Visit your favourite destinations
|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Southern Ontario, Canada 14th - 21st May 2006 ,
Having heard a great deal about Point Pelee from friends who had been there, I was very keen to visit. My opportunity came up when I was allowed to have a birding trip abroad as a very special birthday present. Thanks, Julia! This report can be read in conjunction with a report posted by Sandy Ayers on Surfbirds, which overlaps with my visit to Point Pelee and gives a Canadian perspective.
Long Point Diner
Travel and accommodation
I flew with Thomas Cook from Manchester to Toronto for £297 return. Originally booked in September 2005 for Monday May 15th departing at 1330h, Thomas Cook then informed me in April that it would instead be flying on Sunday 14th at 1400h, and subsequently said it would be at 1100h. This was because there were insufficient passengers for the Monday. Something to be wary of when booking a charter flight. I had to rearrange accommodation, car hire and airport parking at a late date, and of course was charged for the privilege. Thomas Cook dropped the flight cost by £10 as compensation. At the airport we were further delayed as some passengers hadn’t been informed by their travel agents of the change in time, and I believe some missed the plane entirely! The flight itself was very comfortable, lots of leg room, and only took 6½ hours.
I hired an automatic Chrysler Chevrolet from Alamo for £158 + £20m booking fee through Trailfinders. A very nice car and pleasant driving on the wide open Ontario roads. Very easy to put your foot down, which is probably not the wisest thing to do with very draconian speeding penalties in force.
I booked months in advance for a Point Pelee B&B, as reportedly these book out very quickly for May. I stayed at B&B’s (Bruce & Bea’s) B&B in Wheatley for 4 nights, which cost me C$105/night (£52/night), but it was comfortable and friendly, and very convenient for Point Pelee (20 minutes). At Port Rowan, near Long Point, I stayed at the Harbour Nights B&B, for C$75/night (£37), which was again very pleasant and friendly. Both were double rooms, so it would have been much better sharing of course. There are cheaper options near Point Pelee, such as cabins at the Sturgeon Woods Campground (C$63/night, 2 nights min.) or camping here or at Wheatley Provincial Park, but I found these out too late.
Petrol was very cheap, I did 1600km and paid £64 for the petrol, and still had half a tank left. Alamo included a full tank for £24, supposedly it’s cheaper to fill up this way, but of course it’s difficult to figure out how to bring it back nearly empty! I miscalculated, and filled up too much on the way back. Every town has reasonable diners or restaurants, and I usually ended up spending C$20 on an evening meal and a beer. For lunch I would have a hot dog or such. Paula’s Fish Plaice just outside Point Pelee was good value for evening meals. The cost of living seemed much the same as England, except for the cheap petrol.
I bought the MapArt 2005 Ontario Road Atlas off Ebay (£1-a bargain), and this was extremely useful for not getting lost. Highly recommended and essential. I also bought “A Birder’s Guide to Point Pelee” by Tom Hince, which was very good, and Sibley’s “Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America”. I also read “A Birding Guide to the Long Point Area” by Skevington et al. when I was there, which is a good investment if you plan to spend any time in this area. They are all available off “Amazon” or “Abebooks” on the internet.
The weather was very changeable, one day beautiful and sunny, the next cold, wet and windy. By 1300h the birds seemed to go quiet, so probably a good time for a siesta, shopping or travel to another site for the late afternoon. I put in long days, 0600h to 2100h, and was quite happy doing so.
Long Point Bird Observatory (Old Cut): being able to walk around the netting operation was interesting, and I saw my only Wilson’s Warbler in the nets. There are usually lots of warblers in the area, particularly in the trees with sun.
Long Point, Hastings Drive: always looked interesting. Worth a look
Long Point, Big Creek: from the observation tower, you can walk around the marsh in a big circle. I flushed Virginia Rails, American Bitterns and had close encounters with two Sandhill Cranes at the far end doing this one rainy evening.
Port Rowan cemetery: a good little mudflat on the corner, and the trees and scrub here were worth a walk.
Wilson Tract: hard work in the afternoon when the birds have gone quiet. Turkey was a surprise near here. There is a good range of species present, but all probably easier at the migration hotspots.
