group’s outing at the Marsh Boardwalk, a 1 km loop of floating boardwalk, tested everyone’s sea legs. Sorting out the individual voices of the wetland chorus allowed us to spot birds in flight, slipping and bouncing through the cattails, and being at home on the water’s surface. Listening to the loud, liquid, gurgling song of a marsh wren at close range, with a sewing machine finish, was a fine way to celebrate the arrival of spring. Here’s an Audubon link to a variety of marsh wren recordings http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/marsh-wren Photo: © Howard Robinson
Pelee 19 Over There May 5 2015
When the Park’s trolley let us off near the West Beach Footpath, about 6:20 Wednesday morning, the trees were dripping with newly arrived birds. They had travelled across Lake Erie during the night in especially windy and cold conditions. The poor weather contributed to a unique migration phenomenon known as a ‘fall out’. This happens when tired and hungry travelers, on the wing over large bodies of water, are forced to seek shelter and food at the first land they can find. Within twenty minutes of stepping off the trolley, our group had identified a dozen or more new kinds of warblers and vireos. These were birds that some of us had only seen as field guide photos and illustrations over the years, and never thought we’d ever spot along a trail or forest ramble. Photo: © Neil Carleton
Pelee 25 Visitors From Afar May 5 2015
Open year round, Point Pelee’s visitation averages over 200,000 annually. There were hundreds of other friendly folk on the trails during our two day exploration. Every 40 ft / 12 m or so, it seemed, was another cluster of enthusiasts with binoculars, spotting scopes, and cameras pointing up, down, and beyond the pathway. The word spread quickly in soft voices along the trail. “Over there, look, a Carolinian wren by the rocks.” “Ya gotta see this, a red-headed woodpecker in the second tree to left behind that branch.” The excitement was infectious as another then another kind of newly arrived bird was discovered. Everyone was helpful, modest, and focused. Some of the other birders we met and shared sightings with were from Red Deer, Alberta; Denver, Colorado; Lansing, Michigan; Scarborough, Ontario; and Bucharest, Romania. Photo: © Neil Carleton
Pelee 18 Comparing Observations May 5 2015
As they flitted from here to back there, it was always a challenge to keep any particular bundle of feathers in focus for long enough to observe some distinguishing characteristics. “Two wings bars, got ‘em. No streaking on the breast. Anyone see an eye bar?” Consulting with our group’s expert birders, checking our field guides, and looking over any digital photos, was necessary for many verifications. Photo: © Neil Carleton
BIRDS Black-Throated Green Warbler Howard Robinson Photo
Getting a good, clear shot of a busy warbler, gnatcatcher, kinglet, or vireo was an even bigger challenge. By the time the signal was transmitted to the index finger for shutter activation, the object of attention had usually moved over to find the next morsel. A bit of sunshine, and what was referred to as good old fashioned luck, contributed to this ‘as-good-as-it’s-going-to-get’ hand held shot of a black-throated green warbler. Way to go. Photo: © Howard Robinson
Pelee 12 Here's Looking At You May 5 2015 Howard Robinson
Memorable sightings were made off the trails too. One of the Pelee benches was the site of a close encounter of a beautiful yellow warbler kind. A resplendent great egret flew overhead by our hotel before we boarded the bus. At another time, the port side windows gave a new perspective on bus birding. We had just pulled into the parking space of a nature shop on our way back to the hotel. At the edge of the yard, only a few meters away, were two brightly coloured birds at a feeder. Busy with their feast of oranges, a Baltimore (northern) oriole and an elusive orchard oriole weren’t at all concerned by our close presence. “Birding by bus,” it was observed, “who knew how easy it was.” Photo: © Howard Robinson
Pelee 28 Waiting For A Prothonotary Warbler May 7 2015
Rondeau Provincial Park, about 90 km east of Point Pelee, was our final destination on Thursday, May 7, before the bus was pointed homeward. Sunshine was a welcome addition to our birding adventures too. Being at the northern fringe of its summer range in Canada, this is a well-known location of the endangered prothonotary warbler. The website of Bird Studies Canada is a good source of photos and information. http://www.bsc-eoc.org/research/speciesatrisk/prow/index.jsp?targetpg=index&lang=EN This is a species that is very much dependent on a deciduous swamp forest, with open standing water, for cavity nesting success. Some members of the MVFN group attributed their success in seeing this quintessential Carolinian species to patience and a bit of good timing. Others suggested that it was their intense concentration which willed a prothonotary into view. Photo: © Neil Carleton

As we boarded the bus for home, 0ur group of 24 travelers had collectively seen / heard 125 species in the Point Pelee area. Wow! In comparison, the MVFN’s annual early bird outings in April have ranged from 38 to 54 different species. The Point Pelee trip was a grand adventure.

