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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Ontario & Michigan, Rondeau to Whitefish Point, 12-21 May 2008,
May 12th: Manchester – Toronto - Ridgewood
May 13th: Rondeau
May 14th: Rondeau – Hillman Marsh
May 15th: Pelee – Hillman Marsh
May 16th: Pelee – Hillman Marsh
May 17th: Leamington – Detroit – Nayanquing – Mio – Grayling
May 18th: Grayling – Mackinaw – Whitefish Point - Paradise
May 19th: Seney – Whitefish Point
May 20th: Whitefish Point – Raco – Sault Ste Marie – Parry Sound
May 21st: Parry Sound - Toronto
FLIGHTS- These were booked some eight months in advance with return flights from Manchester to Toronto at a cost of £221.27 each. They were booked with Canadian Affair who have a tie up with Thomas Cook. It was a Thomas Cook airplane and we have never flown before in economy class with such generous legroom.
CAR- This was a Dodge “People Carrier” type booked at a cost of £320 for nine days. There was plenty of room for four people together with their luggage and tripods etc. All the driving was done by Mick and Chris. The only downside was the fact that these vehicles now come with tinted glass in the rear windows and if you are sitting in the back it’s akin to wearing sunglasses when looking out. They also have sliding doors for the rear passengers and the windows in these sliding doors are fixed and you cannot raise or lower them. This is something for you to remember when booking your car.
ACCOMMODATION- We stayed in a variety of motels.
Rondeau: Econolodge, Ridgetown - 2 nights at about $35 Canadian each per night.
Point Pelee: Days Inn Leamington - 3 nights at about $71 Canadian each per night. Overpriced, but the birding festival was on at Point Pelee and we think this accounted for this.
Grayling, Michigan: Days Inn - one night at $33 American each. It included breakfast and adjoins the Holiday (Ramada) Inn, where the Kirtland Warbler tour starts.
Paradise, Michigan: Paradise Motel - for Whitefish Point. 2 nights at $30 American each.
Parry Sound: Town & Country Motel enroute for Toronto airport. One night at $34 Canadian each.
Trip reports on the internet were studied and towards departure date three main websites were watched, these being Birdingonthe.net/mailinglists/ONTB.html for Rondeau and Point Pelee, Birdingonthe.net/mailinglists/MICH/html for Michigan and www.wpbo.org for Whitefish Point.
We are also indebted to Alan Marshall for his loan of his “Delorme Atlas & Gazetteer of Michigan” and “A Birder’s Guide to Michigan” by Allen T. Chartier and Jerry Ziarno. Both are invaluable for route and site planning in Michigan. All the planning and administration was carried out by Chris.
The plane landed at Toronto at about 17.00 hours and it took us about an hour to clear the airport and about two hours driving to get to Ridgetown, getting there as dusk fell. We also stopped at a rest area to stretch our legs and get the binoculars out. Along the way we had picked up Turkey Vulture, Wild Turkey, Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles and a Common Nighthawk which was flying directly in front of the car. At the rest area we had Mourning Doves, American Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, Eurasian Starlings, Chipping and Lincoln Sparrows. The latter being a new bird.
Rondeau: The next morning was very misty and we arrived at the park about six a.m. The first birds picked up were three Tree Swallows perched on the wires then a pair of House Finches. We were not very far into the park and walked through the trees in a campsite area. Other birds seen here were Barn Swallow, Rough-winged Swallow, Baltimore Oriole, Eastern Bluebird, Downy Woodpecker and a very bedraggled Tennessee Warbler.
At the Field Centre a buffet breakfast is laid on at a price, so we made our way there and indulged. There is a feeder area viewed from inside the Field Centre alongside where you help yourself to breakfast where some excellent views were had of American Goldfinches, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Red-breasted Grosbeaks, Red-bellied, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. There were also Red Cardinal, Blue Jays, Brown Cowbirds and White-crowned Sparrows.
From the Visitor centre we walked the Tulip Tree Trail. First bird seen was a Least Flycatcher then Mick was onto a Hooded Warbler. Other birds included Blackburnian, Black-throated Green, Magnolia and Black-throated Blue Warblers. We also had House Wren, Eastern Phoebe, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Northern Flicker and Red-headed Woodpecker, of which we were to see more than ten of before the day was out. Soaring overhead was the ever present Turkey Vulture.