St Williams Forest Station: the clearing produced fantastic views of Whip-poor-will at dusk. Just follow the noise! On a sunny morning many Hooded Warblers sing along the sand road, and there is Prairie Warbler in the corner block (north side of the sand road) at the junction of the sand road and Norfolk Twp East ¼ Line SW. There is a track in about 100 yards up East ¼ Line Road. To get to St Williams from Port Rowan, go north up Norfolk Twp East ¼ Line SW over Highway 24, take the next right onto a sand road (Prairie Warbler here on the corner), and drive 1¼ miles to an obvious large clearing on the right for the Whip-poor-wills.
St Williams Forest Station clearing
Rondeau: Probably my favourite site. The South Point Trail was always good, and the Tulip Tree Trail and Bennett’s Avenue were good places to see interesting birds while waiting for Protonothary Warbler.
Point Pelee: a slight disappointment due to the weather, though I still saw lots of good birds. A local said it was probably the worst few days in May for some years. From Wednesday, when the car-park was full, the number of birders dropped until there were very few left by Friday. I found Point Pelee quite hard work, a lot of walking for what seemed like few birds. Many were difficult to see as well, but I think that’s more down to my skills or lack of! The log-book had lots of interesting sightings, but invariably these had been seen two hours previously and 2 km away, so were very hard to catch up with. The “good” trails seemed to change from day to day, so perseverance was needed. It was still far superior to anything in Britain in spring for the variety of birds. I dare say next spring will be great again. (postscript: it appears the weather stalled migration this particular week, and it was good again the following week. Typical….).
Point Pelee tip
Hillman Marsh: Good for waders and ducks in the evening on the lake to the south of the visitor centre. American Woodcock do their stuff at dusk around the big fenced field.
Muddy Creek, Wheatley Harbour: my only Belted Kingfisher was perched on a branch here.
St Clair wetland: not many birds on the afternoon I visited in the pouring rain. I would have been better off going to Rondeau again, which would have taken the same time to get to.
Townsend Sewage lagoons: worth visiting, even in the atrocious weather I had. Turn north off Highway 3 onto Regional Road 74? (the number has changed from 69) towards Townsend, take the first left after a mile and park in the layby ¼ mile on opposite the lagoons.
Itinerary (number of lifers in brackets)
Sunday May 14 (21): landed at Toronto mid-afternoon. I drove to Long Point, being amazed at the number of Red-winged Blackbirds, American Robins and birds in general on the way. It was an easy two hour-drive to Long Point. It was raining quite steadily when I got there, but there were lots of hirundines at Hastings Drive, and my first colourful warblers in the scrub. At Port Rowan cemetery turnoff, the small mudflat on the corner had some nice waders.
American Robin at Point Pelee
Monday May 15 (40): morning at Old Cut with a shed-load of birds; Mark & Sharon from Toronto showed me some good birds. We would bump into each other at Point Pelee and Rondeau as well. Mark & Sharon are superb birders and helped me to see birds I would otherwise have missed. I went in the afternoon to Wilson Tract which looked promising, but not many birds at that time of day, and a few mossies. In the evening I walked around Big Creek in the steady rain which was quite productive. I finished off at Port Rowan cemetery which produced some more good birds.
Tuesday May 16 (19): It was raining heavily at Old Cut, so there was no mist-netting, which rather ruined Plan ‘A’. I then wandered around Long Point Provincial Park: the first bird I saw was my first Brown Thrasher, but that was as good as it got although there were quite a few birds around. I decided to cut my losses and head for Rondeau. My trusty Road Atlas kept me in the right direction and I got there 2½ hours later. There were lots of lovely warblers and thrushes on the Tulip Tree trail, but I dipped on the Protonothary Warbler. The South Point Trail was great, even (especially?) in the rain, and I would have spent a lot more time there.
Wednesday May 17 (10): I was off early to Point Pelee, but it was hard work and not much to show for it; Great Crested Flycatcher was the best bird. News of a flock of American White Pelicans at Hillman’s Marsh at mid-day got me going, and I caught up with them on the north side. I did some shopping at the Wal-Mart in Leamington mid-afternoon, and later saw Nighthawk at the DeLaurier Parking Lot at 2000h. The weather had turned rather cold and windy.
Racoon at Point Pelee
Thursday May 18 (14): a far better morning, thanks to Mark & Sharon’s skills. Yellow-billed Cuckoo was found by us at the tip, and there seemed to be far more warblers around. Eastern Bluebird and Yellow-breasted Chat were stakeouts along the Anders walk. Visited Wheatley Provincial Park in the hope of seeing Belted Kingfisher, and fortuitously saw one on the way at Muddy Creek. American Woodcock displayed well at Hillman’s Marsh at 2100h, so it was another long day.
