Friday, 18 May 2018

Second Annual Point Pelee Family Weekend (Part 1)

This past weekend was the second installment of what I hope will continue to be an annual tradition at Point Pelee. My parents were able to make it down for two nights, while Laura and I also drove down to meet them there. Our inaugural Pelee weekend last May was slightly hampered by cold temperatures and frequent rain, but we made the most of it and had a good time anyways (even though only 9 warbler species were seen!).

My parents drove down to their bed and breakfast in Leamington on Friday after my mom finished work, while Laura and I were not far behind them, arriving in Leamington by 10:00 PM or so. The Riley's were generously hosting Laura and I again this year. Though heavy rain was once again forecast for the whole weekend, we were determined to make the most of it.

From left to right: Dave, Josh and Fran Vandermeulen, Laura Bond, David Szmyr, Steve Pike, Josh Mandell (photo courtesy of Steve Pike)

One of the first birds I laid eyes on after arriving at the Visitor's Center on Saturday morning was a Eurasian Tree Sparrow, flying past us through the parking lot as we were getting organized in the morning, and appearing to land somewhere around the Visitor's Center. This bird was almost certainly the individual that had been seen at several locations in the southern part of the park over the previous two days.  I spent a few minutes searching for the bird with Dan Riley near the Visitor's Center but eventually gave us as the tram arrived.

Despite the cool, gloomy conditions with a threat of rain the birding was actually quite good near the Tip. I spotted an Acadian Flycatcher around the new clearing that will be the location for the proposed observation tower and within a minute or two the entire clearing was lined with birders! Word travels quickly at the Tip. We slipped away from the crowd to keep birding, being entertained by our first few warbler species, Scarlet Tanagers, and great looks at two Philadelphia Vireos, including this one which was resting on a trail-side branch with its eyes closed for a few minutes.

Philadelphia Vireo - Point Pelee National Park

Philadelphia Vireo - Point Pelee National Park

Many of the warblers were feeding down low, often walking right on the ground and occasionally popping up onto a visible twig, and we soon added Orange-crowned, Tennessee, Nashville, Cape May and Blackburnian to our lists.

Tennessee Warbler - Point Pelee National Park

Birding at Pelee during May is almost as much about the social side of things as it is about the birds. It was great to run into quite a few familiar faces, many of the them I only see once a year at Point Pelee, and also to introduce Laura and my parents to so many of my friends in the birding community.

With Steve Pike (center) and Bob Curry (right) - Point Pelee National Park (photo courtesy of Steve Pike)

Three legends of the Ontario birding community - Tom Hince, Paul Pratt and Bruce Di Labio - were chosen as this year's Celebrity Birders to represent the Ontario Field Ornithologists and complete a Big Day, to help raise funds for several different causes. Tom, Paul and Bruce have been birding together for decades and have established all sorts of Big Day records. At various times they have set the Big Day records for North America, the United States, Canada, Texas, New Jersey, 7 Canadian provinces (including Ontario) and 2 territories.  The team has also won the esteemed World Series of Birding in New Jersey, the Great Texas Classic Birding competition, and the Spacecoast Flyway birding competition in Florida. Instead of completing a regular Big Day, Tom, Paul and Bruce would be completing a Big Sit, where they would be confined to a small circle for the entire day, counting whichever birds pass near the circle. We ran into the guys around 8 AM by which they had already identified over 90 species. They finished with an incredible 110 species, highlighted by a flyover Smith's Longspur!

From left to right: Paul Pratt, Tom Hince, Bruce Di Labio and Steve Pike (photo courtesy of Steve Pike)

After our morning at the tip, we hopped back on the tram which would take us back to the Visitor's Center as refreshments were overdue. Feeling satiated, we decided to go for a walk down the Redbud Trail along with Steve Pike and Victor Serrano, looping back along the Woodland Nature Trail despite the rain which had picked up in intensity. We were dressed for the weather so that would not stop us!