Whilst on a boardwalk crossing a flooded marshy area, a Prothonotary Warbler flew in and perched about three metres directly above our heads whilst we were studying a picture of one on a notice board. This bird was one of the reasons we came to Rondeau and was apparently proving difficult for most birders. Also on this trail we had a male American Redstart, White-throated and Lincolns Sparrow, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Wood Duck and lots of American Robins. The most common warbler seen was Yellow Warbler with about twenty being seen.
Mammals seen here were Black Squirrel, Chipmunks and a Cotton-tailed Rabbit.
Back at the Visitor centre, a White-breasted Nuthatch was seen and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird was making forays at a lady’s hair while she was watching the feeders.
After lunch we drove down a road running parallel with Lake Erie with lots of summer bungalows. Many had feeders and birdhouses for the Purple Martins and Tree Swallows. A few Eastern Kingbirds were seen. On Lake Erie, Red-breasted Mergansers and Double-crested Cormorants were flying to and fro. Along the shoreline were Spotted Sandpipers, a couple of Sanderlings and a Killdeer. Gulls roosting up were Ring-billed, Bonaparte’s and a few American Herring Gulls and amongst them were four very elegant Caspian Terns.
At the end of the road we parked up and walked part of the South Point Trail. Birds seen were Song Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Brown Thrasher, Cape May Warbler, Chimney Swifts and a Broad-winged Hawk along with up to seven Red-headed Woodpeckers. A single Monarch butterfly was also seen.
To finish the day we went to the Pony Barn Trail which is off Rondeau Avenue. This is a small trail around a couple of ponds and it turned out to be very productive in the short time we were there. We had 4 Ovenbirds, 3 Black and White Warblers, 2 Chestnut-sided Warblers, 1 Nashville Warbler, 3 Catbirds and a Black-capped Chickadee. Finally, our attention was drawn to a number of birders on one side of the pond who where watching a delightful Canada Warbler which was feeding away in the base of a tree giving great views.
The next day started fine and we again on site at six a.m. We drove to the Pony Barn Trail but much of what we had seen the previous evening had departed. We started off with a Carolina Wren, a couple of House Wrens, 2 Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Black-throated Green Warbler. A few Catbirds were around and a couple of Cardinals together with Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds. Two Turkey Vultures were soaring around the sky.
At the pier were Song Sparrows and Killdeer. Purple Martins were flying around their birdhouse and a few Barn Swallows and Northern Rough-wings were in the air. On the pier was a flock of Forster’s Terns together with a number of Ring-billed, Bonaparte’s and American Herring Gulls. On the lake were a number of Canada Geese.
We made our way to the Visitor centre for breakfast, with much the same as yesterday around the feeders with the inclusion of Blue Jays, Northern Flicker and a Red-bellied Woodpecker and then walked the Tulip Tree trail again. New birds seen were Northern Waterthrush, Veery, Eastern Phoebe and Brown-headed Cowbird. Yellow Warblers were in abundance and the first female American Redstart noted.
It had now started to rain and so we drove down the road along side Lake Erie as we did yesterday. The only birds seen were Indigo Bunting, Eastern Bluebird and by the Visitor centre, a Field Sparrow.
The rain was now pouring down and after lunch break we again walked the Tulip Trail. Rain or no rain we were here for the birds. It turned out to be a good session. First bird was a Black-throated Blue, followed by an Ovenbird. Then good views of a Blue-winged Warbler and a Swainson’s Thrush, with 4 Great-crested Flycatchers going through. Chris picked up on a Northern Parula and a couple of Black and White Warblers were observed. Next we had very good views of a Wood Thrush and a Blackburnian Warbler was spotted. At the boardwalk over the wet parts, a Spotted Sandpiper flew in and moments later a Wood Duck
It was still raining when we left the trail and drove up to the Spicebush Trail in search of a Worm-eating Warbler – which we didn’t get, but we did get 4 Ovenbirds, 1 Eastern Phoebe, 1 female Cape May, 1 Yellow-rumped Warbler, 3 Yellow Warblers and 1 Catbird and an absolute soaking. It was still raining with thunderstorms when we left the trail so we departed for Leamington.
Along the route we had 10 Great Egrets and 1 Great Blue Heron.
