Pt Pelee, Ontario – a Critical Stopover for Migrating Songbirds

Despite the high winds and water-covered roads the previous evening, on May 9 the lake outside the condo on Lake Erie where Bonnie and I were staying, was the calmest it had been since we arrived. Since the wind was predicted to pick up in the afternoon, we didn’t know whether the Jet Express would be making the trip from Port Clinton to Leamington, ON. It had been cancelled the previous two days.

OH-Jet-Express

“It looks like you are sailing this morning,” I commented to a staff person at the terminal. “The real question is whether we will get back this afternoon.”

“We will definitely get you back today. If the crew is concerned, they will give you information when you arrive,” she replied.

Even though I am very motion-sensitive, it was calm enough that I didn’t take Dramamine and just relied on my wrist bands.

The ferry landed in Leamington, ON. We showed our passports to the customs officers and boarded a school bus for the short trip to Pt. Pelee Provincial Park.

At the Visitor Center

Pt-Pelee-VC

we discovered that they were in the midst of their 20-day Festival of the Birds, and the official festival bird for 2019 was the Kentucky Warbler!

Bonnie and I checked the bird sightings written on a map of the park.

“Look,” Bonnie pointed, “Kentucky Warbler on the Tilden Trail. I certainly didn’t expect to see them here after Greg Miller told us that their northern range was in SE OH.”

“Follow the walkway along the parking lot and look for the sign near the end,” the park’s staff person told us.

We easily found the trail and were able to amble along as the path was not very crowded.

Pt-Pelee-trail-5-9-19

Tilden Trail

“What are you seeing?” we inquired as we approached the first cluster of birders and photographers.

“Mourning Warbler,” they replied.

Since Bonnie had not been able to get a photo of one on the Magee Marsh boardwalk, we paused to look for it. I was rewarded with a stunning view of a Wood Thrush before it headed back into the woods.

We rounded a bend in the trail where someone pointed us to the location where the Kentucky Warbler was being seen.

It hopped around on the ground at the base of several of the trees in a marshy area, flipping over leaves as it searched for insects – life bird #5.

After successfully finding and studying the Kentucky Warbler, we back-tracked to look at all of the other warbler species – another Mourning, Yellow-rumped (myrtle), Tennessee, Blackpoll, Black-throated Green, Palm, Yellow-throated, Black and White, Cape May and Magnolia Warblers, plus American Redstart!

It was clear that they had recently arrived. They were hungrily foraging for food and seemed oblivious to interested birders and photographers.

Our Jet Express package included lunch packaged in a large plastic bag. We decided to sit on a bench and eat along the trail. Since the wind shift that brought the calm lake and warbler fall-out also brought 60 degree temperatures, it was pleasant and we dug our lunches out of our packs.

Pt.-Pelee-lunch-view-5-9-19

lunch view

We enjoyed watching a Magnolia Warbler search for insects across from where we were sitting.

Pt-Pelee-MAWA-5-9-19

Magnolia Warbler

When we returned to the Visitor Center, we noticed a brightly colored bird foraging in the grass outside the exhibition tent – a striking Blackburnian Warbler.

Pt-Pelee-BLWA-5-9-19

Blackburnian Warbler

We were about to get on the tram to go to the southern point, when it started to rain, so headed inside the Visitor Center.  We checked out the gift shop where I purchased a Kentucky Warbler refrigerator magnet to mark this life bird.

Keentucky-Warbler-magnet

By time we settled at a table in the lunch room, it was now raining quite hard.

“We were at the Point this morning at 6 am,” a man sitting next to us shared. “There were no warblers at all – they were still enroute.”

The birds were not able to leave OH until around 2 am when the wind shifted to the south.

“Around 8 am,” he continued, “warblers began dropping out of the sky.”

A sign near the point asks that birders not go beyond the sign until 10 am so as not to disturb arriving and exhausted birds who need to rest and feed. I hope he was standing behind the sign.

Pt-Pelee-point-birder-5-9-19

View of the point taken in afternoon 

During the rainstorm, Bonnie was reading her Stokes Field Guide to Warblers.

“It says that a number of Kentucky Warblers ‘overshoot’ north of their normal breeding range,” she read.

It must overshoot regularly enough for it to be named this year’s official festival bird.

About 3 pm, the rain stopped and the sky lightened.

“I want to get out and walk,” I announced.

It looked like there wasn’t an imminent chance for rain, so we started down the road towards the tip. Before long, the tram came by and stopped to pick us up. It deposited us and the other passengers at the tram stop.

Pt-Pelee-tip

Barn Swallows were darting in and out of a nearby shelter bringing mud for the nests they were building under the eaves.

A short distance down the trail we stopped to watch a flock of newly arrived Cedar Waxwings and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Yellow Warblers seemed to be everywhere.

Pt-Pelee-YEWA-5-9-19

Yellow Warbler

Further along, we paused to look at a Blue-headed Vireo and across the trail from it was a Yellow-throated Vireo – life bird #6.

Just like the birds on the Tilden Trail, the birds were too busy feeding to pay any attention to us.

“Oh look,” I said, “a Bay-breasted Warbler.”

The wind was starting to pick up and waves were crashing on the beach at the furthest most point, the most southerly point of Canada – even further south than Detroit.

Pt-Pelee-waves-5-9-19

“It’s almost 4,” Bonnie exclaimed. “We need to hurry back to get the tram.”

We had just missed a tram when we arrived and were contemplating starting to walk, but were distracted by a Yellow-billed Cuckoo in a tree across from the tram stop.

Pt-Pelee-YBCU-5-9-19

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Fortunately, another tram came along shortly and we were not the last ones to board the school bus to return to the Jet Express.

When we alighted from the bus, it started to rain hard and we were glad to get on the ferry.

Despite the captain’s warning about potential rough water, it was relatively smooth on our return trip.

Back at Port Clinton, the crew had us exit the ferry in groups of four so we didn’t have to stand in the rain while waiting to show our passport and give our declaration form to a Customs Officer.

Two days later as I was flying home and our plane entered a dense cloud on the approach into Albuquerque, I thought about the warblers and their flight across Lake Erie when it is cloudy at night and they can’t use the stars for navigation. Instead, they must rely on their internal compass – much like the pilot has to rely on the plane’s instrumentation.

Point Pelee provides a critical stop-over for migrating birds that nest in Canada and beyond. It was an amazing experience to visit during migration.

 

One thought on “Pt Pelee, Ontario – a Critical Stopover for Migrating Songbirds

  1. Pingback: OTR Links 05/16/2019 – doug — off the record

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