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20 years ago, we had our first birding trip abroad, and it was to Point Pelee and surrounding South-west Ontario. The trip was impeccable, not so much for the fact it was our first, but that we were ridiculously lucky, and chanced upon one of the best migrations for years, with one day in the week seeing a spectacular reverse migration. As a consequence, we had seen most of the migratory species that are generally seen (and one or two that aren't - Varied Thrush and Swainson's Warbler). So with 2015 being 20 years since that visit, we looked to go back and relax and enjoy what was on offer, as well as concentrate on taking video and photographs. In addition, we had heard at the time of the worth of visiting Algonquin to the North-east of Toronto, so wanted to include that as well. The trip was as good as our first, and probably as good as any other since. Algonquin was a great way to start the week, and in stark contrast to the birding around Point Pelee. According to many of the regulars, the passage through Pelee was below average, and their view was that present day migration is nowhere nearly as good as a couple of decades ago, but because of the reasons above, we were able to enjoy fully the birds on offer. No day was a letdown, and we regularly saw good movements of migrants, including a decent reverse migration on our first morning at the tip, and small waves of wood warblers on a couple of the evenings. Due to the large distance between Algonquin and Point Pelee, we broke this with a day around the Carden Plain, another location worth visiting, this time for a flavour of grassland type of specialities.
The timing of a visit is usually between mid April and the end of May. The exact time between these is a matter if choosing the mix of species that are likely to occur, since some pass earlier than others. A time around Mother's Day weekend, which is early to mid May, is best for a variety of species, although the down side is that it is hectic over the two days. Despite this, we did visit then, and made it to the park early to get to The Tip first, yet there seemed many times more visitors than during the weekdays. A good alternative if these two days are to be avoided is a jaunt along to Rondeau, and is highly recommended - also potentially very good birds, and a lot fewer people. We were also ready for weather of any type, and very nearly got it bar snow. Temperatures varied between 0° early morning in Algonquin, and 32° during the journey from Carden Plain to Point Pelee. We didn't get too wet, perhaps just a bit of drizzle at times, but a tornado was forecast one evening, and though we were disappointed not to see a twister, the rain that fell (while we were driving) was torrential.
Accommodation and transport were booked well ahead. The former in particular should ideally be booked as far ahead as possible, since not only are there many regulars who book their favourite lodgings for the following year while staying in the current one, but other rooms go quickly. Leamington is the ideal location, being only a 15 minutes drive from the park gate, and with restaurants on tap - we booked up later in 1995 and could only find somewhere 40 minutes drive away. Our hotel, the Sunparlor, was more than adequate, with air conditioning and plenty of electrical sockets for charging camera batteries, and this for only £60 per night. We also booked the car before we left - always cheaper than when you arrive, and plumped for a 4x4 SUV. When we were shown what was on offer, the standard of the vehicles was excellent, apart from the lack of a package tray. Not a great feature when suitcases and optics need to be hidden away at times. So for the same cost they gave us a Ford Taurus 4x4, which had a clearance under the chassis not much lower than the SUV on offer. This is only potentially really needed in Algonquin and the Carden Plain, where heavy rain may make the tracks less suitable for a normal saloon car. The roads and byways around Point Pelee and the South-west are generally in very good condition.
