Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Point Pelee weekend - Part 2 (Sunday and Monday)

A significant migration appeared to take place overnight so spirits were high as Dan Riley and I entered the park. We were not disappointed and had a great morning of birding.

Within minutes of our arrival at the Tip word got out about a singing Kirtland's Warbler located on the boardwalk directly south of the tram loop. Apparently it was loudly singing for quite some time before someone clued in that it was in fact a Kirtland's who was singing! Dan and I rushed over and were treated to good, though backlit, views of the warbler as it flitted among the red cedars, occasionally giving us all a rendition of his explosive song.

Kirtland's Warbler - Point Pelee National Park

I was thrilled with the sighting since Kirtland's Warbler is a species that I have not had much luck with over the years. I had only viewed two individuals previously: the first was a bird I discovered along the West Beach footpath at Point Pelee on May 22, 2010, and the second was a singing male on territory in Petawawa in 2012, though I only managed a few glimpses of that bird between singing bouts.

The Kirtland's disappeared after a few minutes so Dan and I made a hasty retreat from the area just as the next wave of birders and photographers arrived on the tram. A few minutes later and we had relocated the Kirtland's with some other birders on the western side of the Tip; the stampede of birders followed shortly thereafter!

Kirtland's Warbler mob - Point Pelee National Park

The rest of the morning was pretty productive as Dan and I birded with Steve Pike and later with Pauline Catling and her mom. We focused on the west side of the park and walked most of the trails from the Tip to Dunes. A distant Olive-sided Flycatcher in Sparrow Field was nice to see.

Olive-sided Flycatcher - Point Pelee National Park

I went out of my way to take this poor photo of a Gray-cheeked Thrush, a new one for my "Photographed in Ontario" list. The Gray-cheeked was one of the few low-hanging fruits left; now, the easiest remaining species are Connecticut Warbler, King Rail, Yellow Rail, Northern Gannet and California Gull. A tall order!

Gray-cheeked Thrush - Point Pelee National Park

As we passed the trail leading to the Pioneer parking lot we stopped abruptly as a White-eyed Vireo belted out its distinctive song from the trailside shrubbery. Awesome! White-eyed Vireo, while common in much of its range to the south, is quite scarce in Ontario with only a handful of breeding pairs. They are an uncommon species at Point Pelee, where most individuals sighted in the spring are likely overshoots.

White-eyed Vireo - Point Pelee National Park

After taking a break for a couple of hours in the afternoon I headed back into the park, specifically to see if the Kirtland's Warbler was still around. Prior to my encounter with the bird earlier in the day I had never photographed a Kirtland's Warbler, so I was hoping to improve on my poor record shots from earlier!

I had barely entered the park when three Cattle Egrets were reported from just outside the park along Concession E. Since I was only a few minutes away I drove by to check them out as they went about their business, searching for grasshoppers in the grass.

Cattle Egret - Leamington onion fields

Leaving Concession E I quickly checked my phone before returning into the park. There was a new message on WEPbirds, the local listserv, about a White-winged Dove that was visiting Tern Inn, a bed and breakfast operated by Kelly Moore and Heidi Staniforth, two local birders. What a great bird for their yard! I raced over to their place, seeing many familiar faces who had arrived in the minutes preceding me. Sure enough the White-winged Dove was perched in one of the backyard tree, and after a few minutes dropped onto the fence. I only stayed for a few minutes since I wanted to get back into the park before it was too late in the evening. White-winged Dove is a common species in much of North and Central America but is still a rare species in Ontario. This was my first for Point Pelee, as it was for many of the other birders there. Great find, Heidi and Kelly.

White-winged Dove - Leamington

It only took a few minutes of searching before I re-located the Kirtland's Warbler at the Tip. Along with two other photographers I enjoyed studying the bird at close range as it foraged for insects, lit up with the evening sunshine. Eventually it came close enough for a few photos as well. I must admit, having the bird to myself was a welcome contrast to the pandemonium of the morning. Don't get me wrong, the interest in birds and birding is fantastic to see and it is great that so many people want to observe a reported Kirtland's Warbler, but it can be a little difficult to enjoy the bird among the chaos!

Kirtland's Warbler - Point Pelee National Park

Kirtland's Warbler was on the brink of extinction but due to the careful management of their breeding habitat, namely young Jack Pine stands, the population has increased to approximately 5,000 individuals, most confined to a small portion of Michigan. It is a rare but somewhat regular migrant through southwestern Ontario in the spring and most years 3-8 individuals are sighted, with the majority of individuals found at Point Pelee.

Kirtland's Warbler - Point Pelee National Park

This Orange-crowned Warbler was a little further up along the path from the Kirtland's. It was by far the most "cooperative" Orange-crowned I have ever encountered, allowing a prolonged photo shoot. They say that one of the field marks for Orange-crowned Warbler is that it exhibits a lack of field marks, but I think they have a subtle beauty. Of course it is easier to appreciate this when watching one flit about only a few feet away, in gorgeous evening light.
Orange-crowned Warbler - Point Pelee National Park

Orange-crowned Warbler - Point Pelee National

The Monday was a protracted day of birding as I had a four hour drive ahead of me to get back home, and I was hoping to be back in a reasonable time. The birding was pretty steady all morning on Monday as well, though songbird numbers appeared to be a little lower than the previous day.

This Northern Mockingbird was a nice surprise along the east side of the tip. They are not too common of a sight in the Point Pelee circle.

Northern Mockingbird - Point Pelee National Park

After birding at the Tip for a couple of hours, I was walking back up the road with a few others when a singing Cerulean Warbler caught the attention of our ears. This was most likely the same bird that was seen right at the Tip earlier in the morning but which had disappeared before too many birders had seen it. Cerulean's are one of my favorites and not a species I see in migration every year. It stayed a little ways up in the canopy but occasionally ventured low enough where photos were possible. Cerulean Warbler is yet another species of bird that has declined substantially in recent years.

Cerulean Warbler - Point Pelee National Park

The most popular bird of the day was the female Blue Grosbeak that Pete Read discovered in Sparrow Field. A nice bird to be able to study in Ontario, and one that I don't see every year. Thanks, Pete!

Blue Grosbeak - Point Pelee National Park

And with that, another fantastic weekend had come and gone. It is amazing how quickly May seems to go by...


  1. I always seem to pick the day to head down to Pelee right before a huge migration day packed with rarities.

    1. I hear you, it sucks when that happens! The only way to get around that is to be at Pelee the entire month...