Pelee 2011

This is a very long post. It represents an week long trip I took to the best birding spot in all of Canada during migration. I thought I'd do it as a specific page that can easily be viewed as there's likely no one that will have the time to read it all at once. This post will be broken into a few days. I hope you enjoy it.

Days 1-4 (Pelee Island)

Rumble in, rumble out.

This weekend was my first trip to Pelee Island in my life. That and Point Pelee National Park are arguably the best birding in Canada for spring migrants. In two days, not even birding the entire time, I probably saw about 100 bird species. 31 of those were new for my big year. But there were other reasons for visiting the island as well. My good birding friend, Richard Pope, was going to hook me up with Graeme Gibson. He's the author of The Bedside Book of Birds. It's a fantastic collection of stories about birds. If you like birds in any capacity, you should buy it. The second reason was that I'd get to visit The Pelee Island Bird Observatory. They have an open door policy, so really, anyone can visit and see what they're up to. But we'd be given the opportunity to take our cameras in there and get some really close up footage of bird banding.

After a nice send off by my family, I headed down the highway in the Duster (Rumble Bee). This would be it's inaugural birding trip. Pelee is about a 6 hour drive from my home. I wondered how the old girl would hole up. She was great. There's a funny thing about driving a classic car. You don't need the radio. There's one in it but I never turned it on. It just feels different than driving our newer vehicle. You don't just drive at 130km/hr to get there ASAP. You enjoy the drive. I barely broke the speed limit on the 401.

I arrived at the ferry an hour earlier than I was supposed to for loading. John showed up about 5 minutes after me. We noticed a 'different' looking tern flying over the parking lot. Later, Richard told me there was a Forster's Tern colony near the ferry docks. That would explain how lightly coloured the bird was. I had bird number one before I even got out of the car.  Having an hour to kill,. We decided to head into the park and look around. We turned more than a few heads driving the Duster. As i was heading toward the visitor's center, a Brown Thrasher flew right in front of the car and landed at the side of the road. My favorite bird, and my son's namesake, was bird two of the week long trip. We parked in the lot at the visitor's center and wandered inside. Sarah Rupert, a park employee we'd be interviewing, recognized me right away. Not a lot of people visiting would have a Mohawk. We chatted a few moments and I asked her if there was anything cool right around the building. "Not much, just a Kirtland's Warbler." if you're not a birder, that was a joke. Not a laugh-out-loud kind of joke. You see, a Kirtland's Warbler is one of the most rare Warblers you can hope to see. Some will never see one. Certainly not in Ontario when they are doing a big year. And it'd never be bird number 3 for someone on a week-long trip. We wandered over to the spot and saw a group of people, including Jean Iron, all looking in the exact same direction. That was it. I wandered over, looked into the bush beside the trail and BAM, I had my first ever Kirtland's Warbler. A 'lifer' as they say. After a few really good long looks, I tweeted this, verbatim:

“Holy shit! Kirtland's warbler! First bird of Point Pelee park. SO INCREDIBLE!!! yes, 3 exclamation points Matt.”

On the island, we got several looks that said, "Why is that car here?" Having met all those people now, they understand. We got to our motel around 8:30pm and went straight to meet Richard and Felicity, his wife, for dinner. We both ordered a beer and a jerked Pickerel dinner. The fish had been caught that day on Lake Erie. It was delicious. Especially after that shit burger from Wendy's at the highway gas station. After a few bottles of beer we went to sleep as we'd need to be up by 5am the next day.

I woke the next day like every day. To the sound of birds from an alarm app on my iPad. We quickly dressed and headed for Fish Point Trail. We met Richard at the trail head and wandered into a perfect Carolinian Forest. It was great. Kind of like what my version of heaven would be, if I believed in heaven. The smell was so clean, the sounds were of lapping water and singing birds. It would have been nice to share it with my family but 3 yr. old twins have a way of destroying tranquility. Someday soon we'll be able to do this together. I can't wait. We saw a few nice birds here and there but nothing too crazy. At the point we met up with Ken Burrell. Ken is working on studying reverse migration. Some birds seem to be heading south in the spring. It'll be interesting to see where that research goes. Some birds we saw were Caspian Tern, Nashville Warbler, Warbling Vireo and Palm Warbler. Wandering back down the trail we got a Green Heron (my Dad's fave), Virginia Rail and Sora. Sora was a lifer for me.

Fish Point, Pelee Island, 6:30am.

Sora by ingridtayar.