On arrival at the Days Inn we booked in, had a coffee and departed for Hillmans Marsh for an hour before dusk. It was still very overcast and drizzling when we arrived and we’d not brought our scopes with us but a few hardy souls were there and they obliged us by letting us look through theirs. A Stilt Sandpiper was present along with 2 Black Ducks and a Mottled Duck, the latter I believe, was a first for Canada. Also seen were 30 Short-billed Dowitchers, Dunlin, Blue-winged Teal and Mallard.
The next morning we arrived at Point Pelee just before six a.m. in time to catch the first tram, which actually terminates about 200 metres from the point. We walked the tracks down in an anti clockwise direction. It started off a little patchy and the first bird to be picked up was a Warbling Vireo doing its stuff. The lake was on our right and hundreds of Hirundines were flying around. Mick had a Common Loon on the lake along with a number of Red-breasted and Common Mergansers. A Brown Thrasher was singing through its morning routine. There were a number of Baltimore Orioles moving through and amongst them were a few Orchard Orioles. Yellow Warblers were in abundance and other birds seen were Clay-coloured Sparrow, 2 Nashville, a Chestnut-sided and a Black-throated Green Warbler. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were flitting about with a couple of Northern Cardinals and lots of Blue Jays, Red-winged Blackbirds and American Robins. A flycatcher was seen which was considered to be probably either Willow or Alder.
We were now back at the tram terminus so decided to walk back to the Field Centre which was about 3k. One aspect of birding at an internationally renowned site was that people were giving directions out in a number of languages when spotting birds. It all added to the fun.
The first bird we spotted was a Blackpoll Warbler which was new to the trip. We then had a Philadelphia Vireo whose call was recognised by a local birder. This was followed by an Eastern Towhee, Blue-winged, Magnolia, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green and Northern Parula Warblers. A Yellow-throated Vireo and a Blue-headed Vireo were also seen together with a female Summer Tanager. Again Willow /Alder type Flycatchers were seen causing much discussion. A Great-crested Flycatcher was seen and a Red-breasted Nuthatch.
After a spot of lunch we walked north from the field centre on a trail through the woods that veered to the left till it met the road. We then turned left again and returned to the field centre. It was pretty quiet and we started off with a Black-capped Chickadee and again a Willow/Alder Flycatcher. We started picking up thrushes and had a total of 3 Swainson’s, 2 Veery and the only Gray-cheeked Thrush of the trip. Around the next corner we had to carefully circumnavigate a male Wild Turkey displaying strenuously in the middle of the path, whilst its female target fed nonchalantly nearby. After meeting the road we started walking back down it and came across a crowd of birders who where obviously onto something, which turned out to an Eastern Screech Owl. This was so perfectly camouflaged against the trunk of a tree it had to be pointed out to you. Whoever found it must have had eyes better than the owl itself. This was definitely the bonus bird of the trip. Continuing down the road we had 3 American Redstarts and 3 Cedar Waxwings.
We departed Port Pelee for a few hours and drove to Hillman’s Marsh where as we walked along the track a Bobolink was spotted. We set up at the marsh and started scoping. There was a variety of water fowl including Mottled and Black Duck, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon and Northern Pintail. Canada Geese were in attendance as were Forster’s and Caspian Terns. Waders present were Short-billed Dowitchers, Dunlin, Least Sandpipers, Black-bellied Plovers, a single American Golden Plover resplendent in summer plumage and a single Semipalmated Plover.
We walked along a small copse where one of the locals runs a banding operation. He had finished for the day but we had a magical thirty minutes watching birds passing through which included Least Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Blackburnian, Magnolia, Black and White, Yellow-rumped, Chestnut-sided and the first Palm Warbler of the trip. We also had 2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets and when walking back to the car a Great Blue Heron flew by.
It was our intention to return to Pelee at dusk for the American Woodcock. We arrived a little early so we had a walk around the Marsh Boardwalk. Here, about ten Common Yellowthroats were seen along with a few Swamp Sparrows and loads of Red-winged Blackbirds. A flight of Wood Duck got up and we had six Black Terns flying around. A lone Green Heron got up, skimmed the reeds and dropped in again.
We then motored down to the car park at the DuLaurier Trail. At 21.00hrs precisely, an American Woodcock whirred over like a clockwork toy. Altogether we had around ten flyovers in about twenty minutes of this fascinating bird.
