9th May 1981 - 23rd May 1981 & 29th-30th May 1981.
Laurel and I with Detlef Davies lefy London on a mild, damp morning, arriving at Toronto Airport where it was a mild, damp afternoon. After picking up the hire car we headed west along Highway 401 towards Leamington which would be about a four and a half hour journey.
All new species will be in bold. The dual carriageway had stopping restrictions so the first birds were seen from the car, there were lots of Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles, several American Crows and Starlings, also 8 Mourning Doves, a Chimney Swift, 2 Killdeers, a Green Heron, a Red-tailed Hawk and a Great Blue Heron.
There were also a lot of birds we couldn't pin down to species as we drove past, so the urge to stop eventually won out and at ramdom we selected junction 30, left the main road and stopped a mile or so south by a reedy pool with surrounding damp fields, shown on the map as Oxford Centre. Here we saw 2 Red-headed Woodpeckers, better views of 3 Green Herons, a Song Sparrow, 3 more Killdeers, 2 more Great Blue Herons, Mallard, a Solitary Sandpiper, 8 Myrtle Warblers, a Brown-headed Cowbird, 2 Cape May Warblers, a Chipping Sparrow, a Turkey Vulture, 3 Northern Orioles, a Downy Woodpecker, and on the pool a Male Wood Duck and a Muskrat.
Then we explored a wood about 3 miles further south adding 3 Northern Cardinals, a Yellow Warbler, a Magnolia Warbler and a Brown Thrasher to the day list. Then we continued to Lakeside View cottages in Leamington.
Early morning at the cottages on an overcaste day with light showers, then rain from mid-morning onwards. In the trees around the cottages we saw a Red-breasted Nuthatch and Northern Oriole. On our drive to Point Pelee National Park we stopped at Sturgeon Creek seeing lots of Ring-billed Gulls, American Herring Gulls, a Common Tern, a Forster's Tern and several American Black Terns. At the park entrance we stopped to get permits for our stay and then it was a four and a half mile drive to the main car park and Visitor Centre. From here to the cafe at the tip is a distance of about 2 miles, which can be covered in the shelter and comfort of a pollution-free trackless train, now a shuttle bus, which went every 15 minutes and ran from 6am to 9pm with a stop half way.
We had arrived early and it was immediately apparent that there had been a 'fall' with birds everywhere, in their hundreds, nearly every tree held its own flock of warblers, each way you looked there were orioles, grosbeaks, tanagers, thrushes and sparrows, on our first day it was almost overwhelming. The following are the new birds we saw, the numbers only a fraction of the birds which were present, 2 Tree Swallows, lots of White-crowned Sparrows, 4 Indigo Buntings, a Henslow's Sparrow, 6 Double-crested Cormorants, 2 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, lots of White-throated Sparrows, 30+ American Goldfinches, 2 Palm Warblers, 2 Golden-winged Warblers, 2 Warbling Vireos, 2 Blackburnian Warblers, 4 Chestnut-sided Warblers, 3 Common Yellowthroats, 6 Gray Catbirds, 3 Black-throated Green Warblers, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 4 Nashville Warblers, 3 Lincoln's Sparrows, a Blue-winged Warbler, 3 Black-throated Blue Warblers, 3 Blue Jays, 2 Eastern Kingbirds, a Great Crested Flycatcher, 3 Purple Finches, a (Black-crowned) Night Heron, a Caspian Tern, 2 Eastern Meadowlarks, 2 Cliff Swallows, a Bay-breasted Warbler, 2 Cedar Waxwings, a Philadelphia Vireo, a Northern Parula Warbler, a Cerulean Warbler, 2 Wood Thrushes, 2 Solitary now Blue-headed Vireos, 3 Tennessee Warblers, 2 Swamp Sparrows, 3 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, an Olive-sided Flycatcher, 5 Swainson's Thrushes, a Canada Warbler, 2 Ovenbirds, 3 Veerys and a Kentucky Warbler.
We covered much of the area south of the Visitor Centre, including the Woodland Trail, a large expanse of mixed woodland with scrubby undergrowth where the paths are easy to follow although the smaller ones are more overgrown and stepping off risks coming into contact with the abundance of poison ivy.
