A Day at Point Pelee

Blue-winged Warbler

Blue-winged Warbler

The next morning dawned bright and sunny with a brisk, cool wind blowing from the east. Knowing how cold it can be at the tip first thing in the morning, I put on my winter coat and hat and tossed my spring jacket into the back seat of the car. We were out the door reasonably early – but not early enough to see the Laughing Gull that was found at the tip by the first group of birders arriving in the park. After checking out the sightings board at the Visitor Center to find out where the birds were being seen, we headed outside to wait for the tram. A White-crowned Sparrow hopping along the ground was a year bird for me, and we were entertained by two male Orchard Orioles chasing each other in one of the trees next to the tram stop. The Orchard Oriole was a life bird for Deb; we don’t have them in Ottawa, though I wish we did!

The tip was just as cold as I imagined it would be with an unpleasant wind blowing in from the east. A Warbling Vireo and Blue-headed Vireo flitting about the trees drew plenty of admirers, as did a Red-bellied Woodpecker close to the tip. At one of the lookouts onto Lake Erie we spotted over 30 Red-breasted Mergansers bobbing in the waves and two White-winged Scoters flying by.

Canada's southernpoint point

Canada’s southernpoint point

The tip was covered in birds, mostly Forster’s Terns and Bonaparte’s Gulls at the front and Herring and Ring-billed Gulls at the back. The Laughing Gull was long gone, and the immature Little Gulls that had been seen there sporadically over the past few days might have been there, though neither I nor any of the birders I talked to were experienced enough to pick them out. I did manage to find the bright white Glaucous Gull mingling with the Herring Gulls at the far end of the tip, as well as an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull.

The Tip

The Tip

Bonaparte's Gulls

Bonaparte’s Gulls

We were just beginning to walk back to the tram when I spotted a small bird land in a tree right next to the bench where a gentleman was sitting. It flew down onto the ground, and I was surprised to identify it as a Red-eyed Vireo, a bird normally found high up in the treetops. It must have been tired from its journey north, for it spent several minutes on the sand and exploring the base of the shrubs nearby. As a result, I got my best photo ever of this species.

Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Yellow Warblers abounded on our walk back; we also saw two Ruby-crowned Kinglets, one Black-throated Green Warbler, and a Baltimore Oriole on our way. A large bird foraging on the ground deep in the vegetation caught our attention, and I was thrilled to see my first Wood Thrush of the year! A Nashville Warbler at the top of a tree was the only other warbler species we saw; the tip wasn’t as “birdy” as I would have liked, though Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles were everywhere. There were plenty of swallows flying about as well, all Tree and Barn that I could see, and we came across a pair of Barn Swallows perching together on a tree overlooking the lake.

Barn Swallows

Barn Swallows

I stopped to photograph some of the violets growing next to the road. According to the board in the Visitor Center, Woolly Blue Violets are currently in bloom, so I am guessing this is what they are.

Woolly Blue Violets

Woolly Blue Violets

The ride back on the tram was uneventful; it occurred to me I ought to take a picture from the tram as I had never done so before.

On the Tram

On the Tram

Back at the Visitor, we had a quick snack before heading out again. I ate mine at a picnic table next to the parking lot, where I was entertained by this robin walking right up to the table. I noticed a couple of sparrows on the lawn as well, and while most of them were the usual Chipping Sparrows, I spotted a Field Sparrow among them. A Turkey Vulture and a Red-tailed Hawk soared by overhead, while in the shrubs I beyond the path I spotted a Veery and a Gray Catbird.

American Robin

American Robin

We decided to visit the Tilden Woods trail next, as this was where most of the good birds were being seen, including a pair of Hooded Warblers attracted to the insects on a broken-off tree. This proved to be a good choice, as it was the best trail not only of the day, but of the rest of our trip. Just as we were entering the woods, someone pointed out a Broad-winged Hawk gliding overhead; later on, it was followed by a Cooper’s Hawk. Again, the woods weren’t very birdy – we saw a variety of warblers and vireos, but seldom more than one of each species. However, the variety of species present was excellent. Two more Warbling Vireos and a single Blue-headed Vireo were accompanied by a Yellow-throated Vireo, which is a species we don’t have in Ottawa; others say they had a Philadelphia Vireo, which I didn’t see. The bird that was pointed out to me was not a vireo at all, but an Orange-crowned Warbler!

We found a Black-and-white Warbler ambling along a tree branch near the broken-off tree where the Hooded Warblers have been spending their time. We waited several minutes for the warbler to put in an appearance, and were slightly disappointed when a pair of Brown Creepers showed up instead (we weren’t too disappointed, however, as this was a new bird for our trip). Then someone spotted a Hooded Warbler near the base of the broken-off tree, a handsome yellow warbler with a dark back and a black cowl. He walked up the tree trunk, then flew onto a horizontal tree trunk to the right.