DAY 1 Algonquin Mizzy trail
There are a multitude of trails and ponds to visit in the Algonquin area, but we had decided the best bet was to tackle the Mizzy Trail as early as possible. We didn't realise just how early our start was going to be, since half awake ears picked up a Barred Owl calling from the bedroom at 4am, and this of course had to be investigated. Torches at the ready, we found the general area, but the bird was too far in to the forest to locate. The whole of the Mizzy Trail is a circular loop of 11 km, and can take many hours to complete. A quicker way to cover the juiciest spots is to drive to and park at a spot along the northern edge of the trail. So we drove the 4.8 km up Arowhon Road, at KM15 on highway 60, and then turned right to park at the gate barring driving along the old railroad bed. Most of the guides recommend covering one or two spots along the road on first approach, but we prioritised getting to the Mizzy as early as possible, and the subsequent birds it produced compared to the few along the road later bore this decision out. We didn't realise as we added layers to combat the zero degrees cold what a brilliant morning we would have. We followed the track for a couple of miles, which took us through mainly spruce forest and open ponds, trekking as far as the "flycatcher patch". The temperatures rose as the morning progressed, eventually climbing into the twenties. The track up to the gate from the main highway had been better than expected, but there were some wet and muddy sections along the trail, although this wasn't too much of a hindrance. Early birding was slow, with various calling and singing birds hiding in the trees. The breakthrough came in the unexpected form of American Bittern, crouching in a small reed lined pond, with a Swamp Sparrow singing nearby. A couple of singing Sparrows, White-crowned and White-throated, as well as a second American Bittern, started the deluge of birds. And mammals! A female Moose was at the far shore of Wolf Howl Pond, with a Beaver swimming close to. Wolf Howl Pond is a wonderful location. It is very open with stunning scenery, lit up by a cloudless rich blue sky. The earlier mist over the ponds, which added an extra atmospheric dimension, had lifted, as had the temperatures. Warblers in the form of Myrtle and Palm were numerous and frenetic here, seemingly being everywhere, but a duo of Boreal Chickadees were added to by only a third. When we were on the small wooden bridge halfway along the pond, drumming nearby turned out to be a Black-backed Woodpecker, which was also there on the return walk. In some of the spruce trees next to trail were Golden-crowned Kinglets, and a single Brown Thrasher. One or two Flycatchers predictably caused problems, although one singing surprisingly turned out to be Ruby-crowned Kinglet. We had half decided to return to the car, but adding another 100m also added a pair of ridiculously confiding Grey Jays, which perched almost within touching distance. Then we decided on another 100m and yet another speciality emerged. We were scoping a Myrtle Warbler singing in the distance, when we heard what sounded like grouse wingbeats nearby. We were astonished to find a superb male Spruce Grouse perched only metres away in a low Spruce tree, and even more so to find another pecking its way along the trail, again only metres away. They certainly don't seem to be too shy. This had to be the sign to return, which we did. The frenetic Warblers had calmed down to almost non existence on the return, but we did add Bay-breasted Warbler to the tally.
Spruce Bog Trail
After a short visit to the main visitor centre, which didn't provide the cutting edge and up to date bird information that we would have hoped and expected for, we drove the no distance to this trail on the opposite side of the highway. It is only a 1.5km walk, so didn't take much doing. The initial part is a true boardwalk which traverses the small boggy marsh. We were here at the hottest part of the day, and it seemed evident that this slows the bird activity down considerably. A pair of Swamp Sparrows made the effort in the centre of the bog, and a single Black Duck was quietly edging along one of the channels. However, it was back in the spruce enclosed part of the trail that the Woodpeckers laid on the entertainment. Granted, the two Pileated present were only heard, but the call is impressive when it resounds through the trees. The single and then additional pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers were much more forthcoming, the two together particularly so when calling and then squabbling on a tree trunk more or less directly overhead.
Whiskey Rapids Trail
This trail is a 2km circular route, and is located near to the West Gate of the park. The literature suggested that it was good for various of the local specialities, so we thought we would give it a bash as the last of the day. The circle is within mainly conifer/spruce forest for the duration, with the first half following a river which crosses the rapids, which to be quite fair, aren't worth any extra effort. Bird activity was overall very slow, with most of the excitement concentrated around the car park. It was here shortly after arrival that we picked up a pair of stunning Blue-headed Vireos, which we stuck with for a short time. A Black-and-white Warbler was also here, albeit at the end of our walk. The only other bird of interest was another Black-and-white Warbler next to the river.
Day 2 Carden Plain
When planning the trip, we wanted to break up the journey and also add some variation to the birding if possible. It was noticeable that some of the tour companies added this location to their itinerary, and so it was that we were here this morning. As opposed to yesterday's conifer vegetation and more northerly species, Carden is very different, with the main attraction for us the grassland habitat that makes up most of the alvar plains. This turned out to be the best of an excellent session of birding, although we did come across one or two good birds in the woodland, which was by and large driven through at a greater pace than the plains. The website:
has an excellent guide and map with a suggested route around Carden, and we followed this almost to the letter. So it was that we were at the impressive looking machinery of the loch lift just after first light, with the canal obviously running through this. After taking in the House Wrens and Tree Swallows on somebody's front lawn, the suggested car parking at the loch lift was closed - a great result since it usually charged the extortionate sum of $2. Back in the pocket I say! We decided to avoid the diner car park, and leave the car on a verge, then birded the area to the North and then down McGuire Beach Road. This offered some great basic North American birding, although the small flies around here were a bit of a nuisance, with a few bites also collected. Crossing the river bridge, birds around and on the water included our first Eastern Kingbirds, Bobolink, and Yellow Warblers - all of which would be seen again later in the day - and a group of Goosanders. We didn't need to go far up the small road to find Grey Catbird, Eastern Meadowlarks, and American Goldfinch.