Later, we expored north of the park, firstly an area known as the 'Onion Fields', where the gravel roads are raised about 12 feet above the fields giving good views of the flocks of waders which rest and feed on the dark brown soil. Here we saw several American Horned Larks and at least 10 Purple Martins. We continued northeast to Stein's (also called Hillman's) Marsh, a series of pools with a large central lagoon seperated from Lake Erie by a sandy beach, here we saw a Northern Rough-winged Swallow and lots of gulls and terns.
We returned to the park and visited Tildens Wood, by the main car park, an area of damp woodland with small pools inbetween mature trees and thickets, the trees were alive with warblers and vireos which had filters through from the tip. We added an Eastern Towhee, an American Redstart, a Northern Waterthrush and a White-eyed Vireo to the day's list and were surprised to find another Kentucky Warbler.
Towards evening we returned to Stein's Marsh were there was a large roost of Night Herons, with smaller numbers of Green and Great Blue Herons, 4 Great or Great White Egrets, 100's of Bonaparte's Gulls, good numbers of Ring-billed Gulls, Common and American Black Terns, a few Forster's Terns and a few duck.
Photos: Scarlet Tanager
Purple Martin nest box.
This morning in the trees around the cottages there was an increased number of birds and we had excellent views of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a Least Flycatcher. We spent most of the day at Point Pelee where there was another flurry of migrants, the Henslow's Sparrow found yesterday was still in the same spot and attracting considerable attention. Of the 82 species recorded today, some of the less common were 2 Orange-crowned Warblers, 3 Golden-winged Warblers, a Cerulean Warrbler and a Grasshopper Sparrow, but the rarity of the day was an immature male Blue Grosbeak. We tracked down 2 more of the 5 skulking warblers, a Mourning Warbler and after hours searching through wet foliage in the rain a Hooded Warbler, the only one we saw.
Other new birds seen today were a Least Sandpiper at the tip, 4 Black-capped Chickadees, 2 Savannah Sparrows, a Wilson's Warbler, 2 Field Sparrows, a Marsh Wren, 2 Orchard Orioles and an Eastern Wood Pewee, we also saw 2 Cottontails.
An overcaste morning which at least was mainly dry, in the afternoon it cleared and was sunny for the rest of the day. We started at Point Pelee where the highlights included 5 Blue-winged Warblers, a Prairie Warbler, our first House Wren, a Carolina Wren, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, a Merlin which is not common here, and a Black-billed Cuckoo.
Then we went to Stein's Marsh, on the way seeing 2 Northern Harriers, at the marsh there were 4 Rusty Blackbirds and after a long wait the Yellow-crowned Night Heron showed, a rare southern vagrant which had been here for a couple of days or more. We also visited nearby Etang Bush Pond at the north end of East Beach where there were 3 Lesser Scaups and a pair of Buffleheads.
We returned to Point Pelee where at the tip we saw our only Pine Warbler of the trip, walking back to the car park we saw an Eastern Bluebird and after much patience a secretive Sedge Wren, also an Eastern Meadow Vole.
Tilden's Wood was full of birds and we found 2 Red-bellied Woodpeckers, 2 Yellow-throated Vireos, another Rusty Blackbird and a Hermit Thrush.
Red-bellied Woodpecker & Yellow-crowned Night Heron by Laurel.
A change to warmer, sunny weather resulted in a smaller fall of migrants, but we still saw several new species and were able to look more closely at some of the commoner birds.
Again we started at Point Pelee, taking the train to the tip where a group of birders had found a Yellow-breasted Chat which gave excellent views, a female Kentucky Warbler in the same spot made an occasional appearence. Here we also saw our first Garter Snakes, 3 of them, and at the end of the sandy spit found 2 Little Gulls in with the Bonaparte's Gulls. Later we went to the 'Sparrow Field' where along the edge were 10 Pine Siskins, then we took a poorly defined path east from the corner of the field to a sandy area where dead trees are bleached white and give an eerie atmosphere to the place, some trunks lying across the numerous stagnant pools where their branches are used by turtles, in this area we saw 7 Painted Turtles and a Blandings Turtle. In the bright sunshine nesting Tree Swallows and woodpeckers showed well in the exposed dead branches, including 2 Common Flickers, and we saw an immature Bald Eagle and 2 Broad-winged Hawks flying overhead. A little further north we arrived at the edge of an extensive marsh with isolated tall trees, where for an hour or so we watched a pair of Great Horned Owls being mobbed by blackbirds and grackles.
