Friday, 20 July 2018

Better late than never - Point Pelee: May 18-21, 2018

Spring always seems to fly by much too quickly and this year was no exception. My last weekend of spring birding at Point Pelee spanned the dates of May 18 through May 21 and it was a little bittersweet. The birding and socializing was a blast as usual but it was also starting to feel like summer. Most normal people would appreciate that, but as a birder who's favourite time of year is the rush of spring migration, summer represents the end of something awesome. But I shouldn't be too melancholy - this final weekend at Point Pelee was a good one!

I arrived in the Pelee circle sometime in the late afternoon. After the customary stop at Wheatley harbour and a cruise through the fields I ended up in the park, electing to walk the Pioneer and Sleepy Hollow areas on my own. It felt great to stretch my legs and look at some warblers; a few Black Terns chased each other offshore as well. Eventually I ran into Amanda Guercio, Tim Arthur and Jeremy Bensette. We watched a little pocket of songbirds around the parking lot of Northwest Beach, then decided to bird together along the footpath south of here. The birding was not off-the-hook, but there were definitely things around. Eastern Wood-Pewees were present in numbers; some even were low enough for photos. I finished with around 70 species for the evening despite it feeling like the birds were not super abundant. That's spring for you.

Eastern Wood-Pewee - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

Saturday morning dawned moderately warm and sunny and I made my way back into the park. I can't exactly recall everything that happened that day but I'm pretty sure I birded mostly by myself in the morning. Following a few weekends of birding constantly with others (which can be awesome as well!), I was pretty content to get a chance to bird on my own.

Highlights along the west beach footpath included a White-eyed Vireo and a Tufted Titmouse; both were between Pioneer and Sleepy Hollow. For some reason it had been an excellent spring for White-eyed Vireos and I certainly saw more than my share. I think I found around seven or so at Point Pelee this spring and it seemed like others were reporting the species more often than what is typical as well.

White-eyed Vireo - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

Below are a few more photos of birds I encountered on Saturday morning. As we were approaching late May female warblers dominated the scene. Males generally migrate earlier in the spring to duke it out with the other males to claim the prime territories on the breeding grounds, while the females arrive a week or two later.

American Redstart - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

Canada Warbler - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

Common Yellowthroats are a common breeding species at Point Pelee. It is sometimes difficult to determine which birds are residents and which are just passing through.

Common Yellowthroat - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

Baltimore Orioles may be common but it is hard to get sick of them, especially when they are down low, posing for the camera!

Baltimore Oriole - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

Hormones run high at this time of year. A gaggle of four male Brown-headed Cowbirds were doing their very best to impress the lone female, who looks rather bored with the proceedings.

Brown-headed Cowbirds - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

Gray Catbirds often skulk deep in the thickets but they can be surprisingly confiding at times.

Gray Catbird - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

Gray Catbird - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

As the day progressed and the warm temperatures began to shut down bird activity, I left the park to explore some other areas. Kopegaron Woods was my destination. This tract contains some beautiful oak and maple swamps and other examples of Carolinian forests. I was focused too much on plants during this visit so unfortunately I don't have any photos of birds or other wildlife to share.

Eventually as the afternoon progressed and the heat began to diminish, I left the lush, shady confines of Kopegaron Woods and headed back into the park. A quick stop at Wheatley harbour produced a single Willet which promptly got up and flew southwest towards Point Pelee.

It was a beautiful evening at Point Pelee and I explored some trails along the west side of the park with a few friends. An Acadian Flycatcher just south of the Northwest Beach parking lot was our main highlight, while this Red-breasted Merganser also tolerated my approach for a few photos.

Red-breasted Merganser - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

Sunday was an awesome day of birding and certainly one of the better days I experienced this spring. I began by parking at the West Beach parking lot and walking the footpath south towards the tip and it was evident right away that quite a few new birds had arrived overnight. A Green Heron was perched at the tip of a dead tree as I arrived at the parking lot - likely a new arrival - and promptly flew south and out of site. This Eastern Kingbird did not, and I took some photos I was pleased with despite the low light levels at that early morning hour.

Eastern Kingbird - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

Earlier in the week a Black-billed Magpie had been seen sporadically at various locations in the south end of the park. It was found on Wednesday and was also seen on Thursday, but it did not show on Friday or Saturday. I figured it probably had left the area but kept an eye to the sky just in case. As I was walking down the west beach footpath I received a notification that William Konze had relocated the magpie flying over Sparrow Field! That lit a fire under my ass and I speed-walked down the rest of the trail. It was then seen flying over the tram stop, then the tip, then the Tram Loop again...finally, I arrived at Sparrow Field and began my vigil, while talking on the phone to Steve Pike who had just observed the bird at the Tram Loop. Only a minute later and the magpie flew over my head, completely backlit by the sun, but easily identifiable with that distinctive black and white wing pattern and long tail. Awesome!

Other soon joined me at Sparrow Field and the magpie flew over a few more times, allowing us to take some decent enough flight photos.

Black-billed Magpie - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

Black-billed Magpie is a bird of the mountains and prairies, though it does reach Ontario in the Rainy River District as well as some portions of Kenora and Thunder Bay Districts in northwestern Ontario. The species does show up out of range from time to time, but this is complicated by the fact that their have been a few known instances of birds escaping from captivity. Ultimately we will never know the provenance of this bird, though given the time of year and the bird's behaviour I would not be surprised if it was a wild bird.

Black-billed Magpie - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

It was exciting to finally catch up on the Black-billed Magpie, and I was thrilled I managed a few photos as well. Thanks to everyone for the frequent updates on the whatsapp group!

A few minutes later several of us were standing around, chatting, near the south end of Sparrow Field along the main park road. Kory and I noticed a warbler flitting around in some nearby trees and we both realized around the same time what species it was. Cerulean Warbler!!

Cerulean Warbler - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

Cerulean has declined in southern Ontario due to a number of factors, but mainly due to habitat loss both on the breeding grounds in eastern North America, and on the wintering grounds in South America. It is always a treat to encounter one during migration.

Cerulean Warbler - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

For the rest of the day I continued birding in the south half of the National Park - in fact I stayed south of the Visitor's Centre all day - leaving only after it was too dark to see. The great birding remained steady all day. All six vireos were represented, including a White-eyed that I found at the north end of the Sleepy Hollow parking lot, and a few Yellow-throated including this one which came down low.

Yellow-throated Vireo - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo


Flycatchers had invaded the park as well. I tallied about a dozen Yellow-bellied and two Olive-sided, among many of the more common species.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo


Olive-sided Flycatcher - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo


Given the large influx of birds and time of year it was not surprising that a few Connecticut Warblers were scattered throughout the park. Unfortunately they eluded me, but I did catch up with 22 other species of warblers. Bay-breasted, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided and Blackburnian were around in large numbers.

Bay-breasted Warbler - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

Bay-breasted Warbler - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

 Magnolia Warbler - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

Magnolia Warbler - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

But Scarlet Tanagers really stole the show. Just along one stretch of the Woodland Nature Trail there were well over a dozen individuals, and many more scattered throughout the rest of the park. . It was just an awesome day, and a great way to close out my time at Point Pelee this spring.

Scarlet Tanager - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo


The following morning I birded a few trails in the north end of the park but soon enough it was time to begin the long drive home. I'll close with a few wildflowers I photographed on that last morning.

Herb-Robert - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

Wild Blue Phlox - Point Pelee National Park, Ontairo

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