We started the day before the sun had barely risen over the horizon, and caught sight of three Horned Larks in the field next to the motel just as we were heading out. Our first stop was Hillman Marsh, where we heard at least one Sandhill Crane calling from somewhere to the east and a Ring-necked Pheasant in the grassy area between the parking lot and the shorebird cell. Although we looked for the pheasant, we were unable to spot him. This bird is extirpated in Ottawa, so it was great to hear one again after my trip to Nova Scotia last year.
We didn’t see much in the shorebird cell. A couple of Semipalmated Plovers were new since our last visit, as were three Green-winged Teals. There were also lots of Canada Geese with goslings – one pair had at least 20 fuzzy yellow chicks! The usual Dunlin, Mute Swans, yellowlegs, Black-bellied Plovers, Caspian Terns, and American Coots were around, but the scaup, gulls, and Forster’s Terns were nowhere to be seen.
We were just on our way to Point Pelee when I got an email saying that the Black-necked Stilts had returned to Hillman Creek. We drove over to the bridge and found the two stilts at the back of the pond, a little closer than they had been the previous time we’d seen them. They were still not close enough to photograph, though I tried. The views through the scope were beautiful, though.
Once we reached Point Pelee, we decided to visit the tip first in the hope of seeing the Little Gulls or the Laughing Gull. While waiting for the tram I noticed a nest on the side of the Visitor Center building.
The incubating robin attracted quite a bit of attention from the other birders waiting to catch the shuttle.
The shuttle came shortly, and after we disembarked we immediately proceeded to the tip where I found Jean Iron scoping the gulls. I parked my scope next to hers, happy to have someone with her expertise to help me look for the Little Gull. Although she pointed out a Lesser-backed Gull and a Greater Black-backed Gull (both sub-adults), the only small gulls we saw were Bonaparte’s Gulls. We also found a single tern – this one a Common Tern – amongst all the Bonaparte’s. Despite waiting almost half an hour there was no sign of the Little Gulls.
We headed back to the tram stop, and the woods along the way provided the most variety in land birds, including an Orchard Oriole, a Red-bellied Woodpecker (heard but not seen), at least one Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a Warbling Vireo, and four warbler species. The Yellow and Nashville Warblers were expected, but when we found a crowd scanning the vegetation for a Golden-winged Warbler we stopped to have a look. I got a good look at this stunning male; this is the first one I’ve seen since I got my life bird along Thomas Dolan Road in 2008.
Then I saw another warbler in the same area. This one was mostly yellow, with black markings below the eye, a few black streaks at the sides of its breast, and white on the underside of its tail. It also bobbed its tail a couple of times, but it was definitely not a Palm Warbler. Someone said it was a female Prairie Warbler, and when I checked my field guide, the field marks matched. Another life bird! Unfortunately both the Golden-winged Warbler and the Prairie Warbler were too deep in the vegetation to take any photos; there were too many branches in the way.
We went to the Sparrow Field but didn’t find anything of interest. I didn’t follow the trail all the way to the beach, otherwise I might have seen the Loggerhead Shrike that was found there at 12:30. This would have been a life bird.
After eating a birdseed cookie at the Visitor Center, we went for a walk along the Woodland Nature Trail next. To our surprise, most of the water in the ponds had dried up.
The trail was very quiet, with hardly any birds around. Our most exciting moment came when we had a House Wren on one side of the trail and a male Baltimore Oriole on the other, both quite low to the ground. The wildflowers were gorgeous, however, giving me something to photograph.
We found four different coloured violets, including deep blue, pale blue (not shown here), yellow and white.
I think this flower is a Pale Violet rather than a Canada Violet as it does not the large, bright yellow throat of the Canada Violet, and the backs of the flowers are white, not purple, in my other photos. I am just a beginner when it comes to wildflowers, however, so if my identification is wrong, please feel free to correct me!
Large-flowered Bellworts were in bloom all along the road and Woodland Nature Trail. This plant can be found in rich, moist woodlands, including steep hillsides. Like most spring ephemerals, Bellwort flowers before the trees leaf out. The flowering period only lasts about two weeks. Also like many other spring ephemerals, the Large-flowered Bellwort depends on ants for seed dispersal. The seed contains a fleshy elaiosome, which is rich in proteins and fats. The ants carry the seeds away from the parent plant, eat the elaiosome, and discard the seeds. If the seeds fall in a favorable location they will germinate.
After leaving the Woodland Nature Trail we went to the Marsh Boardwalk to have lunch. The blackbirds here are obviously used to being fed….grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds boldly walked up to our table looking for handouts, while another male Red-wing actually landed on a picnic table while two people were eating!
As there was no wind, we had a much more pleasant experience walking around the boardwalk. The two coots were gone, but once again the Barn Swallows provided entertainment, picking up mud at the edge of the marsh for nesting material and preening on branches next to the observation tower.
The marsh itself was quiet. We saw the usual Common Yellowthroats and Swamp Sparrows, and heard a Sandhill Crane. I saw movement at the edge of the cattails and was surprised when it turned out to be a raccoon. It was walking along the edge of the water until a pair of geese came along and started honking at it; the raccoon turned around and started walking through the reeds toward land.
We also saw several painted turtles and a large Green Frog enjoying the sun.
One of the turtles turned out to be a Northern Map Turtle. This species is currently listed as Special Concern under the Ontario Endangered Species Act, 2007 and Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act. Some of the threats to this species include water pollution, habitat loss and degradation due to shoreline development, boat propellers, and collisions with vehicles while crossing roads. Of these, water pollution poses the greatest threat as whole populations can be affected by the mass die-offs of molluscs, which is the primary food of female Northern Map Turtles.
The Marsh Boardwalk was our last stop in Point Pelee. Although I was happy to see the raccoon, the Green Frog and the turtles, I was a little disappointed with how few birds were around on our final day. I was still happy with my lifer Prairie Warbler as well as the beautiful male Golden-winged Warbler, but if it weren’t for those two species, the only warblers we would have seen that day were Yellow Warbler, Nashville Warbler, and Common Yellowthroat. Somehow we ended up choosing the three quietest days of the season to visit…however, as we only had one week of vacation time, and that chosen long in advance, it’s always a matter of luck as to what we actually find when we get to the park.
I always enjoy reading your posts since discovering your blog about three weeks ago. I especially like your excellent photos and the diverse bits of information you include about your various sightings. Thank you very much.
Thanks for reading, Jim! I enjoy researching the things I see and photograph, and then including what I’ve learned in my blog posts. This helps me to remember what I’ve learned, and to better appreciate the natural world.