Friday May 19 (2): a very quiet day at Pelee, with few birders and fewer birds. I was virtually alone as I walked back from the tip to the visitor centre. The birds had decided to gather around Tilden’s Wood Trail and Shuster Trail for a change, but I didn’t know that until I got back. The rain had set in, so I decided to go to St Clair’s. This was a bad decision, as I only saw one good bird there (Marsh Wren) and got soaked. In retrospect, Rondeau would have been far more productive. I also tried Angler’s Line for Yellow-headed Blackbird, but dipped (they are present in marshes along here, having disappeared from St. Clair’s)
Saturday May 20 (8): Having had enough of Point Pelee (thought I’d never say that!) I was off early to Rondeau (postscript: of course this was the day the warblers returned, but Rondeau was just as good). Bennett’s Avenue, Tulip Tree Trail (Protonothary Warbler was well worth the wait) and South Point Trail were all very good in the sunny weather. Mid-afternoon I left for Long Point, and lucked on an Eastern Meadowlark near Port Bruce, a bird I really wanted to see. In the evening I heard and saw Whip-poor-will at St Williams.
Sunday May 21 (4): My last day, so a bit sad. I spent a few hours at Old Cut, with a few good warblers around. The weather deteriorated quite rapidly and by the time I got to the Prairie Warbler stakeout it was cold and windy. After dipping here I moved on to Townsend Lagoons, where it was seriously windy, wet and miserable. Saw a few birds in the driving rain, then off in good time to Toronto for my flight home.
Species seen (and not seen)
Horned Grebe; One off Point Pelee
Pied-billed Grebe: St Clair’s
Double-crested Cormorant: v. common on L. Erie
American White Pelican: a flock of nine wandered around Hillman’s and Point Pelee during the week
American Bittern: two flushed at Big Creek
Great Blue Heron: common
Great White Egret: Hillman’s Marsh, and roosting at Muddy Creek, Wheatley
Black-crowned Night Heron: Hillman’s Marsh
Green Heron: Port Rowan cemetery
Tundra Swan: two at Sturgeon Creek, one at Townsend Lagoons
Canada Goose: common
Wood Duck: Port Rowan cemetery
Gadwall: St Clair’s
Blue-winged Teal: Hillman’s Marsh
Shoveler: Hillman’s Marsh
Northern Pintail: Hillman’s Marsh
Green-winged Teal: Hillman’s Marsh
Lesser Scaup: male at Townsend Lagoons
Black Scoter: two over Hillman’s Marsh
Hooded Merganser: female at Townsend Lagoons
Ruddy Duck: Townsend Lagoons
Turkey Vulture: common
Osprey: one Hasting’s Drive
Bald Eagle: adult Hillman’s Marsh, 2-3 over Point Pelee Visitor Centre car-park
Northern Harrier: Old Cut
Sharp-shinned Hawk: Rondeau
Cooper’s Hawk: en route Rondeau
Broad-winged Hawk: Point Pelee Visitor Centre car-park
Red-tailed Hawk: often seen
American Kestrel: several en route – Toronto, Wilson Tract
Wild Turkey: Wilson Tract and a very tame one Point Pelee Visitor Centre; they have been established in the area for over 20 years.
Pheasant: pair Angler’s Line
Sandhill Crane: one Old Cut; two well seen and closeup Big Creek; two flocks over Point Pelee
Virginia Rail: two flushed Big Creek
Common Moorhen: common
American Coot: one Hillman’s Marsh
American Woodcock: displaying Hillman’s Marsh; two seen during day at South Point Trail, Rondeau; also display at DeLaurier carpark
Greater Yellowlegs: one Townsend Lagoons
Lesser Yellowlegs: Port Rowan cemetery; Hillman’s Marsh; Townsend Lagoons
Solitary Sandpiper: Port Rowan cemetery
Spotted Sandpiper: one confused bird on the wet road through Rondeau; Wheatley Prov Park
Least Sandpiper: Port Rowan cemetery, Hillman’s Marsh, Townsend Lagoons
Sanderling: one Point Pelee tip
Turnstone: Point Pelee
Short-billed Dowitcher: Port Rowan cemetery
Wilson’s Phalarope: one Hillman’s Marsh
Grey Plover: Point Pelee
Semipalmated Plover: Port Rowan cemetery
Greater Black-backed Gull: one Point Pelee tip
American Herring Gull: common
Laughing Gull: one Point Pelee tip
Bonaparte’s Gull: common
Ring-billed Gull: common
Caspian Tern: Point Pelee tip
Common Tern: common
Forster’s Tern: common
Black Tern: most wetlands e.g. Big Creek
Rock Pigeon: common
Mourning Dove: v. common
Yellow-billed Cuckoo: one Point Pelee tip
Eastern Screech-Owl: two staked-out Tilden’s Wood Trail
Common Nighthawk: one over DeLaurier car-park at 2000h
Whip-poor-will: heard and seen St. Williams Forest Station clearing. The most amazing call, loud and speedy-unmistakeable. The bird itself is rather special as well.