This year the water level was very high in the marshy areas around the park, we found the best places for waders were the various sewage lagoons, several of which were only a short drive from Leamington. So, this afternoon we drove north to Tilbury Sewage Lagoons, unlike most of these places it is possible to drive around the two pools here. Although the water level was high there was still a muddy edge, we saw 9 Short-billed Dowitchers, a female Wilson's Phalarope and 5 Redheads, we also saw a Northern Water Snake swimming close to the side of one of the pools and a Fisher or Fisher Cat was glimpsed disappearing over a bank.
Photos right: Downy Woodpecker & Garter Snake.
Great Horned Owl
Northern Water Snake
The return of bad weather, it was cold, wet and grey, we decided to go to Harrow Sewage Lagoons about half an hours drive west of Leamington. There are 3 lagoons, each slightly different, we had come to find a Yellow-headed Blackbird which we saw in the middle of the large cattail bed, an uncommon bird in Ontario. The only other bird of note was a Bufflehead, so we headed back, on the way stopping at Kingsville Sand Bar which lies off Linden Beach, in the rain we could see Forster's Terns in amongst the distant terns, gulls and waders, sheltering from the rain in a tree by the car were 2 Purple Martins and 2 Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and along the beach 2 Great Egrets.
On returning to Point Pelee we learned that a Piping Plover had been found on the Onion Fields. We located the bird, but due to the distance seen and bad weather the views were very poor.
We decided to continue birding, so travelled to Essex Sewage Lagoons, about 40 minutes drive from Leamington, there were various waders feeding along the narrow muddy bank and ducks included 3 Lesser Scaup and 2 American Wigeon.
Finally, as we drove back through Leamington town centre we saw a Nighthawk circling over the roof-tops, but it was too dark to see it well.
Yellow-headed Blackbird in Cattail Marsh at Harrow.
Another cloudy, cold day, but not as wet, we spent most of the day at Point Pelee, particually along the Woodland Trail where a search for better views of Carolina Wren was successful and we had superb views. The woods seemed to have more birds than recently and other sightings included Black-billed Cuckoo, Mourning and Orange-crowned Warblers, a Yellow-shafted Flicker now called Common or Northern Flicker excavating a nest hole and 2 White-tailed Deer.
Later we went to the Onion Fields where we had much better views of the Piping Plover and were convinced of its identification.
We continued to Stein's Marsh where we were told a male Canvasback had been seen at Hillman's Bridge, we arrived to see the duck just a few yards from the shore, then after a few minutes it flew off and disappeared. The flooded woodland on the north side of the road at Stein's Marsh was alive with birds and 15 species of warbler were seen in about 20 minutes.
We returned to Leamington around dusk and watched 2 Nighthawks displaying over the central crossroads.
Barn & Tree Swallows at Stein's Marsh
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Stein's Marsh
A dry, clear day, by mid-morning hot and sunny, a day spent in a new area 40-50 miles east of Leamington. By 7am we had arrived at Blenheim Sewage Lagoons and were scanning the mass of waders on one of the two pits which had been drained. We failed to find the Stilt Sandpiper which had recently been reported here, but later, we did see in fields at Charing Cross 3 Upland Sandpipers, uncommon in Ontario, also seeing Red-tailed Hawks and a Killdeer with 2 downy chicks.
From midday onwards we explored Rondeau Provincial Park, a peninsular on the shore of Lake Erie, but not forming a narrow spit as at Pelee, so bird migration is on a broader front and less spectacular. The extensive woodland has larger trees with shady pools and here we saw 3 Prothonotary Warblers, 2 magnificent Pileated Woodpeckers, our first 2 Hairy Woodpeckers and 2 Louisiana Waterthrushes, other notable birds were 2 Golden-winged Warblers, a Blue-winged Warbler, a Golden-crowned Kinglet not seen by me, and, a Brewster's Warbler a Golden-winged x Blue-winged hybrid. We also found a Five-lined Skink known locally as a Blue-tailed Skink sunning itself on a log and mammals of the day included 3 Eastern Chipmunks and 2 very tame Raccoons.
