On Saturday, May 17, a group of us decided to do a Big Day. The decision was kind of spontaneous. Jeremy and I had tossed the idea around back in the winter, but we had left it at that. So on Friday afternoon, we made the call to do a Big Day. Reuven Martin found a Lark Bunting out on the Marsh Trail at Rondeau that evening, so the start of our route was determined! Kory Renaud was down for a Big Day as well, and so the four of us (Dominic, Josh, Kory, Jeremy) prepared for the long day of birding. We were up by 4:30 and Kory was right on time. We left for Rondeau just after 5:00 AM, the sky still pitch black.
It slowly lightened and by the time we were nearing Blenheim our first birds of the day appeared. Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Mourning Dove. Exciting stuff! Kory spotted a Cooper’s Hawk that the rest of us couldn’t get on, our only Cooper's for the day.
We cruised into Rondeau and with the windows rolled down about 20 birds were added to the list – Marsh Wren, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Eastern Towhee, a few warblers.
The Marsh trail ended up being quite birdy and the species total hit 50 in no time. There was on and off light rain for the first hour, and as a result the birds were down low for the most part. A Clay-colored Sparrow was a nice surprise, as was a flyover Northern Pintail. Most of the regular warblers and thrushes appeared, and a White-eyed Vireo sang which only 3 of us managed to hear. The Lark Bunting was a no-show unfortunately, as many of his sparrow companions were nowhere to be found. We continued adding on species – Virginia Rail, Red-breasted Merganser, Mute Swan, Black-crowned Night Heron. The pair of Sandhill Cranes noisily flying and landing in the marsh ended up being our only cranes of the day.
We were back at the vehicles by 9:30 AM with about 85 species under our belt. The plan was to swing over to the Tulip Tree Trail to pick up a few good birds including hopefully a Prothonatary. That proved to be good choice, as not only did we quickly add the Prothon, but Canada Warbler, Northern Parula, and Wood Thrush were seen as well.
Our last stop in the park was the Spicebush Trail in hopes of hearing an Acadian Flycatcher. While the Acadian never materialized, I did locate two Hairy Woodpeckers and their nest. Along with Pileated, we had two tough species (well, one tough one and one impossible one) to get at Pelee.
The count was almost at 100 and it was only 11:00 AM. We swung by the Blenheim lagoons, hummed and hawed about whether it was worth it (rumor had it that there were very few shorebirds and ducks), but decided to in the end. Again, a good choice, as we added 5 ducks, Bobolink, flyover Greater Yellowlegs, and Eastern Meadowlark, not to mention about 3000 swallows!
At McGeachy's Pond, the long-staying Snowy owl was still sitting out in the field. At this rate it might over-summer...
The Erieau pier gave us all the terns (except Black), Little Gull and Great Black-backed Gull, while the drive west towards Point Pelee was useful in adding three common shorebird species in the fields. Wheatley Harbour had some Sanderlings, the stake-out baby Great Horned Owl was on the nest, and a flyby Peregrine Falcon near the Ring-necked Pheasant spot was a bonus! We also had a male pheasant, right on cue. Our last new bird before entering the park was a Sora in the ditch on Concession E.
We arrived at the gates of Point Pelee National Park at 2:15 PM, with our list around 130 if I recall. To this point our Big Day had been somewhat casual. We still did not linger in one spot for too long, but we weren’t exactly running around. At this point we picked up the pace just a bit, hoping to hit 150 or 160.
|road Bay-breasted Warbler|
We headed to the tip and began scoping for the Pacific Loon that Jean Iron had found earlier in the day. Not only was it a good bird for a Big Day, but it was also a new Pelee bird for all of us (new Ontario bird for some?). Kory and I thought that we should move up the east beach towards Sparrow Field, as the large merganser flock which the loon was associating with was easier to view from there.
|Kory, Jere and Dom|
We took turns scoping. Kory was at the helm when Dom and I walked back into Sparrow Field. I quickly found a female Eastern Gartersnake – a beautiful melanistic individual. What a stunner!
|melanistic Eastern Gartersnake|
|melanistic Eastern Gartersnake|
|melanistic Eastern Gartersnake|
Suddenly the snake was forgotten as Kory said “Um, get over here guys”. In the scope he had the Pacific Loon! We all had quick looks in the scope. Luke and Gary Berg were with us and they got on it as well. Sweet! Too far for photos, unfortunately.
These Wild Turkeys were running out to get a sip of water from the lake.
The four of us, spurred on by our success, headed inland to sparrow field. While we were canvassing this area, Dominic flushed a small sparrow. He said something along the lines of “Gather round boys, I have a dinky sparrow here”. We focused our attention on the area, and I noticed a bit of movement. A look with the bins confirmed it – a Henslow’s Sparrow! We all had excellent views of this bird, a lifer for Dominic. It was my 3rd this spring already. My photos are poor given the harsh lighting and grass, and Kory Renaud took some much better ones.
We left the sparrow after a few minutes and walked Post Woods up to the VC. WHite-crowned Sparrow, Indigo Bunting, Mourning Warbler, Olive-sided Flycatcher.
We made a quick run up to the new Cactus Field to see what was happening. Turns out we missed a Kentucky Warbler by a few minutes, but I did come across this weird thrush. Gray-cheeked? with a red tail? Or Hermit? In the end we decided on it being just a late Hermit Thrush, though the extensive gray on the face seemed a little odd.
The birding was fast and furious, and in no time we had Blue-headed Vireo, Common Nighthawk and Eastern Bluebird, all easily "missable" birds on a Big Day this time of year.
Hillman Marsh and the shorebird cell was next up as light began fading. Luckily all the remaining ducks and shorebirds were accounted for. We also ran into Kevin McLaughlin who kindly photographed the four of us. About 30 seconds prior, we were looking at our first Yellow-bellied Flycatcher of the day, species 152ish.
Two Stilt Sandpipers and a Wilson’s Phalaropes were new year bird for me, and a nice addition to the day list. Sitting at 159 at dusk, we decided to go the easy way out and pick up American Woodcock (they are very easy in the Pelee area), before finishing early. That’s exactly what we did, with a peenting American Woodcock at the DeLaurier parking lot just before dusk being species #160!
It is impossible to get everything on a Big Day, so here is a list of our Big Misses. Some embarrassing ones on there!