Chimney Swift: a very few seen
Ruby-throated Hummingbird: these came to the bird-feeders at the B&Bs I stayed at. Otherwise, occasional glimpses of little buzzy things going past at great speed.
Belted Kingfisher: one Muddy Creek, Wheatley Harbour
Red-headed Woodpecker: South Trail, Rondeau and Point Pelee tip
Red-bellied Woodpecker: Rondeau
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: Wilson Tract
Downy Woodpecker: Rondeau
Hairy Woodpecker: Rondeau
Northern Flicker: Hastings Drive; Rondeau
Alder Flycatcher: Rondeau
Willow Flycatcher: Point Pelee
Least Flycatcher: common
Great Crested Flycatcher: Point Pelee
Eastern Kingbird: frequently seen
Eastern Wood-Pewee: Rondeau
Eastern Phoebe: Port Rowan cemetery; Point Pelee
White-eyed Vireo: Point Pelee
Blue-headed Vireo: Rondeau
Yellow-throated Vireo: one at Bennett’s Avenue, Rondeau
Warbling Vireo: Old Cut; fairly common
Philadelphia Vireo: Old Cut
Red-eyed Vireo: Point Pelee
Blue Jay: common
American Crow: common
Horned Lark: Concession Road D near Point Pelee
Purple Martin: common, esp Old Cut
Barn Swallow: common
Tree Swallow: common
Northern Rough-winged Swallow: uncommon, needs a good look to sort out from Bank Swallow
Bank Swallow (=Sand Martin): common
Cliff Swallow: Port Rowan Harbour; Wheatley Harbour
Black-capped Chickadee: Rondeau
White-breasted Nuthatch: Rondeau
Tufted Titmouse: Rondeau: this had me baffled for a while when I saw it on the ground
Carolina Wren: Point Pelee: nesting in transit stop building at the tip
House Wren: common
Marsh Wren: St Clairs and nearby at Townline Road cattail marsh
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: common: surprisingly, this is the confusion species with Bell’s Vireo, so I was told
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher: common
American Robin: abundant
Eastern Bluebird: Point Pelee: stakeout along Ander’s walk south of deLaurier in the old field
Gray-cheeked Thrush: Point Pelee: a late migrant, so rare at this time
Swainson’s Thrush: Rondeau; Point Pelee
Wood Thrush: Rondeau
Gray Catbird: common: does what it says on the tin
Brown Thrasher: Long Point
Cedar Waxwing: common
European Starling: common
Tennessee Warbler: Rondeau; Old Cut
Orange-crowned Warbler: Rondeau
Nashville Warbler: Old Cut; Point Pelee
Yellow Warbler: very common: the first part of the song reminded me of Willow Warbler; essential to learn this one so you don’t waste time with it.