Avocet, American Blackbird, Red-winged Bufflehead Cardinal, Northern Catbird, Gray Chickadee, Black-capped Coot, American Cormorant, Double-crested Cowbird, Brown-headed Dove, Mourning Dowitcher, Long-billed Duck, Long-tailed Duck, Wood Dunlin Eagle, Bald Egret, Great Finch, House Flicker, Northern Flycatcher, Great Crested Gadwall Gnatcatcher, Blue-gray Goldeneye, Common Goldfinch, American Goose, Canada Grackle, Common Grosbeak, Rose-breasted Gull, Bonaparte’s Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Ring-billed Harrier, Northern Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Heron, Great Blue Heron, Green Hummingbird, Ruby-throated Jay, Blue Killdeer Kingbird, Eastern Kingfisher, Belted Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Loon, Common Loon, Pacific Mallard Merganser, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Oriole, Baltimore (northern) Oriole, Orchard Osprey Ovenbird Parula, Northern Pigeon, Rock Plover, Black-bellied Redhead Redstart, American Robin, American Sandpiper, Spotted Scaup, Lesser Shoveler, Northern Siskin, Pine Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, House Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Starling, European Swallow, Barn Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, tree Swan, Mute Tanager, Scarlet Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Tern, Common Thrasher, Brown Thrush, Hermit Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, Wood Titmouse, Tufted Towhee, Eastern Turkey, Wild Veery Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, White-eyed Vulture, Turkey Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Canada Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Palm Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-throated Waterthrush, Northern Wigeon, American Woodpecker, Black-backed Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-headed Wren, Carolina Wren, House Wren, Marsh Yellowlegs,  Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs,  Yellowthroat, Common

Mother mourning dove did her best at Rondeau Provincial Park to keep her large chicks under cover on the nest. Photo: Lillian Chik-Parnas
Mother mourning dove did her best at Rondeau Provincial Park to keep her large chicks under cover on the nest. Photo: © Lillian Chik-Parnas
BIRDS Yellow Warbler Howard Robinson Photo
This little bundle of energy, a.k.a yellow warbler, stayed still just long enough for a clear shot at Point Pelee National Park. Its song has been described as a tumbling series of whistles that sounds like “sweet sweet sweet I’m so sweet.” Photo: © Howard Robinson

 

BIRDS Rose-Breasted Grosbeak Howard Robinson Photo
The arrival of several rose-breasted grosbeaks weren’t difficult to spot with their black-white-red colouring. When they sing in the woods of Lanark County, they sound like robins with an extra sweetness. It’s been suggested that they receive operatic training at a young age. Photo: © Howard Robinson

 

BIRDS White-Crowned Sparrow Howard Robinson Photo
A half dozen or more white-crowned sparrows were observed along the Shuster Trail at Point Pelee. They were quickly identified by the bold black-and-white stripes on the head. Photo: © Howard Robinson

 

BIRDS Gray Catbird Harold Robinson
The catty mew of an unseen forest inhabitant, by the West Beach Footpath at Point Pelee, led our group to a somber gray bird with a black cap and rusty feathers under the tail. Gray catbirds can also imitate the calls of other species will long improvisations. Photo: © Howard Robinson

 

BIRDS Hermit Thush Howard Robinson Photo
A rich brown upper body and smudged spots on the breast, along with a reddish tail, are the distinguishing characteristics of a hermit thrush. In forest openings or along trails in spring and summer, the mournful, flute-like song is usually heard before the bird is seen. One interpretation is “oh, holy holy, ah, purity purity eeh, sweetly sweetly.“ Photo: © Howard Robinson

Other news and events of the MVFN are posted often at http://mvfn.ca/. On May 21st the 6th annual spring gathering will be held at the Almonte Civitan Hall. Jean Lauriault, Monarch Conservation Specialist and Canadian Museum of Nature Associate, will give a presentation on the mysteries of the monarch butterfly. Here’s the link to further details. http://mvfn.ca/events/annual-spring-gathering/ Banquet tickets are still available. Hope to see you there.