However, the part of the location we were looking forward to most was the 9+km Wylie Road, which bisects the grassland. The track is unmetalled, and generally in good condition, although there are some sections with potholes and a little mud. A non 4x4 could make this without a problem in the conditions we found. So it wasn't the state of the road that forced us to crawl along at a snail's pace, but just the expectation of seeing the birds. Perhaps the total number was less than the best grassland birding elsewhere, but it was a hugely enjoyable experience. Bobolinks in breeding plumage were high on the wanted list, and the only pair seen were ticked off early on. Eastern Bluebirds were also anticipated, and we thought that they may have been a little late, until a few pairs were picked up some way along the track. A single American Kestrel was a little distant, but the common Brown Thrashers were not so shy, with a pair in the road right in front of our idling vehicle. An Eastern Towhee was nearby. Along the first stretch, roding Wilson's Snipe were regular.
We thought we'd hit a bit of a snag when the western end of Alvar Road was closed, but this turned out to be a benefit, when a short diversion took us past some grassy fields, which held another pair of active Bobolinks, and an unexpected Woodchuck (aka Groundhog). The lake shore didn't look too interesting, so we bipassed this and parked up at Prairie Smoke Alvar Nature Reserve. A short walk across a grassy field found the start of the mixed alvar habitat, and while we didn't find a great variety of species, those that were present paid back their money's worth. Top prize went to a quartet of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. We watched them for quarter of an hour or so, for some reason in high spirits, chasing each other, often literally in circles around the spot where we were rooted. Pinning them down was nigh impossible, as they not only flew their circular paths, but also up and down and along tree trunks. One eventually calmed itself down, and just happened to select a tree right in front of us for some light trunk tapping. A couple of Nashville Warblers were picked out of the similar greenery, and the point at which we turned back on this linear walk was at the site of an Osprey nest. More entertainment on the return, where a male Black-throated Green Warbler responded as well as any bird I have seen to some playback of its congeners song. We must have been a bit of a disappointment when he saw the source of his ardour!
Day 3 point pelee
With our first visit to the point being on a Saturday, and Mother’s Day weekend at that, we took no chances and bought a family pass the evening before. This meant we could enter by the fast lane in the morning. As it happened, we were in the queue at 5am, the gate opening time, and were first! It was still dark, and the first shuttle to the point didn't leave until 6am, so we were only second in the car park. Good choice though, since standing around picked up roding American Woodcock. The first wave of eager birders was dropped off with us at the point, and we all headed straight for the tip. Again, a good choice. The temperature was mild, there was no wind, but for some strange reason a reverse migration was happening. It was far from the spectacle we saw in 1995, but impressive and enjoyable nevertheless. We stood with the growing crowds for a couple of hours just counting up the birds. Passerine species were not massive in variety, but the whole was almost constant. Ignoring the Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles which were abundant, in that order, Blue Jays put in a good shift. Almost all were overhead, much like the majority of the migrants, but some did stop off in the trees in front of us. Perhaps show stoppers were the Red-headed Woodpeckers, which we had been told were numerous in the park. Not so now, since quite a few left this morning for the South, often perching before the journey. Warblers we could identify were low in numbers, but included Blackburnian & Chestnut-sided. Poor old Gnatcatchers seemed to make hard going of the whole affair, and often came back again for a short rest before trying again.
After we had feasted on this passage, we turned down the shuttle back to the visitor centre and walked the couple of miles with birding on the way. This was also a good choice. While almost all were common birds, they put on a good show, not least a Chestnut-sided Warbler which rather liked the playback of its song! Amongst the birds, the sight of a Raccoon curled up in a ball high in a tree was impressive. Again, discarding the common birds, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks stole the show, but the regular Baltimore Orioles gave them a run for their money!
Following lunch (we actually found some overpriced burgers etc elsewhere in the visitor centre but managed to avoid the temptation), a long awaited return to Tilden Woods was on the cards. It was by this time that we realised that the predicted thunderstorms were a little inaccurate - bright sunshine and mid 20's temperatures were the actual fact. Perhaps even the reverse migrants this morning had it wrong. In addition, last time we were here, the trail was kind enough to provide an Eastern Screech Owl for us, and didn't disappoint this time by repeating the feat. A trained telescope already in place and a small gathering made locating the roost hole easy, and a short wait also found the bird in said hole. The difference this time was that this was a rufous individual. The trail was a lot more open than we remembered it, and the paths in better condition. An enjoyable couple of hours here also totted up a few more Warblers, including an elusive Mourning, and Bay-breasted & Myrtle. While waiting for the Mourning Warbler to put in an appearance, a pool nearby held Solitary Sandpiper and Ovenbird, while overhead an American Redstart was the second for the area. Best for theatre was undoubtedly the duelling match between two male Downy Woodpeckers. They were picked up at the canopy level, but obviously had theatrical tendancies when they sparred very close to. At the end of the walk, yet another pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were found with the male singing.