Chestnut-sided Warbler: Old Cut, etc
Magnolia Warbler: common
Cape May Warbler: Old Cut; Point Pelee
Black-throated Blue Warbler: Old Cut; Point Pelee
Yellow-rumped Warbler: common
Black-throated Green Warbler: Old Cut; Point Pelee
Blackburnian Warbler: Old Cut; Wilson’s Tract; Rondeau
Kirtland’s Warbler: Ander’s walk, Point Pelee: one seen “pumping” its tail low to the ground in scrub was a considerable surprise
Palm Warbler: common
Bay-breasted Warbler: Point Pelee; Old Cut
Blackpoll Warbler: Point Pelee
Cerulean Warbler: Point Pelee
Black-and-White Warbler: Hasting’s Drive; Rondeau; Old Cut
American Redstart: Point Pelee
Prothonotary Warbler: Rondeau: present at Bennett’s Avenue, Spice Bush Trail and Tulip Tree Trail
Ovenbird: Old Cut; Rondeau; Point Pelee
Northern Waterthrush: Rondeau, Point Pelee
Common Yellowthroat: common in wetland areas
Wilson’s Warbler: Old Cut
Canada Warbler: Rondeau; Point Pelee
Yellow-breasted Chat: Point Pelee: stakeout along Ander’s walk: the noisy song is a giveaway, then it’s just a matter of finding it in thick cover
Scarlet Tanager: common
Rose-breasted Grosbeak: common
Indigo Bunting: common
Northern Cardinal: common but spectacular
Eastern Towhee: Point Pelee; St Williams
Chipping Sparrow: Port Rowan cemetery
Field Sparrow: Rondeau; not as common as I expected, this was my only one.
Vesper Sparrow: Wilson Tract
Savannah Sparrow: Port Rowan cemetery
Song Sparrow: common
Lincoln’s Sparrow: Old Cut
Swamp Sparrow: Big Creek
White-throated Sparrow: common
White-crowned Sparrow: common
Dark-eyed Junco: Rondeau
Baltimore Oriole: very common
Orchard Oriole: not so common
Eastern Meadowlark: one in a field a km west of Port Bruce. I found this by sheer chance when I stopped to take a photo of the lake. The narrow field is between the lake and the road (Highway 24), and the only one I saw with proper long grass on my travels. The farm mailbox is numbered 47533, just a bit on from the field. If you see the white farmhouse as pictured in the photo, you’re in the right place. A hard species to catch up with, as they’re nesting at this time and quiet. Mine perched on a post and sang briefly, before disappearing back into the grass. Mark & Sharon had a Meadowlark in front of them on the West Beach trail at Point Pelee, but as it didn’t call it couldn’t be identified. Western Meadowlark may possibly be found near Nanticoke, according to Skevington.
Red-winged Blackbird: abundant
Common Grackle: common
Brown-headed Cowbird: common
House Sparrow: common
American Goldfinch: fairly common
House Finch: Old Cut
Meadowlark stakeout west of Port Bruce
Not seen, but recorded by others during the week
All these warblers are tricky, except Parula (supposedly)!
Least Bittern: Big Creek
Chuck-will’s-widow: stakeout at Rondeau in the evening, ask when you’re there
Black-billed Cuckoo: Point Pelee
Pileated Woodpecker: Rondeau
Bell’s Vireo: Rondeau
Northern Mockingbird: Rondeau
Blue-winged Warbler: Long Point; Rondeau; Point Pelee
Golden-winged Warbler: Long Point, Rondeau
Northern Parula: my worst dip: just couldn’t see one of these tiny treetop denizens. Reported in “big numbers” at South Point Trail on the 21st !
Prairie Warbler: dipped at the stakeout due to the rubbish weather; go on a nice morning for this one.
Worm-eating Warbler: Rondeau
Kentucky Warbler: Rondeau; Point Pelee
Connecticut Warbler: This skulker is virtually impossible to see; it took Mark 10 years before he saw one; recorded at Point Pelee and Rondeau
Mourning Warbler: Long Point; Rondeau; Point Pelee
Louisiana Waterthrush: Old Cut; Point Pelee
Hooded Warbler: Long Point; St Williams; Rondeau; Point Pelee
Clay-coloured Sparrow: Point Pelee
Yellow-headed Blackbird: Anglers Line
Rusty Blackbird: Long Point last seen May 17th
Summer Tanager: two staked out at Point Pelee, but didn’t show when I visited.
A great introduction to North American birding at a (fairly) relaxed pace. My time was limited, which prevented me from looking for turtles and other wildlife, and visiting various other sites nearby, such as Kopegaron Woods. It would have been nice to have seen more warblers, but you can’t have everything, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I ended up with 118 lifers, out of 166 species seen on the trip. Bird of the trip was Whip-poor-will, with Eastern Meadowlark a close second.
A big thanks to Mark & Sharon for being such great company. Janet & Peter at Harbour Nights, Port Rowan, and Bruce & Bea at B&B’s, Wheatley were very hospitable hosts.