American Black Tern at Rondeau
Five-lined Skink at Rondeau
A cold, cloudy start to the day, becoming hot and sunny, 8am found us at Stein's Marsh where there were good numbers of gulls and terns including 7 Little Gulls, a good count for here, we also saw 2 Lesser Scaup, 2 Marsh Wrens and in the woodland watched several species of warbler.
Then we went to Point Pelee and took the train to the tip where a crowd had gathered to see a rarity, a Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, at the time a sub-species, now a full species. It spent much of the 2-3 hours we were there sat in the same bush and in a nearby bush, in fact the last/1st bush on the tip, we saw a Prairie Warbler.
Other notable birds seen on our walk back to the car park were 2 Grasshopper Sparrows, 2 Northern Parula Warblers, Golden and Blue-winged Warblers and a Black-billed Cuckoo.
Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow.
We made a very early start at Point Pelee, had the driver of the 6am train not overslept, we would not have walked to the tip and the train would have gone past the spot, near the west beach, where a strange buzzing song eventually led us to one of the ultimate American skulkers, a Worm-eating Warbler, with persistence we did see the bird well. Also in the same area of undergrowth we watched a pair of White-eyed Vireos mating. Continuing, we walked out onto the tip to look through a large raft of Red-breasted Mergansers and Laurel picked up an immature male King Eider, a rarity at Pelee, especially in May. On the walk back to the car park, of note was an Eastern Bluebird, a Cerulean Warbler and a Northern Parula. Then we went to Tilden's Wood and searched the area around the willow thickets to the north seeing 2 male Prothonotary Warblers, a Yellow-breasted Chat, a Mourning Warbler and 4 male Wilson's Warblers.
Later we went to Stein's Marsh where we were shown a Willow Flycatcher at a breeding site, on the main lake we saw no less than 4 Least Bitterns flying across the reeds. An American Woodcock flushed from the side of the path gave a splendid performance as it came within a few yards of us, and in the adjacent field a Virginia Rail was coaxed from cover, but we failed to see the 3 King Rails which we could hear calling in a nearby pool.
An overcast but warm morning, we took the train to the tip of Point Pelee where there were reasonable numbers of birds, found a puddle nearby and settled down to see what it attracted, some of the usually skulking species were seen, including Canada Warbler, Wilson's Warbler and Mourning Warbler. A short distance away we saw a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, a rare, distinctive flycatcher. We saw lots more birds on the walk back to the car park.
Later we drove to Rondeau Provincial Park again, walking the 3 or so miles to the end of the marshwalk, which ends abruptly without joining the shingle spit which contains the marsh. Here we had distant views of an adult Bald Eagle near its nest, at this time only 3 pairs breed in Ontario.
Among the vast numbers of Bonaparte's Gulls were 5 Little Gulls and on the return walk 3 Black Ducks and an American Bittern flew overhead, we heard another 2 Bitterns booming from the reedbeds.
In the evening in an area behind the Visitor Centre we heard 2 Eastern Screech Owls, a Whip-poor-will and a Chuck-will's-widow and in spite of a long wait, failed to see any of these birds, but we did see 2 species of bat, a Little Brown Myotis and a Silver-haired Bat.
A hot and sunny day, our first stop was Tilden's Wood where eventually we located a female Connecticut Warbler which had been reported, this was the last warbler species we could hope to see at Pelee and the last of the 5 skulkers. At the same spot we watched a Sedge Wren and saw another Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.
Later, we returned to the Visitor Centre where we learned that a Townsend's Warbler had been found in a park in Sarnia, a 90 mile drive north to the southern shore of Lake Huron, as it was such a rare bird in Ontario we decided to go, but it had gone!