Another site we had been looking forward to revisiting was here, since we had good luck with crakes and bitterns last time out. However, much seems to have changed in the intervening years, with a lot more open water and less mud fringing to the edges. It only cost the princely sum of $5 to enter, but it may also have been the excellent birding at Point Pelee that dumbed down our short time here. The wader marsh did have waders, but they were generally difficult to make out in the grass and weed covered drier areas. A highlight was provided by two overflying Bald Eagles, the first a juvenile, and the second a superb adult.
Day 4 Point Pelee
Occasional heavy rain the previous evening and probably overnight, with some light rain on the approach to the tip, boded well for a fall of migrants. The temperature was also a little lower than previously, increasing expectations further. We arrived somewhat later than yesterday, parking the car at 5.45, but the train started slightly earlier than 6, and there was one journey's worth of queue. However, there was next to no visible migration at the tip, apart from large numbers of mainly Brown-headed Cowbirds heading South. We hung around for 15 minutes or so, and took the executive (and correct) decision to make a move and walk the road back towards the visitor centre, taking in the Woodlands Trail on the way. This was totally different to yesterday, with regular parties of mainly wood warblers interspersed with individuals to keep the interest alive. Most of these were unfortunately a little high in the trees, but some did come very close. One mixed flock contained Canada, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided, & Magnolia Warblers. Even the start of the walk back began well, with Pine Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird in quick succession. Thrushes had been hard to get, but a pair of Swainson's next to the road began a few sightings for the morning.
The Woodland Trail was again varied and worthwhile. It has a much sparser growth of trees with muddy pools throughout. Initially, it was fairly quiet, yet still pleasant, but seemed to get better and better as we progressed. Perhaps the first notable bird was an American Redstart, and this triggered off a purple patch in a smallish area. Thrushes at long last put in a bit of an appearance, with a Swainson's and two separate Veery in amongst the wet and muddy patches. Wood warblers were excellent. In addition to the ones already seen, we added Black-and-white, Hooded, and another Canada in one spot, where a tour group had been watching a very close Red-eyed Vireo.
Route 21 near Hillman Marsh
Chatting with one of the other birders at Pelee, and agreeing that Hillman Marsh wasn't as good for birds as it used it used to be, she put us in to a track just nearby where she had seen Vesper Sparrow. It was found by turning right from the marsh, right again along Lakeview Drive, and then left on to the farm track along the first straight - road #21. Just before we came across the track, we were discussing the identity, or not, of a raptor during the morning which we then felt was probably not Cooper's Hawk, when seconds later, a pair of the aforementioned flew over the car. The track headed straight North, crossed another track, and there is a green mound on the left. We checked for some time, but unfortunately drew a blank on the Sparrows. However, it was an enjoyable stop, with Cliff Swallows along the wires, Shorelarks in the fields, and Purple Martins using the provided nest boxes. The track drives directly through arable fields, and must have good potential for grassland types of various species.
St Clair Marsh
After an excellent morning in the woods, we decided to vary the latter part of the day with a bit of variation in habitat, so took the 50 minutes drive north to the shore of Lake St Clair, and the marsh of its name. This marsh is best known as one of the two localities in the province for breeding Yellow-headed Blackbirds. We scanned what is quite an area of mainly cattail reedbeds with some open water, but they didn't seem to have arrived as yet. The location of the observation tower didn't really help. The height of the covered deck seemed ok, and it was fairly central to the marsh, but having a whopping great tree next to one side was just bad planning! Yet the visit was otherwise very profitable. Shortly after crossing the small bridge to a one way trail which bisects the marsh, we had excellent views of a Common Yellowthroat. Shortly after, I suggested we listen to a recording of Marsh Wren so that we were familiar with it. The first bars of the song had finished when an irate male appeared from his hiding place and replied back at us with gusto. A Swamp Sparrow joined in the fun a few reed stalks away in competition. We scanned the whole of the area from the observation tower, and only came up with the numerous Red-winged Blackbirds. However, Terns in the shape of single Caspian & Black were welcome. As we returned to the car, a few distant rolls of thunder were heard, and we had the first very light rain since the early morning trip to Pelee.