Once we had gotten our fill of this bird (it was too far back to get any photos) we continued on our way and found another group of people standing around looking into the vegetation. They had seen a Wood Thrush, and while searching for it I became aware of a House Wren singing in the trees behind me. I turned around in time to see him take a small twig into this nest box.

House Wren

House Wren

House Wren

House Wren

We didn’t see that Wood Thrush, but we did find two others on our walk. Then, just as I got my binoculars on a Magnolia Warbler, this beautiful Blue-winged Warbler flew into view! I’ve only seen this species once before, at MacGregor Point Provincial Park two years ago. I didn’t get a great photo of the warbler back then, when it was a life bird, and followed this bird along the trail until I got a picture I was happy with.

Blue-winged Warbler

Blue-winged Warbler

Other birds seen in this section of the trail include Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a Black-throated Green Warbler, a Carolina Wren singing loudly, one White-throated Sparrow, a Northern Flicker, lots of Yellow Warblers, and an Ovenbird walking along the ground. My mother also found a second male Hooded Warbler, this one as unphotographable as the first.

Tilden Woods trail

Tilden Woods trail

We came to a short section of boardwalk that I didn’t recognize from our last trip three years ago. There we found a group of people watching a Northern Waterthrush walking along a log in the water. It was so far away that I didn’t think I would be able to get a decent photo of him; I only took this picture to see if I could manage to focus on the bird rather than all the branches and sticks between him and me!

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush

Then my step-father Doug found a beautiful Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing and foraging only about two feet off the ground! This is a strikingly beautiful bird when viewed up close; normally I only see them singing from the treetops, where their beauty is more difficult to see.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Our next stop, the DeLaurier Trail, was not as productive. The only interesting bird we saw was a Sandhill Crane flying over. I was hoping to find some good birds in and around the canals, but only the ubiquitous Yellow Warblers put in an appearance.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Mom and Doug decided to leave the park after that, but Deb and I hung around for the rest of the afternoon. We tried one of the seasonal footpaths between Pioneeer and the Dunes picnic areas and found a couple of Brown Thrashers, an Eastern Kingbird, a couple of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and a couple of White-crowned Sparrows.

Lake Erie

Lake Erie at the Sleepy Hollow picnic area

Our last stop in the park was the Marsh Boardwalk. Deb climbed up to the top of the tower while I waited below; while she was up top, I found a Barn Swallow preening on the boardwalk rail. The wind was still blowing right off the lake, which detracted from my enjoyment of the boardwalk. Nevertheless, we found two Swamp Sparrows, a Common Yellowthroat, a pair of American Coots, and a single Wood Duck in the marsh.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

We stopped in at Hillman Marsh on our way back to the motel where we added Semipalmated Plover and a single Palm Warbler to the trip list. The Mute Swans, Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlin and terns were still there.

Although we didn’t see a lot of each species (for example, only one of each warbler with the exception of the two male Hooded Warblers and a plethora of Yellow Warblers, one Rose-breasted Grosbeak, one Blue-headed Vireo, one Yellow-throated Vireo) the species that we did see were pretty awesome. I didn’t get any life birds, but I was more than happy with the birds that we did find, especially the “southerners”: the Hooded and Golden-winged Warblers, the Orchard Orioles, and the Yellow-throated Vireo. Our first day at Point Pelee was just as good as I had hoped it would be!

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2 thoughts on “A Day at Point Pelee

  1. I’m enjoying experiencing Pelee vicariously through your photos and stories, since I’m not getting to go this year. Love the REV and Blue-Winged Warbler shots. I’ve never seen a REV on the ground before.

    I got my lifer Yellow-Throated Vireo during my recent stay in Virginia (forgot to note it as such on my blog.) I don’t know what they’re like in migration, but on territory, they are the most impossible birds ever. I spent literally an hour trying to get one distant, brief view of a singing individual, perched at the very top of the very tallest, leafiest tree he could find!

    • Hi Suzanne!

      Yes, the photos of the RE Vireo and the BW Warbler are my best ever of these species, and probably the best bird photos of my trip. I hope the vireo recovered from his journey; he really did seem a bit bedraggled when he arrived!

      I wanted to get a photo of the Yellow-throated Vireo, but they are just as bad as all the other vireos & warblers we see in migration: too busy flitting from tree to tree, often above our heads, to get a good photo. At least I was able to get a good look at one!

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