On our last day at Port Pelee we arrived early and again caught the first tram to the point, where on arrival we walked the same ground as yesterday morning. Things were a little slow up to the Point. On the lake were lots of Red-breasted and Common Mergansers together with Double-crested Cormorants and a Common Loon. We happened on an area with a few good birds, which consisted of 2 Bay-breasted Warblers, 2 Pine Siskin, 3 Nashville and a Black-throated Green Warbler. There were also a Yellow-throated Vireo, a couple of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a Tennessee Warbler and 2 male American Redstarts. Baltimore Orioles were again all around, with the occasional Orchard Oriole amongst them.
We had a quick bite at the car park and then walked part of the Tilden Wood Trail. We started to pick up Scarlet Tanagers and had two pairs. A Red-eyed Vireo gave good views and a Black-billed Cuckoo was spotted but flew before everyone got a look. Yellow Warblers were plentiful together with a Black-throated Green, Blackpoll, Magnolia and a Wilson’s Warbler, which dipped its head and showed its black cap. Eastern Kingbirds were everywhere and about ten were seen, along with two Hairy Woodpeckers and three Red-breasted Nuthatches. Towards the end of the Trail we had three Swainson’s Thrush and a Tennessee Warbler.
We then walked a Trail at the back of the Visitor Centre called the Rosebud Trail. We hadn’t got far into it when a small bird with a grey/blackish head, green mantle with a yellow belly flew briefly across the top of the undergrowth and perched up. I called the others back who were further up the track. They came dashing back. Mick was able to get on it, Len saw part of it - and Chris just saw it flitting away. This was a Mourning Warbler. Further up the trail, we met an English birder and told him the whereabouts of it. A little later we doubled back to look for it again and the English birder was on site and the bird reappeared as we arrived, so everyone was able to get good views of it.
The other birds seen on this track were Blackburnian, Black-throated Green and Magnolia Warblers and an Ovenbird. There was also a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Towhee, 2 Veery and a Swainson’s Thrush.
We then picked up the car, motored up the road and pulled into the Marsh Boardwalk car park and walked a trail across the road from it. In about thirty minutes we had a male Blackburnian Warbler, a male Palm Warbler, a male Cape May Warbler, two Yellow-rumped Warblers, three male and one female Scarlet Tanager and three Common Yellowthroats. That was our last session at Port Pelee and we again departed for Hillman’s Marsh.
On arrival we checked one pool picking up Pied-billed Grebe, Green Heron and a Great Blue Heron. We saw the Bander was in attendance and walked along the bund to talk to him, especially with regard to sorting out Willow and Alder Flycatchers. After showing us his literature, he said the only positive way to identify them was by their song when on their breeding territories. He said it was still a little early for them and the Empidonax Flycatchers he was catching were all Acadian Flycatchers. What we had been seeing were Arcadian.
We set up at the marsh and scoped around. Most of the Black-bellied Plovers had departed. New arrivals from yesterday were 3 Lesser Yellowlegs and two Pectoral Sandpipers. There were now three Semipalmated Plovers and plenty of Dunlin and Least Sandpipers together with about fifty Short-billed Dowitchers and Six Ruddy Turnstones. Of the wildfowl, there were Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, a couple of Lesser Scaup and the Mottled Duck. This caused consternation amongst a party of arriving birders when it got up for a fly round as not everyone in the party saw it.
There was also a flock of about thirty Forster’s Terns together with six Caspian. As we retraced our steps a party of birders passed us walking quickly. We joined them as they were obviously on to something. It turned out to be a beautifully plumaged Wilson’s Phalarope. It was at the front edge of a little pool picking away and oblivious to the birders watching it. Photographers were laid in the mud with their big lenses, taking pictures from about three metres. Talk about overkill.
Chris heard a Virginia Rail clicking a few metres away in some dried reeds. We surrounded it and moved in on it but it disappeared. At the same time we heard a commotion behind us from the birders watching the Wilson’s. Just a few metres away on the edge of the reeds, two Virginia Rails were out in the open fighting and another was watching them from just inside the reeds. What a way to finish the day and our time at Port Pelee. We drove back towards Port Pelee to a restaurant not far from the entrance to the National Park called “Paula’s Fish Place”. This was very reasonable and recommendable. You can get her website up on www.paulasfishplace.com.
The next morning we drove into Windsor through the tunnel and crossed the border into the United States at Detroit. This was not a very welcoming experience, with four much-travelled senior citizens from a supposedly friendly nation being treated in an ignorant manner by a most uncivil immigration officer. He wore big boots, had a gun and gas canisters on his belt and spoke to us in the manner of a drill sergeant. His actions were directly opposed to the Immigration Mission statement which was displayed on the wall. Perhaps he had had a bad night.