This is the other site for Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and is only a 30 minute drive from St Clair. There is a car park next to the reedbed, with an observation tower in the corner overlooking said reeds, although the only Blackbirds again were Red-winged. Another part of the site is the sewage lagoon, and this can be found officially by following the well marked path from the steel gate in the corner of the car park. This is initially adjacent to the lake, then bends to the right to follow a channel. A break in the wire fence leads over the railroad (which IS in use as demonstrated by the train which passed by minutes after we crossed), and then the path turns into grass to the right to now lie adjacent to the railroad, with the sewage lagoons to the left. A gate warns of trespassing, but it was open so we had a peek anyway. An alternate route back can be found by simply crossing the railroad again. A Woodchuck was keeping watch from his burrow at this point. The two sewage lagoons were quiet but for a few duck, and an impressive adult Bald Eagle overhead, but fun was had pinning own a busy group of Myrtle & Palm Warblers.
Day 5 Rondeau
After a couple of hugely enjoyable days starting at Pelee, we decided to mix locations and spend the day at Rondeau. Partially poor weather was expected, and the 1 hour 10 minute journey passed through some low lying mist, but the day turned up yet more fine and hot temperatures. This certainly didn't stop the visit from being productive and satisfying, turning in over a dozen warblers and other birds of interest. The park office opened at 7am, and entrance was by automatic ticket machine at $17 per car. We came a little later than at Pelee since we estimated fewer crowds, and were happily more than correct with this assumption. The whole day turned up very few people -always a benefit. We had decided to walk the Tulip Tree Trail first, to try and catch up with the park speciality, Prothonotory Warbler, but the mixed feeders to the rear of the visitor centre proved an early temptation. A short stay here produced Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, American Goldfinch, and White-breasted Nuthatch, all common by local standards, but with excellent views.
We then obtained the exact location of the Prothonotory Warblers from reception - boardwalk F - which by strange coincidence also had a plaque in front of the expected nesting area to help even more! We had hoped to be first there, and almost were. The pair of watchers present moved on, but then by some chance the male started to sing a couple of times, albeit in the canopy. Being greedy, we wanted better views, so were prepared to sit this one out. Wood Duck and Eastern Phoebes cameoed in the interim, until after an hour plus of waiting patiently paid its rewards. Not one but two males were singing, when one obliged by dropping down to the tree stump right below us for food and drink. Crippling views! Even the female decided to get in on the action shortly after. We then meandered back along the trail, taking in Scarlet Tanagers on the way, to begin the hike proper.
The whole park is quite an area to cover on foot, especially if this is done slowly and methodically, so we decided to walk the Harrison Trail half way up and cross to the Spice Bush Trail. The presence of migrants was apparently low by Rondeau standards, but we notched up a fair few, and this seemed even better being from the UK. The first walk up the Harrison Trail is a well made track which passes through woodland and occasional muddy pools on both sides. We ticked off a fair few common species, our highlights being mating Red-bellied Woodpeckers and an Eastern Garter Snake to whet our other interest. Turning on to Bennett road, which crosses the peninsular, the trees seemed to become taller and more spaced out, with larger pools either side. It was at this junction that we came across an impressive Pileated Woodpecker, which gave equally impressive views. There are two benches half way along Bennett Road, both situated between ponds, which made an ideal lunch stop. So it was that we munched on our sandwiches taking in Yellow-throated Vireo, Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Magnolia & Palm Warbler between bites.
The Spice Bush trail grew in stature as we covered the circular track clockwise. Initial Eastern Phoebe and an unexpected Savannah Sparrow underneath a log in the woodland opened up the floodgates a touch. Magnolia & Palm Warblers were again regular, but we had also hoped for some Thrushes, which had generally been in low numbers until now. Enter a Veery, and at the apex of the walk a Wood Thrush (or two, not sure!). We also hit a few new Warblers. I missed Hooded Warbler which was with a pair of Red-eyed Vireos, but made up with Black-throated Blue Warbler and American Redstart. Woodpeckers also totted up, adding Hairy, Red-bellied and Northern Flicker.
A Kirtland's Warbler had been reported along the Harrison Trail - which turned out to be true but was seen on the northern part we discovered later - so a return along here was in order. This was again a good decision, since we added three new Warblers for the day as we ambled along - Black-throated Green, Nashville, and Ovenbird. The Red-headed Woodpecker we saw is seemingly also one of the more difficult Woodpeckers to see at this park. Back at the visitor centre, our snake searching was rewarded by a second Garter Snake, first seen when it popped its head out from between the decking of the visitor centre!
