Saturday, 19 April 2014

Point Pelee comes through

My hunch to head down to Point Pelee this weekend seemed to be a good choice, as most of the rarity action in Ontario over the last few days has been related to Point Pelee. Yesterday it was the Henslow's Sparrow, and today was a new one for my Pelee list.

The day started out much like the last - cold but sunny with the promise of warmth. The birding was slow for the most part, and I spent a lot of time socializing with fellow birders, some who I hadn't seen since last May. By late morning I was hiking with Kory Renaud and Rick Mayos along the Woodland Nature Trail. We dipped on a reported Yellow-throated Warbler found by Mike Tait, Bob Cermak, Blake Mann et al., but we came across a Louisiana Waterthrush in a wet slough. Since it was relatively close we took the time to photograph it.

Kory and I split ways with Rick and we decided to bird Tilden's Woods. Tilden's was slow with not much to show for our efforts so we chose to head north up the Chinquapin Oak Trail to see the results of the recent deforestation event by the park. I believe the area will be called "Cactus Field". It was surprisingly birdy, with Eastern Towhee, Brown Thrasher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Bluebird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and a few groups of sparrows. We were in search of a possible Vesper Sparrow when I heard Kory yell out some choice woods, then "Black Vulture!!!" I looked up to see a Black Vulture cruising by at a low altitude. We both grabbed our cameras and fired off some record shots as the bird circled several times.

Kory posted the sighting on Ontbirds and I phoned/texted a few people. Eventually we lost track of the vulture as it headed south towards the Visitor's Centre. Black Vultures show up usually 3 to 10 times a year in Ontario, often with several sightings throughout the spring migration (most at hawk-watches). Black Vultures are starting to colonize the Niagara area, but apart from the river corridor they are quite rare in Ontario. Point Pelee sees close to one a year on average I would think (Alan?). It was a new Point Pelee bird for me, putting me once closer to 300 species.This was also the first one where I had been a part of the find.

About half an hour later we met up with Blake Mann and Adam Pinch who were birding together. We told them about the vulture and about five minutes later it flew over again! We all had great looks and photos of the bird as it gave an encore performance.

That was the only highlight of the day bird wise! In the afternoon I braved the meter-high snowdrifts of the west beach footpath and found a nice sheltered spot along the beach. I sat down with the sun shining down on me and scanned the ducks. Other than hundreds of scaup and Surf Scoters I did not see much else with them. A female Common Goldeneye flew by heading south, and some Horned Grebes dove close to shore right in front of me, giving me the best looks I've ever had of the species, despite the glare from the sun.

A drive through the onion fields and Hillman Marsh yielded the regular ducks and shorebirds. I was happy to spot an American Golden-Plover at dusk, still in winter plumage, sitting by itself at the edge of the mudflat.

Tomorrow afternoon I have a family gathering for Easter, so I only have a few hours to bird beforehand. Right now there are a few rare birds being reported up in Perth County, so I might make a slight detour up there on my way back home...

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