We continued north on the I75, picking up both Red-tailed and Broad-winged Hawk on the way. We were heading for Nayanquing Point Wildlife Area which was situated on Saginaw Bay. This was supposed to be the best place for Yellow-headed Blackbird. We got there and it was very windy with an icy cold edge to it. On arrival we stopped by a gap in the trees overlooking a marsh where a couple of Yellow-headed Blackbirds were visible. Mick got out the car and flushed an American Bittern - which had disappeared by the time we joined him, although two Virginia Rails were seen. We then drove to a viewing tower at the end of the road which gave good views over the marsh but the strong wind was making things difficult with two Red-tailed Hawks and a few Mute Swans seen.
We walked towards the lake and had Pied-billed Grebe and Mick had a Black-crowned Night Heron. On the way back to the car we had a few more Yellow-headed Blackbirds and an Eastern Kingbird. We stopped by the gap in the trees overlooking the marsh again and had a Northern Harrier, Merlin, 3 Marsh Wrens and a Cliff Swallow and some strange tadpoles.
We continued our journey northwards. Our final destination of the day was Grayling and it was our intention to drive north through Mio, then take a left turn and drive cross-country taking in Kirtland’s Warbler sites with the idea being that if we got a Kirtland’s Warbler today we would have no need to do the Fish and Wildlife trip in the morning. We drove and walked the trails around this area to no avail but did happen upon a Brown Cowbird trap with seven captured in it. We birded along the way and passed through an Amish Community in the vicinity of Red Oak looking for Upland Sandpipers perched on fence posts as the field Guide says but did have an Eastern Meadowlark and in the area in front of a house were six Brewer’s Blackbirds. It then started to rain but as we drove on other birds along the way were 2 Dark-eyed Juncos, 1 Hermit Thrush, Song Sparrow and a White-breasted Nuthatch. We arrived in Grayling in the evening and booked into the friendly Days Inn.
The meet up for the Kirtland’s Warbler tour was at 07.00hrs at the Holiday Inn (now called “Ramada”) which happens to be next door to the Days Inn. About a dozen birders turned up including a tour party. The tour was free and we had a short talk and video presented by a Fish & Wildlife official, then drove in convoy to the east of Grayling where enroute we had four Wild Turkeys.
After leaving the cars, we walked a track into a Jack Pine area and the first birds seen were Vesper Sparrow, Nashville Warbler and a singing Brown Thrasher. After about ten minutes a Kirtland’s was heard singing but proved difficult to see, so we moved further on and another was soon sighted which moved around to different song perches giving good views to all.
After a while we departed to continue our journey north and headed up the I75 for a while and then took a right up the 93 past Hartwick Pines State Park to a site known to feature Upland Sandpipers. The 93 runs onto White Road and the site was a large pasture field on the right, about a mile short of it’s junction with the 612. We drove along sussing out fence posts and likely perching places as per the field guides all to no avail so decided to try an area across the road. The birds we picked up around this area were Eastern Meadowlark, Eastern Bluebird, 5 Bobolink, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, House Finch and a Brewer’s Blackbird. After about 30 minutes Chris said “we will give it one more go and check the actual field properly”. A minute later Len picked a head sticking up in the grass. This became two and Chris had also picked two up. We had the scopes out and a lady stopped her car to enquire what we were looking at. She happened to be the owner of the pasture and offered us permission to walk it so we ventured a little way in but saw no more, however one pair got up for a fly around giving good views. So much for field guides and fence posts.
We made our way back to the I75 and continued driving north to Michigan’s Upper Peninsular and enroute we saw a Bald Eagle and a Sandhill Crane. On crossing the Mackinac Bridge we pulled into the parking lot near the Tourist Information shop. Inside was a stuffed Timber Wolf which had been killed in a car accident locally a few years earlier. This was the most ferocious looking animal I had ever seen and twice the size of wolves seen on television. Awesome.
We walked down to the waters edge and viewed the place where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron at the “Straits of Mackinac”. On the water were Bufflehead, Goldeneye, Greater Scaup, Red-breasted and Common Mergansers and Canada Geese. Gulls flying around were Ring-billed and a couple of Spotted Sandpipers got up. A Black Vulture was in the air and a couple of Great Blue Herons flapped across the reed beds.
