Sunday, May 14, 2017

Point Pelee

Sometime in late winter, my good friend Vee, (always good discussion on sports, career, family, politics and birding) and I made plans to go to Point Pelee on May 11th and 12th.  I hadn't been to Point Pelee in years (at least 5 or 6) and I recalled the most recent of those visits as being slow for birding. So when we decided that the mid-May dates of the 11th or 12th would work for both of us - they seemed like good safe dates.  There would be birds.

Also, 2017 is Canada's 150th anniversary and all of their national parks have free entry.  This is a very good thing because I recall that Point Pelee's entrance fee was expensive.  Getting in for free was great.  But, the park was also thronged.  The main lot near the Visitor Center filled up before 7:00 am and parking had to be moved to the more distant lots.  The weather Thursday was cold and gray all day.  Friday was sunny and bright but only slightly warmer until late afternoon when it really warmed up.

Cut to the chase - good year to revisit the famous Point Pelee for the free entry fee, lots of birders and people activity, but very few birds.

We parked in the West Beach lot and began to bird along the trail there.  The very first bird we saw was a Veery.  Above, White-crowned sparrows were present in large numbers on many trails throughout the park.

Patches of the pretty little Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) were all over the park.

I don't recall that wild turkeys were present in the park at the time of my prior visits.  We saw toms and hens may times.

Apparently there were two, but we saw only one very confiding Protonotary Warbler along the Woodland Trail.

Ruby-crowned kinglets were around.

On Thursday, the 11th, Palm warblers were present throughout the park.  On Friday, the 12th, we did not see one.  So some migration must have been occurring.

Above, Horned Grebe.  The west side of the lake was calm.  Otherwise, Red-breasted Mergs in a relatively large flotilla were close enough to see well.  A few scaup species were present on the lake as well and on Friday we say one Common Loon still in basic plumage from the West Beach.

Two male scarlet tanagers and one female were present at the tip and the only scarlet tanagers we saw either day.

Point Pelee's famous tip was gone as waves from the east pounded the slender, sandy point.  Below, the flock of birds seen in the middle of the photo, tiny dots well beyond the rocks, were common terns diving and fishing over the rough water.

Above, the first Orchard Oriole we saw at the tip.  For the two days we saw three in total.

Above, somewhat messy-appearing first spring male Rose-breasted Grosbeak and below a female Rose-breasted on Thursday.  By Friday, Rose-breasted Grosbeak numbers had increased.

Somewhere along the Woodland Trail, after seeing and photographing a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, another birder, eeerrr photographer, asked us "was that an unusual sparrow?"

Above and below:  Often a mid or high-canopy bird, this Nashville Warbler came in at eye level.

Essentially every field guide, I think, will show the male Nashville warbler (Vermivora ruficappilla) with a red cap on the top of its head. This is a field mark seldom seen.  Using a couple of Apple Preview highlighting tools, the photos above and below show not red, but a sort of bumpy feathering - the best I can describe it - on top of the bird's head.  Given the bird's bright yellow throat and breast, I think this is a first spring male moulting into his red cap feathers.

Point Pelee is also interesting for its botanicals.  Attractive fungi and wildflowers, not to mention prickly pear cactus were present in areas throughout the park.

On Friday the weather continued to be cold, but it was bright and sunny.  A few new birds were being found.  Any time a large crowd gathered on the trail a bird, usually a warbler, could be seen.

The setting moon.

The large flotilla of red-breasted mergs were still present on the west side.  

 Barn swallow roosting on the railing of the tip visitor kiosk.

On Friday Rose-breasted Grosbeaks arrived en mass.  We found many throughout the day.

Along the Tilden trail this Lincoln's Sparrow delighted many.  We saw another later in the afternoon along the Sanctuary trail.

There were a couple of Rusty Blackbirds (late I think) that captivated birders from England and those with cameras (like me).  I think of rusty blackbird as an April migrant.

We saw two Blue-winged Warblers, one at the tip and another along the Tilden trail.  The Tilden trail bird was low and right in front of us.  Above, is my botched photo attempt.

Finally, a Yellow Warbler caught perched and singing for a photo.  Vee and I speculated on the number of yellow warblers at Point Pelee.  Five hundred?  One thousand?  More?

In the field I'm not patient enough to differentiate lesser from greater scaup.  A male and female were found in the first pond along the DeLaurier trail.  I took a series of photos and from these I identified the pair as Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis).  But ... I could be wrong.  The back of the head and neck are  straighter than I think a lesser might be. Otherwise, the time of year, location and habitat favored lesser.

We ended our two days of birding at Point Pelee along the Sanctuary trail where we found another orchard oriole, another Lincoln's sparrow, and more rose-breasted grosbeaks.

The road from Point Pelee to the bridge is entirely new and re-configured.  The way home along this new road was quicker and better driving.  However, we waited behind ten other cars for approximately 45 minutes to get through to the U.S. side.  I don't think I'll be visiting Point Pelee again anytime soon.  Nevertheless, I was happy to visit with Vee in 2017.     

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