Last week I decided to pack up my gear and head to Elgin county with John E. Pearce Provincial Park my destination. Situated on the north shore of Lake Erie and only a short drive from my home in London, this park is an area I had never birded before. With migration numbers having already peaked I was unsure what to expect, but knew this Carolinian habitat would be home to variety of birds.
Upon arriving, I parked in the large lot on the north side of the road next to the Backus-Page House Museum. I was instantly greeted by the songs and calls of several birds with Baltimore Orioles and Yellow Warblers being the first identified. Before strapping on my camera and binoculars, I walked over to a large sign containing a map of the area in order to formulate a plan of where to begin. I decided to commence my hike on the Spicer Trail, a 1.5 km loop that circled the north side of the property. This trail would take me through a mixed habitat of meadow and hardwood forest before leading me to the entrance for the trail on the south of the road overlooking Lake Erie.
As I entered the Spicer Trail, a House Wren was observed perched on the sign marking the trail entrance. I could hear a loud ruckus of breaking sticks and shaking grass just ahead of me to the right. Glancing through the trees and shrubs I saw a White-tailed doe as she ran through the meadow and into the cover of the thick timber. A variety of wildflowers lined the trail where several butterflies were observed including an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. From within the dense thicket as the meadow transitioned to forest, Gray Catbirds could be seen and heard. Once in the forest, ostrich ferns and moss covered logs concealed much of the forest floor. Great-crested Flycatchers and Red-eyed Vireos could be heard singing high up in the canopy. Deeper in the forest, I saw a White-breasted Nuthatch emerge from a tree cavity, presumably in search of more food for its brood.
After exiting the Spicer Trail, I crossed the road and picked up the path on the lake side. Again, Great-crested Flycatchers and Red-eyed Vireos were heard high overhead. A Hairy Woodpecker called as it flew in front of me and landed on a leafless branch. The sound of rustling leaves on the forest floor directed my attention to an Eastern Chipmunk. At the midway point of the trail I stopped at an opening in the trees overlooking Lake Erie. Due to erosion, a fence has been installed running parallel to the lake keeping visitors away from the edge of the bluff. As I looked past the fence out over the lake I could see several Bank Swallows, a species at risk in Ontario, circling the sky. As their name suggests, Bank Swallows build their nests in the high banks after burrowing a tunnel in the sand. The addition of the fence will also prevent park visitors from disturbing the nesting colonies of this threatened species.
Heading back towards the road a flycatcher grabbed my attention as it flew from one side of the trail to the other. I watched as the bird landed in a small tree, one of only a few in a isolated group in this otherwise mature forest. I raised my binoculars hoping to get a better look and identify the species. As the sun filtered through the canopy onto the bird, I could see that it was greener than other flycatchers and displayed a thin eye ring. Given these field marks and the surrounding habitat, I was thinking this bird might be an Acadian Flycatcher. I watched this flycatcher for several minutes as it seemed quite content on its chosen perch. Before taking flight and moving to the next tree it let out a distinctive “peet-sah” call. I knew at that point that this was in fact an Acadian Flycatcher, a species currently listed as endangered in Ontario. Excited by this sighting, I continued down the trail as I did not want to disturb this bird especially if it was nesting in the area.
Exiting the woods, I scanned the trees and shrubs as I followed the main road back to the parking lot. This is not a busy road and the shoulders are quite wide, so I felt safe with my decision. Hearing the song of an Indigo Bunting I glanced up and saw a beautiful male singing from a tree top. Sensing my presence, the bird dropped down into a low lying area beside the road surrounded by the forest. While trying to relocate the bird I noticed a second male bunting perched low in the grasses not far from a female. This area had all the characteristics of typical nesting habitat for buntings, so I was not surprised to find three of these beautiful birds in such a small area.
Continuing along the gravel shoulder, a bird flying from south to north across the road caught my eye. After watching it land in a tree adjacent to the road, I raised my binoculars. To my delight the bird was a Red-headed Woodpecker. This was the second Red-headed Woodpecker I had seen in as many days as I had observed one the previous day in my backyard. As I lowered my binoculars and raised my camera I could hear a second Red-headed Woodpecker calling from across the road. While watching the first bird move to another tree, I picked up yet another Red-headed Woodpecker in my line of sight. Tallying three of these birds, currently listed as special concern in Ontario, in such a small area was one of the many highlights of my visit.
I was certainly impressed with my first visit to John E. Pearce Provincial Park, and will definitely visit again. The park’s geographic location and Carolinian habitat make it an incredible place to bird any time of year, but I can only imagine what it must be like during the peak of spring and fall migration not only for songbirds, but birds of prey too. I am already planning on returning in September to observe the large flights of raptors that make their way down the Lake Erie shoreline each year on their journey south. I highly recommend John E. Pearce Provincial Park to anyone that has not visited. It truly is a beautiful park loaded with wildlife and offers an excellent opportunity to observe some our province’s most fragile bird species.