We continued north on the I75 and then took a left onto the M123 heading for Trout Lake. At Trout Lake we took a right heading north again on the M123. After about 7 miles up the road we turned left onto track FR3344. See “A Birders Guide to Michigan” page 482. We were going looking for Boreal species - Gray Jay, Black-backed Woodpecker and Boreal Chickadee and this is area where they have been seen at different times. We walked the track for an hour or so and the only bird I can remember seeing was a Yellow-rumped Warbler.
We continued our journey towards Paradise seeing a pair of Ring-necked Ducks. At Eckerman Corner on some feeders we had Purple Finches, Pine Siskins, American Goldfinches and a pair of Evening Grosbeaks. We then went along the roads around Hulbert’s Bog to the well known Grey Jay site, but these appear to have become scarce in recent times and we saw little other than Blue Jays.
We arrived early evening at the Paradise Motel and it was snowing and raining. Welcome to Paradise. Whilst checking in we learned that four birders from our local area back home were staying there. We were having a coffee when they came in soaking wet. They had been here three days and were having a torrid time. It had been cold and raining and this weather front had halted the bird migration so they had seen few migrating birds.
It had now just about stopped raining so we decided to drive the eleven miles up to Whitefish Point to finish the evening off by checking the Ringing Station out but when we got out of the car it was very cold and the wind had a knife edge to it.
On and around the feeders were White-throated and White-headed Sparrows together with Purple Finches. About twenty Blue Jays were in the trees being watched by an odd looking Merlin. Off the shore of Lake Superior were 10 Red-necked Grebe, 2 Common Loons and a mixed flock of Red-breasted and Common Mergansers. A few Ring-billed Gulls were flying around. As it grew dark it was obvious it was unsuitable for Owl banding so we drove back to Paradise, glad to get out of the cold whilst along the way we had about ten White-tailed Deer.
The next morning it was still very cold but sunny and it was our intention to drive over to Seney National Wildlife Refuge. We met the birders from back home who had had a pretty thin time up here and were heading back down south today and gave them directions for where we had the Upland Sandpipers. They were going to have one last try for Spruce Grouse about ten miles down the M123 near Tahquemenon, so we decided to try it also and arrived at the track a little before them. While we were waiting for them we had a Pine Warbler and a Yellow-rumped Warbler. We drove down the track in convoy and never saw anything so bid them farewell and continued to Seney. Enroute we saw a Sandhill Crane and we stopped to watch a Common Loon on a small lake by the road, which also contained a family of four Otters swimming and diving.
Seney is a large refuge with a seven mile drive around a series of lakes and a large Visitor Centre with helpful staff, where just outside a pair of Eastern Phoebe’s were nesting and a pair of Ospreys had a nest across the lake. About twenty Common Loons were seen on the various lakes and Trumpeter Swans were also spread around but the only ducks seen were Ring-necked. We had both Red-tailed Hawk and a ringtail Northern Harrier. Caspian Terns were flying around and we had one Common Tern. Both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs were seen along with two Belted Kingfishers. Small birds seen were Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-rumped Warbler and an Eastern Kingbird. Obviously most of the small migrants had not yet arrived. We had our lunch opposite a Bald Eagle’s nest but they were not at home.
Our next port of call was an area of grassland north of the refuge and south of the 28 called Driggs River Road. There is a small parking area by a gate across the road. See “A Birder’s Guide to Michigan” page 533. Go through the gate and walk along the bund. The grassland is on the right and boxes were on the fence posts for Tree Swallows. We were looking for Sharp-tailed Grouse and Upland Sandpiper which had also been seen here. A Seney Refuge Official came down the track in a pickup truck and gave us a few tips and permission to walk through the grasslands. This we did, kicking up Song, Savannah and Chipping Sparrows and flushing a lone Sharp-tailed Grouse. As we neared the southern edge of the grassland a pair of Upland Sandpipers took to the air.
At this southern end of the pasture was an area of scrubland which the official had told us to work. This we did and between us had about ten sightings of Sharp-tail Grouse both in the air and on the ground. Other birds seen were Northern Flicker, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Meadowlark and a Belted Kingfisher.
