Saturday, 7 June 2014

What's this, a blog post!? Point Pelee May 24, 2014

Yep, I am still alive. I am currently in Massey and my location for the next 10 days (and likely until early August) will be quite variable; usually involving some small town in northern Ontario! This is one of my favorite times of the year, as I am putting in long hours completing wildlife surveys. Between early morning breeding bird surveys and late night whip-poor-will surveys, there is not much time for anything else! But I am able to experience new locations almost every day, become fully immersed in the northern woods, and see a ton of cool species. I'll try to remember to take my camera into the field every now and then and maybe I'll have some material to post at some point. At any rate, here is the second half of my Point Pelee weekend back on May 23/24/25.

The morning began with a stroll through the national park, though considering I can't recall seeing anything interesting and I did not even make an Ebird checklist, I think it is safe to say that it was a bust! By late morning I was out of the park, heading towards Wheatley harbour to look for shorebirds including Whimbrels.

The Whimbrel is one of Ontario's largest shorebird species. They have a condensed spring migration with the vast majority of the birds coming and going over the period of about 1 week while en route to their arctic breeding grounds. Generally, May 24/25 is the peak of Whimbrel migration and on these days it is hard to miss them if you spend a few hours along the north shore of Lake Erie or Lake Ontario. While flocks of hundreds of birds can easily be seen in late May, it is easy to miss seeing them completely during the spring simply because of how quickly they migrate through the province.

I arrived at Wheatley harbour and immediately heard the mournful call notes of a flock of Whimbrels on the wing. There was a group of about 30 birds, wheeling around with a few other shorebirds including Ruddy Turnstones, Black-bellied Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Dunlins, and even a couple of Short-billed Dowitchers. However, there were no Red Knots here during my 2 hour stay, though they were reported not long after I had left!

Whimbrels, Black-bellied Plovers, and a Dunlin - Wheatley Harbour

I ended up with a total of 366 Whimbrels at the harbour as a large flock came in from the east an hour later. Pretty awesome sight!

Whimbrels - Wheatley harbour

high contrast Whimbrels - Wheatley harbour

I continued to the east as I had grand plans of birding Elgin County that evening and the next day. There are a lot of under-birded spots along the shoreline in Elgin with a solid track record of rarities. As well, there are some interesting breeding birds in the county, including Acadian Flycatcher, Louisiana Waterthrush, Hooded Warbler, etc.

I was only 15 minutes east of Wheatley, traveling parallel to the shoreline along Highway 3, when I noticed a large flock of birds steadily powering to the west, a few hundred meters off shore. Yes, more Whimbrels! This group had about 350 birds, bringing my daily total to around 700. Certainly the most I had ever seen in one day.

Whimbrels - east of Wheatley, Chatham-Kent 

While I was photographing the above birds, I received a message that Adam Pinch had found a group of six American White Pelicans at Hillman Marsh! I had never seen this western species at Point Pelee before so naturally I backtracked to Hillman. They certainly weren't present when I drove by the exact spot a couple of hours earlier.

When I arrived there was one white blob sitting in the open water with 5 more circling above it in the sky. Pellies!!!

The five flew in perfect formation, kettling in the strong thermals. At one point they flew right over me, allowing for some interesting photos!

American White Pelicans - Hillman Marsh, ON

American White Pelicans - Hillman Marsh, ON

American White Pelicans - Hillman Marsh, ON

Eventually Pelly #6 joined its friends and they cruised along to the east. I lucked out and grabbed the following photo which was my favorite of the bunch.

American White Pelicans - Hillman Marsh, ON

American White Pelicans used to be a rarity in Ontario but in recent years they have pushed further north and east. Now they regularly can be seen in Sault Ste Marie, Rainy River District, an increasing number of lakes in Thunder Bay District, and the coast of James Bay! Perhaps in future years this species will be a regular member of southern Ontario's avifauna. Hamilton, Lake St. Clair, and Port Perry, and Fenelon Falls are a few of the locations off the top of my head that have all had small groups of pelicans in recent days. I'm still hoping to find some at Lake Simcoe one of these days!

I checked Hillman Marsh later that afternoon with Jeremy Hatt and Marianne Balkwill. We added 97 more Whimbrels here, as well as a surprise Willet (getting late!), a White-rumped Sandpiper, and a Little Gull.


  1. Hey neighbour,

    If you are bored of Whips one night and want to feed mosquitoes and possibly get wet , then come on over for some Yellow Rail surveys

  2. American Pelican are spotted annually on Lake Nipissing as well. I have yet to see one myself. Lake Nipissing is big enough to make it difficult to find this species (after the ice retreats) without a risky trip in a motor boat. I went on two boat trips to islands in the middle of Lake Nipissing. The first trip got me a jaegar and a Buff-breasted Sandpiper plus a load of other shorebirds.

    1. Cool! That sounds pretty awesome. If I lived there I would try to get out there as much as possible!

  3. That last pelican photo is a dandy ... we'll have to put it into the Point Pelee Annual Summary!