After that, we headed into the swampy woods to meet Graeme Gibson Jr. who runs the Pelee Island Bird Observatory (PIBO). It was located deep into the bush. We had to tromp through about an acre of forest, all in about ankle deep muck. Visiting the station was a real treat, well worth the trip into it. We got to see several kinds of birds in the hand. Graeme Jr. took us through the banding procedure and we watched as he collected important data about the birds. Also, nearby, I got a Magnolia Warbler.

Graeme banding a bird at PIBO.

PIBO bird banding station.

Magnolia Warbler by Seabamirum.

After our lesson in bird banding/observation, we went looking for more birds. One we got was a Yellow-throated Vireo. Others were Palm, Black-throated Blue, Blue-winged and Chestnut-sided Warblers along with Purple Martins and Blue-headed Vireo. The day ended with a dinner at the Pelee Island Winery. The event is called Springsong and has run for 10 years now. Birders get together and celebrate birding. It was great. Good food, good birds, good people. What more do you need? The next day I birded the island some more. I got Prothonotary Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Carolina Wren and many others. Monday, we were up at the crack of dawn to head back to Point Pelee to bird all day. The weekend was incredibly productive with lots of new birds but it was time to take the Rumble Bee from the Island to the Point.
Black-throated Blue Warbler by leppyone.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak by jmwests.

Prothonotary Warbler by hart_curt.

Day 4 (Point Pelee)

Point Pelee; a slow day.

The day I arrived back on the main land, I heard it was a slow day on the point. Great, I thought. I travel all this way for a slow day. But the thing is, a slow day at Point Pelee isn't like a slow day else where. I ended up with 18 new birds birding only from about 11am to 8pm. Highlights were Orange-crowned Warbler, Black Tern, Pacific Loon, American Bittern, Hooded Warbler and White-eyed Vireo. The day was moving along at a nice relaxing pace birding with Richard and Felicity. We came upon a couple of people in the woods. They had their backs to us looking at a bird. As is the case, you generally walk up and say, "What have you got?" The bird they had was nothing too special, certainly nothing new for my year. As the guy turned to see who was asking the question, he says enthusiastically, "Paul?" "Yes." I replied. He extended his hand and told me he was Steve Pike, a birder I had been in contact with via e-mail. Steve has the energy of a Kinglet. He's always super excited to show someone a bird. He's definitely not what the stereotypical birder is thought to be. With him is another non-stereotypical birder named Crystal. She's also someone who has been following my quest online and knew who I was (Though I was the only birder in the park sporting a Mohawk). As we are chatting, Steve's cell rings. He looks at the number and proclaims that this could mean a rare bird. Sure enough it was. A Pacific Loon had just been spotted off the beach just outside the park. He asks if I want to go chase it. "Sure, let's go." Suddenly, the slow pace turned to more of a run. We dashed to our cars, got in and raced out of the park to find the Loon. We get where we are going and find a small group with scopes on the water. Steve runs in, looks at the bird, makes his ID and asks if we want to see it. I look, and it is indeed a Pacific Loon. Crystal looks and the two of us are able to tick the bird. Steve thinks this is a perfect time for a beer. I couldn't agree more. We stand on the beach drinking beer nd chatting about birds. After our beer is done, Steve says, "You guys wanna go chase an American Bittern I found the other day?" My answer to these types of questions is always, "Hell yes!" So, Steve, thanks for two lifers in 20 minutes. Right after that, we found a couple Scarlet Tanagers. It's funny with birding, one minute you're slowly taking in whatever comes past, the next, you are racing at breakneck speed to see a rare thing that might be gone any moment. All in all, not a bad slow day.

Pacific Loon by Alan Vernon.

American Bittern by Steve Pike.

Scarlet Tanager by Steve Pike.

Day 5 (Point Pelee)

On to the next thrill!

Those are the words of a pretty famous Canadian birder. He says it after a good twitch. He chases a bird, often finds it, due to his skill level and after a good look, he expels, "On to the next thrill!" that's how some of today went, but not all of it. There were thrilling moments throughout the day. And then there were lots of lows too (missed birds, no birds at all). It was a bit of a roller coaster. The day ended on a super high note though. I got two Cerulean Warblers followed by a spectacular full breeding plumage male Cape May Warbler. That's how Tuesday went.

Cerulean Warbler by jerryoldenettel.

Cape May Warbler by kenschneiderusa.

Day 6 (Point Pelee)

Luck runs out...