We drove back towards Paradise and checked the track opposite Tahquemenon where we started the morning. This time we walked the track. Both Len and Mick were picking small bird calls up from atop the canopy as we walked both sides of the trail for quite a while before turning back. On the return we bumped into Chris who I actually thought was behind us. He had backtracked through the woods, and when back on the track a Spruce Grouse had walked across it a few yards in front of him and sat down. He had stuck a branch in the track where it had crossed. We decided to look for it and had only just stepped off the track when Len spotted it. We watched it closely for about five minutes and it seemed oblivious to us.
Back on the track Len picked a call up which we got on to and we all had good views of a Golden-crowned Kinglet and three Pine Warblers.
Back in Paradise we scrubbed up and went for a meal in the Yukon Bar before again heading up to Whitefish Point for the evening. On the drive up a Ruffed Grouse nonchalantly strolled across the front of the car without a care in the world. We stopped and watched it feeding about four metres off the road, where it was totally unconcerned about us. In one day we had all the sought after Grouse species. We also had a further three White-tailed deer. At the Point we had had a short sea watch which lasted about fifteen minutes in the icy wind. We did manage to see about twenty Red-necked Grebes, thirty Red-breasted Merganser, a couple of Common Loons and a female Goldeneye.
The banders turned up at 22.00 hrs to start catching owls. Unfortunately for us, after letting their nets down and checking them on the way back, they only recheck them every 45 minutes. There was nothing in on the first check and we decided not to wait for the next one as tomorrow was going to be a long day driving south towards Toronto.
This was our last day of birding and we managed a few hours before starting the long drive south. Again it was very cold but sunny with it and as we drove up to Whitefish Point, the nearer we got the more Blue Jays we were seeing. At the point the air was full of them spiralling up and gaining height for their flight over to Canada. They appeared to ascend about 500 at a time. We reckoned we saw about 10,000 of them. A flock of about 50 Black-capped Chickadees were flying about undecided when to make the effort. On Lake Superior flocks of Red-breasted Mergansers were flying by together with Common Loons and Chris had two small flocks of White-winged Scoter’s. A couple of Red-throated Divers went by and a couple of distant blackish ducks with whitish tips to their tails who we thought may have been Buffleheads.
Half an hour at the raptor watch point was worth while with about 10 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 3 Red-tailed Hawks, 3 Broad-winged Hawks, one sub adult Golden Eagle and 7 Sandhill Cranes coming through. A pity we had to leave but we still had one more trail to do.
Heading back down to Paradise we took a right turn down the track to Vermillion. The track had a lot of sand in places and at a nasty looking area, we decided to turn back rather than get stuck. Echoes of Morocco last year when it cost us an arm and a leg to get out of the sand. Our car was not a four wheel drive.
The birds we did see along the track were 1 Hermit Thrush, 2 Pine Warblers, 2 Swainson’s Thrush and Mick spotted a family of Red Crossbills which gave us good views.
We now started the long drive south and headed for Sault Ste Marie to cross back into Canada. We did stop enroute at Raco Airfield as this was going to be our stitched on certainty site for Upland Sandpiper. This was a massive area and we drove along the runways checking the grassy areas without success in the freezing strong wind. It’s a good job we got them at the other sites.
We crossed the border back into Canada without any problems and stopped the night at Parry Sound. This left us about 3 hours driving to Toronto Airport.
The next morning we still had a couple of hours to kill before checking in at the airport. On the drive down yesterday, we were sure we had seen Beavers on a couple of the ponds we passed so we had a drive around looking for Beavers. We didn’t find any but we did see a couple of lodges and several Bobolink and a few Eastern Bluebirds and Len spotted a roadside Grouse, which turned out to be Ruffed.
We made a comfort stop at the town of Barrie and had a few Chimney Swifts flying over the lake along with Common Loons and Double-crested Cormorants and then drove to Toronto Airport for the flight home.
We thought the trip was successful. A total of 186 bird species were seen. We saw plenty of migrating birds at Rondeau and Port Pelee. We did think what we missed there we might have a chance with at Whitefish Point but the cold weather front put paid to that. The spectacle of the Blue Jay’s migrating was really something. We didn’t get any Boreal species either, but we did get all the Grouse in one day. Birding during the migration is about being in the right place at the right time. Well we were in the right place some of the time.
Great Northern Diver
Great Blue Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
American Black Duck
American Golden Plover
American Herring Gull
Eastern Screech Owl
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Cape May Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Black and White Warbler