Point Pelee National Park is only about a 75-minute drive from my mother’s new house, so on Easter Monday we got up early and made the trip down. We arrived at the Visitor Center at 9:45 am, and as this was the first time we’d ever been there outside of the Festival of Birds, we were unprepared to find that the center did not open till 10:00, which was the same time that the tram to the tip started running. I was also surprised to see that the non-birders (including families, cyclists, and dog-walkers) out-numbered the birders. Although Point Pelee is a year-round destination for bird watching, I suspect that the number of non-birders was so high due to the holiday, the nice weather (finally!), and the fact that entrance to Canada’s National Parks is free in celebration of our nation’s 150th birthday. Fortunately we only had a short wait before we could get to the tip and start our birding day, and although we were still a few weeks away from the peak of songbird migration, we still managed to find some interesting birds.
I was happy to have the car during the last weekend of July, and I made the most of it. My first stop was the trail on West Hunt Club (P11) as I wanted to check out the pond there. Ottawa has been stuck in drought for a while now, and water levels have been dropping in all my favourite conservation areas. I thought the pond might be a good spot to look for shorebirds.
I had a really good walk there, seeing and hearing 28 species of birds. Highlights included a Double-crested Cormorant flying over (new for the trail) and two Broad-winged Hawks calling in the hydro cut area. Eventually I saw them both fly over and disappear into the woods on the north side of the clearing.
On Saturday, April 30th I took the train to Kitchener to visit my mother and step-father, and on Sunday, May 1st we drove down to Point Pelee. We weren’t able to check in at the Best Western just outside of the park until the afternoon, so we headed to the Tip as soon as we arrived at 11:00. The weather was not cooperative – it was cold and overcast, with the same north winds I’d experienced in Ottawa. North winds in May are never good for migration; birds trying to fly across the Great Lakes will stay on the south side of the lakes until the winds shift from out of the south, giving them a boost across the water. Of course, north winds could also mean that any birds already in the park would likely stick around before continuing north, but this did not seem to be the case.
On Saturday I drove to Dow’s Lake at first light to look for the Surf Scoter that has been hanging out there since Thursday. It was supposed to rain later that afternoon, and indeed the sky was dark and ominous when I left. It was rather cold and damp, too, so I wore my winter coat for the first time this fall, even though the temperature was supposed to rise to 14°C.
When I arrived I heard a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets in the trees near the parking area. I didn’t see much at the Arboretum, but in the marshy area at the edge of Dow’s Lake I saw six Red-winged Blackbirds perched in a large tree and heard a Song Sparrow singing. Another group of about 20 Red-winged Blackbirds flew by a little later but didn’t land. On the water, there were at least 1000 Canada Geese and perhaps half as many mallards swimming in the bay. A large number of American Black Ducks looked completely black in the poor light.
I woke up the next morning to the sound of rain. It wasn’t a nice, light rain either, but a steady downpour as heavy as it was unrelenting. This did not bode well for my plans to go birding and bug-hunting with April and her 8-year-old daughter Hope after lunch, and I wished I could send the clouds to eastern Ontario which badly needed the rain. (Edmonton, as it turns out, did not; the rain resulted in flooding in parts west of the city which we noticed the following day on our drive out to Jasper.)
By the time Doran and I were ready to go out for breakfast, the rain had lightened considerably. The magpies were in their usual spot in the grass along Broadmoor Boulevard, and they didn’t seem to pleased with the weather, either.
On my first full day in Alberta I met my best friend April for brunch, and then the two of us went to Elk Island National Park for some birding. She isn’t an avid birder like I am, but loves the outdoors and is always happy to try something new…especially if it means getting away from the kids!
We decided to stop by my old house in the country first since it was on the way. We parked on the road in front of the driveway, but the house didn’t resonate with me at all. I noticed in a detached way that someone had put some shutters up outside the second floor windows and painted them green, but felt no emotion at seeing it again after 16 years, nor any curiosity about the people who lived there now.
With so many fantastic water birds being seen right now, where else should Deb and I go on Sunday but up to the Ottawa River? We started off the morning at the Deschenes Lookout where we ran into a number of birders – including Bob Bracken, Chris Lewis, Mike Tate, Bob Cermak and Paul Mirsky – watching the still-present Razorbill. Someone had suggested that this eastern seabird was injured, accounting for its long stay, but we watched it fly rapidly all the way from the ruins on the Quebec side to Bate Island and back without any difficulty whatsoever. In flight the Razorbill looks rather football-shaped, with no neck and a short tail and long, triangular-shaped wings that beat rapidly like a duck’s.