Before setting off for Leamington again, we planned to look for Upland Sandpipers at a location just West out of Charing Cross. There was word that a tornado warning was in place for early evening, which was exciting in a strange way - we're not exactly storm chasers, but the thought of seeing a twister . . . ! We did find the fields where the birds were located easily, but much has changed over the years, and they were now arable land, and not in the least bit suitable as habitat for the Sandpipers. The rain was also coming down heavily, even though it was in the right direction so as not to soak us with wound down windows, so we hoped that this weather may have an avian benefit for us the following day.
Day 6 Point Pelee tip & Woodland Trail
The non event of a tornado of the previous evening had morphed into fair, cool weather, but with strong westerly winds. We reverted to type and arrived at the Pelee car park around 5.30, meeting fewer crowds than the previous visit. The birding day had started even before this, with an American Woodcock on the road in the headlights, and a second picked out in display flight over the car park. Even a single White-tailed Deer was roadside in the dark. While on the shuttle, the winds seemed stronger towards the tip, and the sea on the windward side was very rough, contrasting with the much calmer waters on the leeward side. Some marine birds such as Double-crested Cormorants and Great Northern Divers were passing, and an optimistic Ruby-throated Hummingbird flew South, but it was obvious that any birds here would be looking for shelter. This was in fact the case, with a stunning close Blackburnian Warbler joined by a couple of Least Flycatchers and a Black-and-White Warbler. A Northern Harrier battled its way overhead. Other activity at the tip was slow, so we decided yet again on the slow walk back up the road, taking in Woodland Trail. The former was much quieter today, as was the trail, but the latter did improve as we walked along. There was not the variety or numbers of birds as compared with our last walk here, but we did notch up another Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Red-eyed Vireo, and a couple of Magnolia Warblers. Towards the end, a pair of courting Wild Turkeys were a strange sight in the woodland, with a stunning male Scarlet Tanager opposite.
With the strong westerlies continuing to blow, and the temperatures in the coolish mid teens, we headed for Tilden, hoping for a few migrants which favoured a bit more shelter on the east side of the peninsular. We weren't too disappointed either. This time we took a bit of a detour by continuing straight on inside the trail towards the lake East Shore. Here, a narrow sand and shingle beach follows the water in each direction. The waves of this inland lake were a little choppy, but a group of Red-breasted Mergansers contained Bufflehead. One was a dapper male, and he used his striking good looks to woo one of the females into doing naughty things! In the wooded edges there, Warbling Vireos were very active, but searching through them also unearthed a Philadelphia Vireo, singing to proclaim his patch. A couple of Flycatchers were also here, one a Western Wood Pewee, the other a Trails Flycatcher - Willow or Alder, since it didn't call. As we met the return trail - the same one we exited to see the beach - one bush held both Blackburnian & Chestnut-sided Warbler.
The Warbling Vireos continued their manic feeding to be accompanied by less active Red-eyed Vireos. We took the seasonal trail which had held a Mourning Warbler a couple of days before - this time Swainson's Thrush and ridiculously close American Redstart, to meet the Chinquapin trail. Getting hungry, we did the old trick of just going another 100 metres, which was a good call. We came across a clearing which seemed to be too exposed in the wind to hold anything. After spotting a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak building a nest, moments later a Blue-winged Warbler perched for a brief time in a nearby tree. Only metres further on, a Magnolia Warbler was static in a cut wood thicket, and to seal the deal, an Eastern Bluebird was hunting for insects in the open. A good extension to trail - lunch tasted all the better!
This was one of the Pelee sites we had not covered, and we expected to cover the marsh in no time bagging a few water based specialities at the same time. This didn't happen, but the birding was superb. An observation tower overlooks the cattail reedbeds, which are interspersed with some open water. The walk around is only about 1km, and takes no time, partly because there was no more than Common Yellowthroat and Swamp Sparrow to spot. The surprise was the quality of the birds in the trees along the edge of the marsh, toward and beyond the toilet block to the North. Good numbers of various wood warblers seemed to find the trees over the regular wet areas to their liking, and were in constant presence. Although many of them were higher up, a good proportion were also at lower and ground level. There was even a mini twitch on, with some of the Ontario birders "needing" and getting a female Cerulean Warbler which we were happy to share with them (ok, it was they who spotted the bird first!).
