This past week I packed up my camera and binoculars and headed to Point Pelee National Park in Leamington, Ontario for the 2015 Festival of Birds. Point Pelee National Park is located on an 8.5km peninsula of land extending into Lake Erie, and is the southernmost point of mainland Canada. Each spring thousands of birds stop over in the park to rest and feed after crossing the lake during their migration north. Deemed the warbler capital of Canada, Point Pelee National Park is a birder’s paradise. The mixed habitat within the park attracts more than just warblers, with 365 species reported to Ebird.
I arrived at the park mid-morning and upon rolling my window down to pay the very modest $7.60 adult entrance fee, I could immediately hear the calls of both Yellow Warblers and Baltimore Orioles. Continuing into the park, the songs and calls of various birds filled the air. Red-winged Blackbirds, Warbling Vireos, and American Robins could all be seen and heard.
My late arrival to the park meant that the parking areas closest to the visitor centre were full, so park staff directed me to the closest available parking located at Black Willow Beach. From there, it was a short 1.5 km walk to the visitor centre where a shuttle ride to the tip is available. Grabbing my camera, binoculars, a few snacks and some water, I headed south down the wooded path paralleling the lake toward the visitor centre.
Immediately, I was treated to excellent views of Baltimore Orioles, Yellow Warblers, and Eastern Kingbirds. In fact, you could hardly walk a few steps without encountering a Yellow Warbler or Baltimore Oriole. Hermit Thrushes and House Wrens could be seen flitting along near the ground. Scanning at eye level, more warblers came into view with Palm, Black-throated Blue, and Chestnut-sided all being recorded. Tree and Barn Swallows circled overhead as they followed the adjacent dune. I had a good feeling about the day as I had barely been in the park ten minutes and had already observed over a dozen species.
After arriving at the visitor centre, I hopped on the shuttle and headed for the tip. A distance of only 2 kms, this stretch of park is very much walkable, but with so many trails yet to explore, I figured this was a good opportunity to rest my legs and rehydrate.
Getting off the shuttle at the tip exhibit area, I could see more Barn Swallows flying around the pavilion. A small crowd of birders had gathered to observe a Wilson’s Warbler as it moved about an Eastern Red Cedar tree. Scanning the tree with my binoculars, I quickly added this species to my daily total. My hike around the tip didn’t reveal as many species as I hoped, but I attributed this to my late arrival. From what I have heard, it is best to be at the tip at sunrise when birds that migrated the previous night are low down and in plain view as they recuperate from their long flight across Lake Erie. The tip was still rewarding as I added Red-breasted Mergansers, several gull species, and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird to my day’s list. While waiting for the shuttle to pick me up, I observed several of the previously observed Barn Swallows flying in and out of their nests underneath the pavilion at the tip exhibit; a promising sight given that these birds are a Species at Risk in Ontario. It was here too that I added an Orchard Oriole to my tally.
Heading back north toward the visitor centre, I got off the shuttle at the end of the Woodland Nature Trail. It was here where even more species were observed. More warblers including, Bay-breasted, Magnolia, and Blackburnian, as well as several vireos with Red-eyed, Blue-headed, Yellow-throated, and Philadelphia all being recorded in a short section of the forest. Several sections of this trail contained wooded, swampy, habitat, perfect for the endangered Prothonotary Warbler, but unfortunately I was unable to locate one despite other birders reporting them from this area. This same habitat is preferred by other species too, and did reveal a Veery and Solitary Sandpiper. Continuing my way along the trail to the visitor centre more of the same species were observed.
Next, I wanted to check out the Tilden Woods Trail where a rufous morph Eastern Screech-Owl had been reported daily for over a week. The owl was visible from the main trail in a tree cavity, but without the help of fellow birders, would have gone unnoticed by many, myself included. It was great to see so many birders helping each other out so that everyone could see this incredible species. Further along the Tilden Woods Trail, I added two more warbler species to my count: Black-throated Green, and Blackpoll.
After exiting Tilden Woods Trail, I made my way back to the path I started on and headed for my truck. Arriving back at my truck I decided to head down to the beach so I could have my lunch and tally up my day’s total. Glancing out over Lake Erie I could see a large thunderstorm moving in. Heavy rain, 100 kph winds, hail, and even a tornado warning were now forecast, so I was glad my day at the park was coming to an end. In total, I observed 57 species, with four of them being lifers. Totally satisfied with my day birding, I packed my gear into my truck and headed for home. I barely made it past the park entrance when it began to pour rain.
If you have never been to Point Pelee National Park for the Festival of Birds, I highly recommend it. Birders and non birders alike will be impressed by all of the birds and the park’s beauty. This was my first visit, as I have been scared off in previous years by the crowds that this festival draws. Take my advice, do not let the crowds scare you. Plan your trip for through the week to avoid the busiest days, and take part in this incredible experience. I am planning on making this an annual trip and will definitely spend spend more than one day at the park each spring in hopes of seeing even more of the 365 species that have been recorded there.