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.
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.
A cold front moved in the following day, and I hoped it would bring in some good birds. My mother, step-father and I went to Rondeau Park for the day. It was cold and windy, however – cold enough to require my winter gloves – and the “good birds” I was hoping for failed to materialize. We added only four birds to our trip list: a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Chipping Sparrow at the Visitor Center feeders, and a Prothonotary Warbler and Veery along the Tulip Tree trail. The Spicebush Trail and Pony Barn areas were deathly quiet, and only a few birds along the maintenance loop – including a Red-bellied Woodpecker – made the stop worthwhile. Altogether we saw only three warbler species: Prothonotary, Chestnut-sided, and Yellow Warbler.
We got up early on Monday, May 11th for our day at Point Pelee. While we were paying at the kiosk we were told there were two good birds present: a Prothonotary Warbler and a Kirtland’s Warbler. I had seen the rare bird alert for the Kirtland’s Warbler the day before, and was happy to hear it was still around. I had never seen one before (unlike the Prothonotary Warbler) so it would be a lifer for me if I found it. Fortunately, this was easy to do. We took the tram to the Tip and after we had gotten off the shuttle, I came across a group of people who said it was being seen along the footpath that parallels the western beach. I told my mother and step-father and off we went. After about a 10 minute hike with numerous people coming the other way assuring us “it was still there – just look for the crowd of people”, we found a huge throng of people gathered in a tight group. At the center of all the attention, no more than six feet away from the edge of the path, was the female Kirtland’s Warbler.
While I had high hopes for our last day at Point Pelee, this turned out to be the slowest of our three days in Ontario’s deep south. The wind had fallen off completely, and while the warm, sunny weather was nice for walking around the park, it was not good for seeing many new migrants.
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.
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!