A local birder offered to show us a couple of good birding spots, firstly Sarnia Airfield where we saw a pair of Wilson's Phalaropes, an Upland Sandpiper, a male Purple Finch and a Western Meadowlark which is on the edge of its range here. Then to Brights Grove Sewage Lagoons where there were good numbers of ducks and waders, also Pied-billed and Black-necked Grebes.
Painting of male & female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds by Laurel.
The occurrence of Roger Tory Peterson at Point Pelee today caused a big stir, author and illustrator of North American Field Guides. The number of migrants had fallen, but I managed to find a Yellow-headed Blackbird and a Hudsonian Whimbrel, both rarities and in the case of the whimbrel only the 2nd spring record for the park.
Later, we walked along the Marsh Boardwalk, a boarded trail which extends out into the vast cattail marsh on the east side of the peninsula.
Mid-afternoon is not the best time to look for birds in these marshes and the only noteworthy sighting was of an immature Bald Eagle in flight, we also recorded our first Map Turtle and American Toad.
A late afternoon walk along the Woodland Trail produced a male Connecticut Warbler and surprisingly a male Prothonotary Warbler high up in a tree.
Around 7pm we were driving through the Onion Fields when we saw a Woodchuck sitting bolt upright in the road and then a bit further on an Upland Sandpiper on the verge.
At Stein's Marsh we saw 2 King Rails in the reedy pool we had heard them before, and, had great views of the Yellow-crowned Night Heron as it flew over the road.
Marsh Boardwalk at Point Pelee.
The morning's sightings at Pelee were mainly of common species but with a bit of persistence we saw 2 male Connecticut Warblers including the one in Tilden's Wood. In the afternoon we made another visit to Harrow Sewage Lagoons , making a brief stop in Kingsville on the way where we had excellent daylight views of a Nighthawk.
We walked around the lagoons and succeeded in enticing a Sora Rail from the reeds, the male Yellow-headed Blackbird had been joined by a female and a nest was being built in the cattail marsh. A Least Bittern flew up from the bank and the female Bufflehead, seen on our last visit, was much closer.
There was lots of amphibian sound and activity and we saw 10+ American Toads, 10+ Woodhouse's (Fowler's)Toads and 5 Northern Leopard Frogs, also 6 Muskrats.
Northern Leopard Frog
Our last day at Point Pelee and today our birding was confined to Andersfield, the area between the Visitor Centre and the De Laurier Fields to the north. At least 2 Virginia Rails were seen just east of the Centre with 4 or more calling and we saw a Green Frog. Soon after we arrived at the fields we were treated to a bird of prey spectacle involving a Red-tailed Hawk, 2 Turkey Vultures being mobbed by a Peregrine and a Cooper's Hawk. In this area we also saw 3 Willow Flycatchers, a Yellow-breasted Chat and a late Hermit Thrush. An Alder Flycatcher reported earlier took some finding but in the end we had good views of it. A last look in Tilden's Wood produced our only Gray-cheeked Thrush perched in full view, a species that was much rarer than we expected. Towards dusk we saw 5 Nighthawks over Leamington.
Back at the cottage Roy Smith had arrived from Toronto, where he now lives, joining us to was Mike Parr, who had been with us for much of the time at Pelee, before setting out on our next part of the trip.
We left Leamington around 9pm, drove west to Windsor, crossed into Michigan at Detroit and continued west reaching Ann Arbor before midnight.
We crossed back into Ontario at Sarnia and drove to Brights Grove Sewage Lagoons where we only had an hour or so of daylight left. Large numbers of waders were scattered on the muddy lagoon, including a pair of Wilson's Phalaropes, we had a close view of a Least Bittern and saw a Snapping Turtle.
Then we made our way east.
After dropping off Roy at Long Point, we arrived at Niagara Falls about 9.30am, it is a very impressive sight. In a heavy thunderstorm we drove along the lakeside road to Niagara-on-the-Lake where we hoped to see Northern Mockingbird and House Finch, but in these conditions we were unsuccessful, but as we got soaked scanning the gardens at the east end of the town we saw a Philadelphia Vireo and a flock of 40 Pine Siskins.
Then a drive to the airport.
Canada Falls, Niagara Falls