Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Point Pelee birding weekend

On Saturday and Sunday, the 15th and 16th, I birded Point Pelee with an English birding friend, Malcolm Richards.  We were joined by Rodolfo Palma on Saturday.  Overall it was an excellent weekend with around 75 species seen - 20 of these warbler species.  As it happens, however, we also missed several of the desirable species that were reported - Prairie, Golden-winged, Yellow-throated warblers, Clay-colored Sparrow and it seems there were several sightings of Summer Tanager all of which we happened to miss despite searches within reasonable time frames.  Perhaps it was only one bird that was moving around a lot.   

On Friday, as at Magee Marsh, a Kirtland's Warbler also graced the park.  It was not relocated on Saturday. 

Sanderlings in breeding plumage

The weather was generally good with Saturday being the warmer of the two days.  A lot of good birds were found along the East Beach on Saturday, but on Sunday a stiff east wind made this sunny location bird-free.  By default, the West Beach, while not exactly birdy, produced some new species - two of which we missed being able to identify.  By behavior, I  thought it likely they were desirable sparrows - one found by Malcolm which I did not see at all and the other which I thought had good possibility to be a LeConte's Sparrow.  Ouch.

Traill's flycatcher

We worked hard for our birds, especially on Sunday, but overall were very satisfied.  In earlier planning with Malcolm, one of the reasons we made the Pelee visit for this weekend was to avoid the crush of birders that would be at Magee Marsh.  This led to some discussion comparing Point Pelee with Magee Marsh.   (Apparently, at Magee Marsh the birding was also challenging on Sunday - not something one associates with Magee in mid-May.)  

Several months back I read Alan Wormington's Point Pelee review of birds for 2009.  In his article, Alan mentions that numbers of people visiting the park for birding have been down for several years in a row.

I recall a two day visit to Point Pelee in mid-May 2002 with a Maryland birding friend, Anne Brooks.  My memory may be faulty, but we must have hit it just right.  The birds were present in numbers that we now more typically associate with Magee Marsh.  The numbers of birders that year were also significantly greater.  In those "olden" days, cars with license plates from all over Canada and the US filled the parking lots.    Even though that visit was post 9/11, I clearly recall a much different traveling experience and birding environment.  This year the parking lot was filled with cars with Ontario license plates.  I did a brief walk around the large parking lot and saw only one car each from Michigan, New York, Ohio and Quebec.   
Rose-breasted Grosbeak

My spring birding trips to Pelee after our 2002 visit have never achieved the same results.  Last year I did not even make a spring trip to Pelee.  I didn't want to miss it two years in a row and I thought it was an important birding location for Malcolm to visit.    

American Robin

Our discussion suggested that the reason for decline in birding Point Pelee is multifactorial and most reasons have little to do with birding.

1.  It has become a bigger hassle to visit Canada - especially if your visit is to be brief, it is easier to make the decision not to visit.  I would think that most birders have passports but other factors are probably also in play.  The road construction around the bridge entrance has been ongoing for many years and the approach on either side is fraught with less than convenient possibilities.  On the Michigan side drivers need to figure out the meandering route to the get on the bridge.  On the Windsor side it is very likely that heavy traffic, especially truck traffic, and long lines will greet returning visitors.
2.  In the past several years the cost of crossing the bridge has increased to $4.00 US.  In the 2002 era, the bridge crossing fee was $2.50.
3.  The US dollar/Canadian dollar exchange rate is no longer favorable to American visitors.  For our visit this year the exchange was even.
4.  Somewhere around 2007, the daily fee to enter Point Pelee National Park increased from $5.00 to $7.80 per person.  On the one hand this makes sense; costs for running a national park system do increase -  (entrance fees for US national parks are much higher - last summer I paid $25 to enter Glacier NP but this was also valid for a full week.)  Associated with this fee increase, however, there have been no discernible improvements made to Point Pelee.  In fact, the Sanctuary trail which has, in the past, always had good birds, was closed.  Over the weekend I can't recall a single bird sighting reported from this trail.  Another very visible problem, and one that impacts birders' impressions, is the abundance of invasive garlic mustard covering every inch of the wooded areas' understory.  At this stage the garlic mustard is so pervasive and thick that I don't know how this would ever be addressed.        
Gray-cheeked Thrush

5.  Finally, the emergence of Magee Marsh in northwest Ohio (formerly known as Crane Creek) in the past decade holds enormous appeal for Michigan, Ohio and other midwest birders.  The driving distance is essentially the same, there is no bridge to cross, no park entrance fee and the birding is easy.  This speaks to it all.

Scarlet Tanager

One day soon, I hope, Point Pelee will re-emerge as a great place for migration birding.  I'll try to make my twice annual visits.  I usually also try to go in the fall with the Detroit Audubon groups led by Karl Overman.

Baby Great Horned Owl

And, so our weekend ended as it began.  On the way out we stopped at a stump that housed a large, but still downy baby Great Horned Owl.

I apologize to readers for my fuzzy photos.  My efforts this weekend were focused on making sure Malcolm was able to get good looks at our neotropical visitors.  Nevertheless, I was pleased with the Sanderlings in their spiffy plumage and the Gray-cheeked Thrush on the trail was a gift.

I don't know what I am doing differently (or wrong), but Google blogger continues to give me some formatting troubles.    

1 comment:

"Dr. Bob" said...

It was interesting to read your Magee vs. Pelee comments. Last year Judy and I went to Pelee for the first time. We were very impressed and wanted to go back. I wish we had something similar in Michigan!
However, this year we went to Magee Marsh for the first time. Subsequently we went back twice more, and missed Pelee entirely. If we had a better exchange rate in Canada, and could combine a bird trip with shopping the supermarket for "Engish specialties" - immediately I think of crumpets and lemon curd - it would help. Even with much less traffic these days, the border is more of a hassle than before. It is about the same distance for us and we have no waits at the border if we stay on this side.
In addition, the entrance road and boardwalk at Magee allow much better photo ops than Pelee! As to garlic mustard, in all three mid-week visits to Magee, we have seen people pulling the invasive thing. The understory allowed us to catch at least three new species for us. I think this group is into year 4 or 5 of a continuing effort. I seem to remember they are hoping to have it all gone by year 7.