With some time before the light acted against photography, and a good days migration watching behind us, we decided on a return to Tilden Woods, hoping for a few extra titbits that might have eluded us earlier. We headed for the seasonal trail to the rear, mainly because a Loiusiana Waterthrush had been spotted there earlier, but also since we hadn't walked this as yet. Predictably, no Waterthrush of any description was present, but we quickly added Great Crested Flycatcher and Black-and-white Warbler. Rejoining the main trail back towards the visitor centre, we were lucky enough to stumble on a female Hooded Warbler, which unfortunately was a little too active in the tangles for prolonged views. Last bird of the day was also a treat - a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeding and then displaying in a pendular flight back and forth.
Day 7 Pelee tip and Woodlands Trail
For our last morning at Pelee, we celebrated by being the first car in the car park at 5.25, catching the roding American Woodcock again by call overhead. This was also the coldest start here, and it felt colder than it actually was for some reason, despite the wind having dropped from yesterday. As is the custom, we started off at the tip to see if any visible migration was occurring. Apart from mixed Brown-headed Cowbirds, Common Grackles, and Red-winged Blackbirds leaving for the South in groups, there didn't seem to be any passerine movement, apart from a small number of hirundines (Cliff Swallows and a Northern Rough-winged) ploughing through the resident Barn & Tree Swallows. Over the water to the South, large lines of Double-crested Cormorants were flying eastwards. A small group of Franklin's Gulls was on the water. Overhead, an immature Bald Eagle was somewhat distant, and a Great Northern Diver headed East. With the presence of passerines in the bushes low, apart from Least Flycatcher and Red-eyed Vireo, we did a first and caught the shuttle to the Woodlands Trail.
As on our previous visits here, the counter clockwise route started off slowly, with more birds appearing as we progressed. The temperatures remained cool, but the sun began to break through, but this didn't encourage a huge raft of birds appearing. Some were still about though, albeit in low numbers. Apart from the usual plethora of Yellow Warblers, we also picked up Magnolia & Chestnut-sided, as well as a single Great Crested Flycatcher. A Downy Woodpecker was the first of its kind for the morning.
After the slow going on the Woodlands Trail, our 4 hour stroll around Tilden picked up the pace in birds a few notches. We had hoped for a Thrush/Waterthrush session, and this was delivered on cue. Both had been very thin on the ground in general over the last week, but we managed to peg a few back in this one short period, if not in quantity, but certainly quality. After a quick detour again to the East shore and back, where it was very quiet, we turned on to the main trail again to find a small group watching what we thought was the Eastern Screech Owl. This was partly correct, but they also had eyes for a Louisiana Waterthrush that had been in the slough below for some days. Any Waterthrush would have done, but this much scarcer species would be a bonus. We spent some time waiting, spotting Ovenbird padding around the same muddy fringe, when the bird in question was seen feeding behind tangled undergrowth. Not content with this, a further wait was rewarded with the bird singing from a perch, and then feeding in the open. We continued on the trail, coming across a small variety of common wood warblers (such as Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Black-and-white, & Myrtle), when a stunning Indigo Bunting was found, if only showing for a few seconds.
The open area just off the Chinquapin Trail beckoned, following the few good species we had there the previous day. However, stopping off at a likely open slough with plenty of water and surrounding looked to have good potential . . . and no other birders in sight (at first!). Patience proved a virtue here. After a little wait, a Thrush and Waterthrush appeared almost at the same time, and both needed a bit of observation to check ID. After seeing Louisiana, it was probably natural to suspect this could be the same, but scope views revealed the off white supercilium and spotted throat of Northern Waterthrush. The Thrush was also not immediately obvious. After only seeing Swainson's the last few days, we wondered if Grey-cheeked actually existed, and this bird at first seemed to have a hint of an eye ring to confuse matters. However, close inspection again confirmed it was indeed Grey-cheeked - the first of the trip! To improve matters even further, while taking images of the Waterthrush, a Veery also appeared in the viewfinder. Thrush heaven! Support acts were Northen Parula and Chestnut-sided Warbler. After all this, the clearing was much of a disappointment compared to yesterday, with only an Eastern Towhee for our troubles. On return to the car for lunch, we came across a second Grey-cheeked Thrush - perhaps a mini fall of them had occurred!