The birding was excellent in the rain and we found a string of good birds, one after another, which initiated a stampede of people on several occasions once I posted the sighting to the Whatsapp group. First up was a female Hooded Warbler at our feet along the Botham Trail, followed by a very cooperative male Mourning Warbler a few minutes later, then a White-eyed Vireo at the north end of Redbud, a female Mourning Warbler halfway along Redbud (that later was reported as a Connecticut for some time until photos were taken), and another White-eyed Vireo at the south end of Redbud. The birding was awesome!

White-eyed Vireo - Redbud Trail, Point Pelee National Park

This American Robin was posing on a branch with a nice background so I could not help myself with a few photos. It's a species that I do not focus on often enough.

American Robin - Point Pelee National Park

Our pace on the Woodland Nature Trail was directly correlated to the frequency by which the rain fell; indeed, we breezed through the last few hundred meters to reach the comfort of the warm and dry Visitor's Center. We decided that we would have a picnic lunch at Sleepy Hollow, where a pavilion would keep us dry. Even here the birding was excellent as about 10 different warbler species flitted low in the Prickly Gooseberry, drinking the nectar from the flowers. When insects are in short supply, nectar will do in a pinch.

Cape May Warbler - Point Pelee National Park

This Cape May Warbler had a strange growth of some sort on top of its bill. Does anyone know what's going on with this?

Cape May Warbler - Point Pelee National Park

Birding at Sleepy Hollow, Point Pelee National Park (photo courtesy of Steve Pike)

Fortunately the rains tapered off and though the skies threatened, our afternoon was relatively dry. We focused on a few of the trails on the west side of the park including Pioneer, Sleepy Hollow and Northwest Beach. I have to say it was some of the best birding that I have ever had along these trails. A huge number of warblers, orioles and other songbirds were feeding down low in the gooseberry. There were rarely moments without a few warblers to look at, and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were present in huge numbers. It was a great experience for my parents and Laura, and it made my job easier! Explaining the differences between sparrows, vireos and warblers is a lot easier when the birds in question are foraging at eye level only a few meters away.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Sleepy Hollow, Point Pelee National Park

We thoroughly enjoyed the walk, highlights being an adult Great Horned Owl, a singing Cerulean Warbler, and our first Yellow-throated Vireo and Wilson's Warbler of the spring. We even watched a flying Common Nighthawk at Northwest Beach land in a trailside tree, its cryptic plumage rendering it very difficult to see once it had landed. A Clay-colored Sparrow that Garth, Nancy and Dan Riley had discovered earlier was also easily seen, along with large numbers of Lincoln's Sparrows.

Common Nighthawk - Northwest Beach, Point Pelee National Park

Clay-colored Sparrow - Northwest Beach, Point Pelee National Park

My parents and Laura called it a day at this point, with my parents only 8 species shy of 100 species despite having never left the park. One hundred species appeared to be virtually guaranteed for the weekend, compared to last year which saw us desperately searching for a Swamp Sparrow along the windy Marsh Boardwalk with less an hour until my parents needed to leave. We were successful last year, but it came down to the wire!

I birded the last hour of daylight on my own and then eventually meeting up with Dan, Garth and Nancy, since I was not quite ready to call it a day, given the large numbers of birds around. In the Sanctuary parking lot I discovered this orange-variant Scarlet Tanager, happily feeding on earthworms at the edge of the parking lot. I'm not entirely sure what causes some individuals to display an orange base colour as opposed to brilliant scarlet. Perhaps it is diet related or caused by nutritional deficiencies. At any rate it was a fun bird to finish the day wish!

orange variant Scarlet Tanager - Sanctuary, Point Pelee National Park

orange variant Scarlet Tanager - Sanctuary, Point Pelee National Park

1 comment:

  1. Yes that female mourning caused quite the commotion...legend has it three people were flattened by a "pack of young birders" as they ran towards Redbud...