Wednesday's birding sucked but for a brief few moments. One was an Indigo Bunting at 7 am at the tip of the point, one was a Lincoln's Sparrow 11 hours later and the last was a Dickcissel at 7pm. There were lots of good birds but that's the thing about a big year, if you've already see it, it's not worth the time spent. You've got to keep hunting for new ones. It sucks to have seen so little. To make matters worse, I missed a Kentucky Warbler while hunting for a Male Hooded Warbler (even after I already had a female). I was kind of bummed out, having wandered around for 14 hours seeing only 3 new birds. I just wanted to go to bed, but not that shitty Howard Johnson bed, I wanted the one with my wife in it...

Indigo Bunting by Henry McLin.

Dickcissel by cyclewidow.

Day 7 (Point Pelee)

Pelee kind of morning

Thursday was a far cry from Wednesday. I saw only 3 new birds Wednesday. But Thursday. Now that was something. By 7:30 am, I already had surpassed the previous days new bird list. And by noon I had more than doubled it. When I decided to call it quits for the daytime birding, I had 9 new birds for the day. So, wanting to break ten, I decided to go back and bird the park after dark to find my tenth new bird of the day, an American Woodcock. I drove into the parking lot and met a nice couple from South Africa that took a year-long job contract in Toronto. Partly to do Canadian birding. They are super nice folks and we shared a pretty cool moment out there. You see, an American Woodcock has a rather elaborate display to impress a mate. It skulls around in the knee high cover of some grasses, makes a whining call several time and suddenly explodes into the air, flapping it's wings rapidly and flying in big circles far above the ground. All the while squeaking it's call loudly. They passed over the near-full moon and picked up considerable speed as they headed back toward earth. They fly very fast towards the ground, kamikaze style and disappear into the same grass they flew out of to begin with. This happens over and over. And has probably been happening since before man walked upright... Friday, I leave to go home. I miss my wife and children a great deal. I can't wait for the ferocious hugging I'll get from the kids.
American Woodcock by Paco Lyptic.

My last message from my notes on Thursday about 1am:

I can't wait to see you Rachel.

Day 8 (Rondeau Provincial Park)

Wasted 1 hour drive.

Friday, I decided I probably wouldn't be able to get much more at the Point so I headed for Rondeau in search of a bird that was very reliably seen there. A Yellow-throated Warbler. Pretty rare for these parts. It wouldn't be a big year without ending in utter failure. The bird, having been seen daily at the same spot, decides to make it's last appearance the day before I arrive. I waited around for about 2 hours, then decided to head back home (a 5 hour drive). I got reports of two new birds showing up on the Point just after I left. But by the time I got the notes, I was 3 hours away and not in any mood to return. I just needed my kids and my wife to be nearby. So, me and the Rumble Bee sped home. I broke the speed limit several times on the trip home. In search of a bird I hadn't seen in far too long, it's name was Rachel, and it's my favorite bird...

Rachel sitting in The Rumble Bee.

Pelee trip (new) species report by day.

May 6/11
Alder flycatcher (ID by song) Orono pond on my way out of town.
Forster's Tern
Brown thrasher
Kirtland's Warbler (lifer)

May 7/11
Green heron
Sora (lifer)
Blue winged teal
Caspian tern
Nashville Warbler
Warbling vireo
Chimney swift
Palm warbler
Virginia rail
Magnolia Warbler
Swamp sparrow
Black-throated blue warbler
Blue-winged warbler
Blue-headed vireo
Chestnut-sided warbler
Purple Martin

May 8/11
Prothonotary Warbler (lifer)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Field sparrow
Common Yellowthroat
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Chipping Sparrow
Yellow-throated Vireo (lifer)
Black and White Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Eastern Kingbird
Carolina Wren (lifer)

May 9/11
Northern Waterthrush
Orange-crowned Warbler (lifer)
Black Tern
Pacific loon
American Bittern (lifer)
Swainson's thrush
Hooded Warbler (lifer)
Wood thrush
White-eyed Vireo (lifer)
Scarlet Tanager
Wilson's phalarope (lifer)
Semipalmated plover
American Pipit
Ruddy Duck
Least Flycatcher
Marsh Wren
Moorhen (heard)

May 10/11
American Redstart
Eastern Wood Pewee
Swamp Sparrow
Blackpoll Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler (lifer)
Bay-breasted Warbler
Great-crested Flycatcher
Tennessee Warbler
Northern Parula
Acadian Flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Cerulean Warbler (lifer)
Cape May Warbler

May 11/11
Indigo Bunting
Lincoln's Sparrow
Dickcissel (lifer)

May 12/11
Savannah Sparrow
Canada Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Clay-colured Sparrow (lifer)
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Mourning Warbler
Red-eyed Vireo
American Woodcock (lifer)

May 13/11
Purple Finch