Our last Pelee session repeated the visit to the Marsh Boardwalk of the evening previously, but without doing the boardwalk itself! That proved a disappointment when we did walk its length, but the seasonal trail to the North of the car park past the toilet block, which must be no more than 150 metres long before it meets the road, was paced back and forth for 3½ hours. The reason for the length of time here was the excellent passage of migrants, in particular wood warblers and Vireos. Plenty of folk had also cottoned on to the benefits of being here, which was a double edged sword - more eyes to pick up the birds, but also more people in the way to swear at (under my breath of course). It isn't really obvious why the birds like this spot so much, perhaps the mix of open trees and water under the margins, but they were in constant supply. It seemed that at any time there were good birds to watch. All started nicely with some of the commoner species, such as Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, & Myrtle Warbler, but Philadelphia Vireos and a tearing away from the vicinity of the car park paid dividends. While we had seen both sexes of Prothonotory Warbler at Rondeau, where they are expected, seeing a female, and an obliging one at that, on passage here has a different satisfaction. Apparently, White-eyed Vireo is uncommon here, but the one we saw added to the Red-eyed, Philadelphia & Warbling present, with the addition of a Yellow-throated Vireo later near to the car park again. During all of this, overhead interest was in the form of Bald Eagle and a trio of Sandhill Cranes. Three Cedar Waxwings popped in for a drink, while a single Pine Siskin looked shattered after its exertions. We decided to leave the park at 6pm, in preparation for early waking and final day the next morning, when the leaving present of a Canada Warbler popped up. We followed its active feeding along the back of the tree/marsh boundary for a quarter of an hour before departing.
Day 8 Long Point
The last morning before the evening flight saw our earliest morning yet. We set off from Leamington at 4am for the 3 hour journey to Long Point. At times on the journey, which was obviously mainly made in the dark, the temperature dropped to -2°, with a heavy frost obvious on some of the lawns. In the headlights we did pick up Raccoon and White-tailed Deer on the way. First port of call was the visitor centre on the Long Point peninsular itself, which has a small area of trees to the rear which apparently does attract significant numbers of migrants. This and the residential street was covered in a short amount of time, but we did pick up Black-and-white, Chestnut-sided, & Black-throated Blue Warblers, as well as Least Flycatcher. When we went into the visitor centre, one of the assistants, Betty by name, proudly boasted of a Harris's Sparrow which regularly visited her feeders in the garden. She was even kind enough to give us the house number and permission to wander freely around the garden. Now that's courtesy! So it was that 10 minutes later we were stood in her garden, to the bemusement of the lady we presume was the housekeeper (the dog was happy to see us though!), scanning the feeders. After about 10 minutes and groups of Chipping, White-crowned & Song Sparrows, American Goldfinches, Baltimore & Orchard Orioles, and a displaying Ruby-throated Hummingbird, we were amazed at the appearance of the Sparrow of the show, albeit briefly on the lawn. However, another more lengthy wait was rewarded with a much more satisfying and unexpected show by the bird.
Doubling back on Lakeshore Road and going straight over a set of traffic lights this time found the Centre for Bird Studies Canada on the right. We aimed for here looking for Green Heron, but the decking outside of the main building overlooking the smallish ponds was an ideal location for sandwich lunch, distracted by the numerous nesting Tree Swallows and a singing Song Sparrow (the latter on the decking itself). From this vantage point, we spotted a Pied-billed Grebe in the centre if the nearest pond. Plenty of nest boxes were provided, seemingly for the use of Purple Martins, but it transpired that they had been commandeered by the Tree Swallows and the odd European Starlings, leaving only 2-3 Purple Martins in flight overhead. Following feeding time, a quick circumnavigation of the two ponds found a Green Heron perched in the cattails of the "wilder" pond, and two further sightings of it or another bird flying over.
While driving back over the causeway heading for the Point again, we felt we had to scan the open water to the left of us. There was a surprising lack of wildfowl here, save for a small group of Greater Scaup. Plying back and forth along the shore, however, were a pair of Black & and three close Caspian Terns. White Terns in the distance were too far to identify, but a couple were perched on posts just out from the marina. We asked the owner politely if we could pop though for a closer look, but the overweight grump gave a scowling negative, based on last birders just marching through without the courtesy we were so obviously imparting. So much for manners! We had the last laugh, though, since fortune shined as one of the Terns flew over our heads to confirm Forster's.We had been recommended the Old Provincial Park just down from Old Cut Road, where the visitor centre is based, so this would be our last main stop. It appeared that the main function of this place was for recreation in the decent weather, since it was an area of trees on sand, which was sculpted into separate parking lots, each numbered and provided with a barbecue stand. Luckily no-one was out to play today, so we had free reign to explore the vegetation for birds. One or two were present, the pick of which was a dapper Blue-headed Vireo. Most of the birds seemed more local, with a good count of Grey Catbirds, but a Brown Thrasher in the sun was hard to beat. Before clarting about with the luggage before setting off for the airport, we did a quick tour of the trees behind the visitor centre again, but all seemed relatively quiet.