Monday, 17 October 2011

Wet and wild times at Pelee

This weekend I zipped down to Pelee, hoping, as usual, for uber-rare vagrant birds. Strong west winds were forecasted for the weekend and I hoped that this would cause some Franklin's Gulls, cool shorebirds, or if we were really lucky, a rare western flycatcher to be found down in the southwestern corner of the province.

When it was all said and done, it was an excellent weekend with good company and a couple of decent birds (despite the persistent rain).

My first destination was a flooded field near Comber at the north end of the county. Large numbers of shorebirds had consistently been found there over the past week or two. When I arrived, there was no sign of the 11 Godwits which were frequenting the spot. However, one lonely Hudsonian Godwit was still present. The winds were so strong here that I had to hide in the cornfield next to the muddy field, using it as a windbreak. This was fairly succesful and I picked out the remaining species, in order of abundance. By the way, most of these counts are estimates:

Black-bellied Plover (250)
Dunlin (150)
White-rumped Sandpiper (60)
Semipalmated Sandpiper (50)
American Golden-Plover (25)
Killdeer (10)
Baird's Sandpiper (2)
and singles of Long-billed Dowitcher, Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, and of course the Hudsonian Godwit.
I ended up walking in the muddy field to get closer views at the peeps since I suspected one was a Western from a distance. Sure enough, it was! It was a fairly long-billed "female-type" bird. The Spotted Sandpiper is a pretty late date for the species.

A brief check of Tilbury yielded virtually nothing, so I headed on down towards Point Pelee. Wheatley harbour had a really fresh, crisp juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull but not much else. The onion fields were pretty devoid of all life too, so I called it a day early and headed to my favorite local joint (McDonald's for the free wifi - where else!) and Skype-called Laura from halfway around the world. Ah, modern technology. After that it was drinks with a good friend in Leamington, then I called it a night and slept in my car.

Sunday was as the forecast predicted - miserable with rain out of the southwest. I headed down to the tip and did a bit of a lakewatch with "the regulars" - Alan Wormington, Blake Mann, Richard Carr, Kevin McLaughlin, Steve Pike, and Marianne Balkwill. It was nice to finally meet Marianne!

Despite the winds it was pretty slow at the tip - highlights were probably Ring-billed Gull and Red-breasted Merganser... Well it wasn't THAT bad. A juvenile Red-necked Phalarope was nice to see and a Lesser Black-backed Gull made a few passes. The odd Merlin and Common Tern flew by as well. Despite scanning thousands of gulls, we didn't come up with any Franklins!

Steve was pretty stoked about the large number of "dicky-birds" around in the woods so I joined him for a bit in sparrow field then birded by myself for a few hours at the tip and along Shuster. There were Yellow-rumped Warblers everywhere, and I picked out 9 other species of warblers with them, including Orange-crowned, Magnolia, and Wilson's. All the other expected October fare was present, including Winter Wren, both kinglets, Eastern Phoebes, Hermit Thrushes, Rusty Blackbirds, and a Blue-headed Vireo. Steve mentioned that this was the most number of birds he had seen in the park all autumn.

My next stop was Hillman marsh where I donned the hipwaders and went splashing after Nelson's Sparrows. Despite the high winds I was somewhat successful in this venture, flushing three possible Nelson's (of which I only got a decent look at one of them). I also walked through the grassy field directly north of the shorebird cell and scared up a bunch of sparrows, including one that may or may not have been a Le Conte's. Sometimes they get away from you!

A quick check of Erieau harbour produced an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull and not much else. I checked Blenheim lagoons around sunset and found a few shorebirds in the sprinklers (including White-rumped and Long-billed Dowitcher). One shorebird had me stumped - it was hanging out with Lesser Yellowlegs and exhibited similar behaviour, but its bill was shaped more like a Stilt Sandpiper. It was a juvenile bird, and it was slightly smaller than the LEYEs but appeared marginally chunkier. It had a different facial pattern too - much blander actually, and with less of an obvious capped appearance. I only wish the lighting was better since I couldn't pick up much on this bird! Maybe it will hang around and someone will notice it and clear up it's identification.

All in all it was a decent weekend and really nice to get away from schoolwork for a bit. The few photos I took from the weekend will be added once I get a chance (might not be for a couple of days)

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