Thursday 6 June 2019

May 19 - epic reverse migration at Point Pelee

Three weekends ago I returned to Point Pelee for three days, my last Pelee Weekend of the spring. While the birding was decent all three days, I really wanted to focus on some of our sightings from the morning of May 19. The conditions lined up to produce an epic reverse migration, one of the best that I have ever seen. Light south winds had persisted all night into the morning, and a thick stream of birds could be seen on radar imagery migrating up through the middle of the continent. Light south winds following a night of heavy migration seem to initiate a good reverse migration in the morning. Even better, our morning would be sunny with hardly a cloud in the sky, making bird identification much easier. Cloud cover means that you are attempting to identify warbler silhouettes in flight - no easy task.

Point Pelee sunrise

I took the 6:00 AM train and stationed myself at the Tip as the sun slowly crept over the horizon. As I waited, there were quite a few shorebirds to check out on the Tip, including a flock of 55 Sanderlings.

Several other birders joined, including Kory Renaud, Dan Riley and Jeremy Hatt. Soon the predicted reverse migration had begun in earnest, and Indigo Buntings and Baltimore Orioles began flying off the Tip in ones and twos. As the morning wore on the intensity increased, with a particularly notable number of Scarlet Tanagers and Red-eyed Vireos.

At 6:35 a distinctive low buzzy call alerted us to a female Dickcissel which I spotted in flight, it soon looped back and flew off again. Next up was a male Dickcissel, a bird I've never seen well in a reverse migration before. I managed a few photos before it was out of sight.

Dickcissel - Point Pelee National Park

Dickcissel - Point Pelee National Park

A few more Dickcissels went off together, a few minutes later. It was getting crazy out here! Soon other birders began appearing, anxious to get in on the reverse migration action, and Barb Charlton, Dave Szmyr and the Riley's settled in to watch the show. An Olive-sided Flycatcher shot off the tip, flying very low.

Olive-sided Flycatcher - Point Pelee National Park

Next up was a female Summer Tanager that flew off, going right over our heads! And only fifteen minutes later, an interesting, "bull-headed" bunting flew over which I snapped a series of photos of. A quick review of my photos confirmed it was a Blue Grosbeak, but by this time it was identified, it was over the lake and out of sight.

Blue Grosbeak - Point Pelee National Park

Fortunately, the Blue Grosbeak (or potentially a second Blue Grosbeak) made another pass, as at 7:46 AM I spotted the bird high in the sky, flying with a Scarlet Tanager. I called it out and tried to get as many people on it as possible, with moderate success. Unfortunately by the time that most of the birders got on it, it was little more than a back-lit speck against a cloud.

Blue Grosbeak - Point Pelee National Park

The next photo is to show the size comparison with the Scarlet Tanager it was flying with. Blue Grosbeaks are much bigger birds than Indigo Buntings, with a very heavy bill and long tail giving it a unique flight profile.

Blue Grosbeak (upper left) - Point Pelee National Park

At some point around the time of the Blue Grosbeak pandemonium I spotted a Summer Tanager shoot past. Much like the Blue Grosbeak before, the tanager obliged by flying off the Tip a second time several minutes later, allowing most birders present to obtain a look.

Summer Tanager - Point Pelee National Park

Summer Tanager - Point Pelee National Park

The good birds kept coming as we had another Dickcissel or two, and a male Hooded Warbler, among other things. Apart from the rarities, it was fun trying to sort out the IDs of many other birds flying off the tip. This Bobolink pictured below is easily identifiable due to its mottled black and white plumage, and white fringe around the wings. The often vocalize when flying, a distinctive "pink".

Bobolink - Point Pelee National Park

Sometimes birds you don't normally see reverse migrating get into it for a few minutes. This Gray Catbird circled past a few times, soaring quite high up in the sky. Not something I would have expected from a catbird.

Gray Catbird - Point Pelee National Park

By the time I left the Tip area around 9:30, this is what the scene looked like. Many birders had packed up and left the area before the May long weekend, hence the relatively few people present!

Watching the reverse migration - Point Pelee National Park

Eastern Kingbirds were commonly noted flying off the Tip, but a few posed for photos nearby.

Eastern Kingbird - Point Pelee National Park

Eastern Kingbird - Point Pelee National Park

I estimated that 80 Scarlet Tanagers and 240 Indigo Buntings went off the Tip during my watch, but surely we missed many. Warbler numbers were decent too, though overshadowed by everything else. The morning of May 19 will go down as one of the major highlights of the spring for me! 


Anonymous said...

What no mention of the epic reverse migration off the Tip on 9 May 2019?

Josh Vandermeulen said...

I wasn't there on May 9 - stuck in Niagara that morning.