While we waited for this little beauty to show up, we enjoyed watching all the other birds in the area, including a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, several Chipping and White-crowned Sparrows, a male Baltimore Oriole (although the oriole feeder I remembered from a few years ago was gone), and a Red-bellied Woodpecker. A Brown Thrasher serenaded us from the treetops while four cardinals chased each other in the vegetation behind the feeder area.
We added both species of nuthatch to our trip list when a White-breasted Nuthatch came briefly to the feeders, followed by a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Three Tree Swallows and a Barn Swallow flew over, while a Ruby-crowned Kinglet landed briefly in front of me. I spotted a streaky brown finch in one of the trees; although I couldn’t see any yellow in the wings, it had the deeply notched tail and the thin bill of a Pine Siskin, which was one of the most unexpected birds of our day. It didn’t stay long, and flew off without even stopping in at the feeders.
This White-crowned Sparrow was one of at least four in the area; we heard one or two singing in the vegetation beyond the feeder area.
It was the Red-bellied Woodpecker that interested me most, as we rarely see them in Ottawa. This one was shy, swooping in above the peanut feeder but refusing to land if any of the blackbirds were already there. I was trying to get some decent shots of the woodpecker when I spotted a new bird at the feeders: a Tufted Titmouse!
I have only seen this species once before, at an Embrun feeder in January 2008, so I was thrilled to see this little gray bird again. The Tufted Titmouse is still considered uncommon in Canada; its population is restricted mainly to the Carolinian forests of southern Ontario. It was first reported in Canada in 1914 at Point Pelee, and its range has expanded slowly since then. The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario indicates a larger range and a greater number of individuals detected between the two atlas periods (1980-1985 and 2000-2005).
Then I noticed a bird on the suet feeder right in front of me. I could only see him from the side, and it looked just like a Black-and-white Warbler with a yellow throat. There was no mistaking it for anything else: it was the Yellow-throated Warbler, and my second lifer of the trip! I was just focusing my camera on the warbler when it decided to fly off; as a result, I ended up with a very poor photo of him.
While we waited for the Yellow-throated Warbler to come back (my mother had been in the Visitor Center and missed him; unfortunately he didn’t return), the Red-bellied Woodpecker was finally able to get a spot at the peanut feeder in front of me.
When it became apparent that the Yellow-throated Warbler wasn’t going to return anytime soon, Mom, Deb and I headed over to the Tulip Tree Trail while my stepfather Doug went fishing. As we crossed the parking lot to the reach the trail entrance, we noticed a Northern Harrier gliding low over the field across the road from the Visitor Center…another new bird for our trip. We found only 17 species on the Tulip Tree Trail itself, including a Wood Duck at one of the swampy areas, one Ruby-crowned Kinglet, two Yellow-rumped Warblers, our first and only Chestnut-sided Warbler of the trip, a Blue-headed Vireo, a Wood Thrush singing somewhere in the forest, and three Eastern Towhees – our first of the trip.
We met up with my stepfather at the Visitor Center after finishing the trail and tried the South Point Trail next. Several warblers had been found there in the morning, including both Brewster’s and Lawrence’s Warblers, two hybrid species with Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warbler parentage. However, the only warblers we saw were Nashville and Yellow; the trail was even quieter than the Tulip Tree Trail, with a singing Eastern Towhee, several House Wrens and Chipping Sparrows, and at least one Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher being the only species of interest. We also heard, but didn’t see, several Field Sparrows.
While driving through the park we came across a raccoon walking across the ground. We stopped just as it started to climb a large tree, and I was able to snap a few photos when it got to the fork in the trunk. This was the only mammal of interest we saw in the park other than the usual squirrels and chipmunks.
After lunch we tried the Spicebush Trail, which has been one of my favourite trails since the first time we visited in 2008 when I added both Worm-eating Warbler and Lincoln’s Sparrow to my life list. We had a singing male Purple Finch right at the beginning of the trail and a Veery later on, but there were very few birds present altogether. Flowers, on the other hand, were abundant, so I spent my time photographing the spring ephemerals carpeting the ground instead. The white Trilliums, as usual, were gorgeous.
I was quite enchanted with the Dutchman’s Breeches growing throughout the park. I had seen this species at Point Pelee the day before, but hadn’t been able to get any decent photos of this unusual flower; I had never seen them before.
One of the early spring wildflowers, Dutchman’s Breeches can be found in woodlands in late April or May, but may bloom earlier or later depending on the weather. It is considered a spring ephemeral because it completes it annual growth cycle before the canopy trees leaf out. It grows and flowers quickly, then dies back to its roots by the summer – not to be seen again until the following spring.
Dutchman’s Breeches often forms dense colonies. Like many other spring wildflowers, including the Trillium, its seeds are spread by ants who gather them for food.
Hepatica is another early spring flower which disappears by the time the larger trees of the forest leaf out.
Another flower that captivated me was the Jack-in-the-Pulpit, which gets its common name from its resemblance to a preacher standing in a pulpit. This flower can be found in moist woodland habitats in the spring; in the late summer this plant produces a cluster of red berries which may persist through the fall.
We went back to the Visitor Center after that to see if the Yellow-throated Warbler had come back; it hadn’t, but we were told that one was visiting a nearby cottage every half hour. Of course we had to check it out, and were delighted when we only had to wait for five minutes before the warbler returned to the feeder. This time my mother saw him, and I was able to get some better pictures of him.
Our last stop in Rondeau Park was the Pony Barn, which was supposed to be one of the better spots for warblers that day. We didn’t see any birds in the vegetation surrounding the barn or in the large brush piles, so we took a short walk around the pond in the woods where we found one Eastern Phoebe hawking for insects just above the water, another Nashville Warbler, a Carolina Wren, a couple of White-throated Sparrows, and a Field Sparrow.
Deb and I stopped in at the Blenheim Lagoons on our way out, as I was yearning to find a spot with lots of birds – any birds. Well over 100 Dunlin were still feeding in the sprinkler cell, and as far as we could tell there were no new shorebirds with them. There were three Wilson’s Phalaropes present this time, including a beautiful female in crisp breeding plumage.
A gentleman came up to us and asked if we had seen the Trumpeter Swan and the Cackling Goose in the lagoon at the back. I said we hadn’t, so he led us to the back of the compound where we immediately picked out a small Cackling Goose sitting in the grass amongst of a flock of about 20 Canada Geese. It had a shorter neck, a smaller head, and a stubbier bill than the Canada Geese, and its back was paler. After seeing several Cackling Geese up close over the past few years, I had no doubt that this was one, although it was rather late for it to be in southern Ontario.
The Trumpeter Swan was gliding on the water of the middle cell. We watched it for a long time before it turned its head to look at us, and then we saw how the bill formed an angular point below the eyes rather than having the rounded border of a Tundra Swan.
With two new birds for our trip list, the Bleheim Lagoons were well worth the stop and helped to make up for a lackluster trip to Rondeau. The Yellow-throated Warbler was the definite highlight of the day, while the Tufted Titmouse, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, Trumpeter Swan and Cackling Goose were all great finds. While we were definitely adding lots of species to our list, the problem was we weren’t really seeing anything in any great numbers, and sometimes we’d go several minutes without seeing anything except robins, grackles, and Red-winged Blackbirds. With one more day at Point Pelee, I could only hope that the weather would change and bring in a good number of birds.