MacGregor Point PP: Birding the Tower Trail

In late May my mother and I set out on our fourth annual birding vacation. Our destination this year was not Point Pelee and the Lake Erie shores, but rather MacGregor Point Provincial Park on Lake Huron at the base of the Bruce Peninsula. This park is the home of the Huron Fringe Birding Festival, held annually on the first two weekends after the May 24th long weekend. The birding festival features guided hikes both in and outside the Park, showcasing the various birds, wildflowers, butterflies and insects that call this area home. We signed up for the first weekend (Friday, May 27th – Monday May 30th) and drove to Port Elgin, our base of operations, on Thursday morning.

It was gray and drizzly when we arrived, but we headed out anyway for a driving tour of some of the back roads east of Port Elgin. We encountered many field birds including numerous Bobolinks, an Eastern Meadowlark, and several Savannah Sparrows but no Upland Sandpipers, one of the target species of our trip. We also saw one raptor flying over a distant field which remained unidentified.

The next morning we drove to the MacGregor Point PP Visitor’s Center to register for the birding festival. It was cloudy and cold (about 5°C), and I was glad I had the foresight to bring my winter jacket. As we were early, we took a brief walk along one the trails that encircles the Visitor’s Center. A boardwalk zigzags between the woods and the edge of Turtle Pond where, disappointingly, we found no turtles or water birds of any sort. The boardwalk then enters a sandy area before intersecting with the Old Shore Trail which travels the length of the park along the shore of Lake Huron.

Boardwalk behind the Visitor’s Center

We returned to the Visitor’s Center to meet up with our first group for a hike along the Tower Trail. While we waited, a hummingbird visited one of the two feeders hanging from the roof and a White-crowned Sparrow braved the crowd of people to snatch a few fallen seeds on the ground.

White-crowned Sparrow

We met our leaders, Barbara & Dwight Neufeld, then drove over to the Tower Trail parking lot. There were about 20 participants in the walk, and I found myself an unofficial leader of sorts because of my skill in identifying the various birds I heard by their song.

The Tower Trail

We heard a Red-eyed Vireo, a Wood Thrush, Northern Waterthrush, White-throated Sparrow and Ovenbird right near the trail entrance; we even managed to see the Ovenbird singing on a branch about 20 feet above the ground.

Into the Forest

One of the highlights of our walk was seeing not one but two Blue-headed Vireos gathering nesting material. These beautiful birds were quite cooperative, pausing on open branches and allowing everyone in the group a good view. In the same area we had an American Redstart (the emblem of the birding festival) and a Black-throated Green Warbler.

We then left the deep woods behind and followed the trail along the water’s edge through a more open area. There seemed to be more birds here, few of which deigned to show themselves and none of which cooperated for the camera. We heard another Wood Thrush, a couple of Common Yellowthroats and a Swamp Sparrow singing; we also saw one Chestnut-sided Warbler, one Least Flycatcher, two Purple Finches, a beautiful male Scarlet Tanager, a Nashville Warbler and a Black-and-white Warbler. I also noticed an Eastern Cottontail scampering in the heavy undergrowth next to the trail.

Wildflowers were abundant. In fact, I don’t recall a birding trip where I took as few bird photos or as many wildflower photos. I saw many gaywings and my first orchids, the lovely Yellow Lady’s Slippers. This is the earliest orchid to bloom in the park and we saw them blooming in a few different locations in the park.

Yellow Lady’s Slipper

One of the birders was also knowledgeable about plants and identified this meadow rue for me. There were also quite a few Wood Betony blossoms (see top photo) in bloom in this area.

Meadow rue

We made our way to the tower, encountering a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a couple of Baltimore Orioles along the way. A male Common Yellowthroat was singing next to the boardwalk that leads to the tower.

Male Common Yellowthroat

Observation Tower

From the tower we could see most of the Ducks Unlimited Pond. The water was quite high, and there weren’t a lot of ducks present. In fact, we only saw one mallard and about five Canada Geese. The usual grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds were present, along with a single Pied-billed Grebe and several Tree and Barn Swallows hunting the skies.

The Ducks Unlimited Pond

After leaving the tower, we explored the area around the control dyke where the water empties from the pond into a small channel to help decrease water levels. A water snake was enjoying the meager sunshine on the concrete wall.

Northern Water Snake

We also heard a House Wren and saw a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a bird I hadn’t expected to see at MacGregor as I thought their breeding range was much further south. This was the best find of the day for me.

We turned around and headed back the way we came rather than following the trail all the way around the pond. I came across the curious sight of a dragonfly emerging from its larval skin and stopped to move it off the path and take a few pictures.


A dragonfly emerges

We didn’t have any new birds on the way back, but I stopped to take a couple of pictures of a bumble bee on the Wood Betony.

Bumble Bee on Wood Betony

Our guides pointed out some Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and, never having seen one before, I took a picture of that as well.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit

The Tower Trail is beautiful, and its variety of habitats make it a wonderful place to go birding. So far the birding festival was off to a great start, and I couldn’t wait to explore more of the park!

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