Tuesday, May 7, 2019

4 days at the Point Pelee Festival of Birds

I know this blog is dedicated to the birds of Northern Ontario but since I just spent 4 days at the Point Pelee Festival of Birds, I wanted to write a post with some of the highlights.  As you know, Point Pelee is one of the best birding spots in Ontario and it is the most southerly point in Canada. It was a great opportunity to see birds that never (or rarely) come up north.
Blue-winged Warbler
Point Pelee (3 May 2019)
Eastern Towhee
Point Pelee (4 May 2019)
It was our first time birding in the park during the Festival of Birds and it was a wonderful experience. I was a bit reluctant at first because I am used to birding by myself or with Gary  and I was not sure how it would feel to try to see birds while being surrounded by lots of people. I soon found out that the people were part of the magic of this place and made the whole experience better. And having more eyes out there means you get to see more species! Everywhere we went in the park, friendly people talked to us, asked about what we saw and offered helpful advice on where to find certain birds. 
American Avocet near Hillman Marsh
2 May 2019
Orange-crowned Warbler on the West Beach Trail
Point Pelee (4 May 2019)
Scarlet Tanager next to the parking lot at the Visitor Centre
Point Pelee (3 May 2019)

Organized hikes

The Friends of Point Pelee National Park offer guided hikes throughout the festival. Since I had never been on a guided hike in Ontario, I registered for two of them. (they don't exist in the Timmins area, but I wish they did when I first started birding) 

We started with a guided hike to the Tip with Bruce Di Labio. I really enjoyed this guided walk and his expertise and would recommend booking one if you are going to the festival. On Saturday, we joined an evening guided walk at the DeLaurier Homestead with Jeremy and Tim. The whole walk was wonderful and we were delighted to watch American Woodcocks displaying and calling while an Eastern Whip-poor-will was singing.  At one point, we were all watching a woodcock in our binoculars when a coyote walked by and flushed it! I really enjoyed the evening walk. I seriously wish I had been exposed to people like Bruce, Jeremy and Tim (and all the other knowledgeable birders I met) when I started birding. I would've learned so much.
Palm Warbler
Point Pelee (3 May 2019)

Notable sightings and moments

Before arriving in Point Pelee, we stopped to stretch our legs at Wheatley Harbour.  It was great timing because someone had just found a Piping Plover a few minutes before we pulled in. As you know, Piping Plovers are endangered in Ontario. It was my first and it was a great way to start the trip.

Piping Plover
Wheatley Harbour 1 May 2019
On Thursday evening, I was fortunate to see my first Red-throated Loon off the west coast. It was raining and I got a photo from far away.  Now I know what they look like if one ever decides to stop by the Timmins area.

Red-throated Loon - Point Pelee
2 May 2019
On May 3rd, a Grasshopper Sparrow arrived at the tip and rested a bit while I was there. I had time for a few photos before it flew north.  It was my first. Spending time at Point Pelee's Tip area is always interesting, you never know what can show up. 
Grasshopper Sparrow resting at the Tip
Point Pelee (3 May 2019)
May 4th started with a White-winged Dove found by Josh Vandermeulen at the Tip. It was perched on a tree right where the Tram dropped us off.  I had observed them before in Mexico and Costa Rica but never in Ontario!
White-winged Dove
Point Pelee - Tip (4 May 2019)
Later Saturday afternoon I was treated to a Yellow-breasted Chat near the Northwest beach.   Again, someone we met on the trail explained where to look for it, and there it was! What an interesting bird. 

Yellow-breasted Chat
Point Pelee (4 May 2019)
On Sunday May 5, our last day in Point Pelee, I was delighted to see a Prothonotary Warbler. I had observed them before in Louisiana and Costa Rica but only from far away. This one was very close to the bridge, feeding and singing. Watching it sing was one of the most magical thing I ever witnessed. 
Prothonotary Warbler
Point Pelee (5 May 2019)
Prothonotary Warbler
Point Pelee (5 May 2019)

A lifer Hooded Warbler that I will never forget!

Last but not least, the most interesting moment of the trip and the most heart-warming lifer sighting I ever experienced.  As we were driving away to leave the park, we decided to stop at the Marsh Boardwalk parking lot for one last bird. A Hooded Warbler had been sighted there earlier and I had never seen one.

We arrived at the same time as 3 other birders looking for it as well. To get to the area where the bird had been spotted, we had to walk near a family having a bbq picnic. The family members pulled us in and made us sit down and eat with them. They served us delicious Kurdish chicken, flatbread and mint tea. We laughed and talked and it was amazing. When we were done, I thanked them and told them that I was touched that they would invite 5 strangers with binoculars at their family meal. The mom responded: "No, no, no. There are no strangers". They explained that they were having a family pre Ramadan meal and sharing was the most important thing for them. 
Gary and I sitting down with the family that fed us and 3 other birders
Point Pelee (May 5 2019) Photo by Rick Mayos
Sometimes it's not just about the bird you're chasing, but it's also about the people you meet and the wonderful moments you get to experience. By the way, the cooperative Hooded Warbler remained in the area during the picnic so we all got to see it!
Hooded Warbler
Point Pelee - Marsh Boardwalk Picnic Area (5 May 2019)