Sunday, 14 April 2013

Early Spring in Ontario Canada: Point Pelee National Park

After yesterday's cold and windy weather at The Pinery Provincial Park I was delighted to wake up to a still and sunny morning that bode well for a day of birding at Point Pelee National Park. As I drove west, a high cloud cover made the skies overcast and provided enough precipitation (something between rain and snow) to be mildly irritating for much of the morning but by afternoon the drizzle stopped and the temperature rose to a balmy 5C. It was however dead still so, with no wind chill, the conditions were fine for walking and photography.

The Park website describes the park as "a lush Carolinian forest oasis at the southern tip of Canada". Indeed, Point Pelee is the southern-most part of mainland Canada (the actual southern-most is Middle Island, a small island in Lake Erie, now incorporated into the Park). The park is at the tip of a narrow, arrow-head shaped peninsula jutting into Lake Erie. It consists of 3 main habitats: marsh, woodland and sandy beaches.

Viewing of the marsh is served by a tower and boardwalk.

Tower, Marsh Boardwalk, Point Pelee National Park
Marsh Boardwalk (from the tower), Point Pelee National Park
Marsh Boardwalk, Point Pelee National Park
There were not many birds around the marsh (too early in the spring I suspect) but there were several pairs of American Coot and Greater Scaup (one of the great joys of North American birding is the diversity of ducks).

American Coot, Point Pelee National Park
Greater Scaup (2 males, 1 female), Point Pelee National Park
and the greatest concentration of Red-winged Blackbirds I've ever seen. There were hundreds of males perched on reeds around the marsh, calling loudly and displaying the flash of red and yellow on the shoulder.

Red-winged Blackbird (male), Point Pelee National Park

The females are much more secretive but occasionally showed themselves (probably out checking on the males).

Red-winged Blackbird (female), Point Pelee National Park

The woodland areas have extensive walking and bike trails and many of the birds spend a lot of time foraging for seeds and insects along the gravel trails and surrounding grassy areas.

Boat-billed Grackle, Point Pelee National Park
Dark-eyed Junco (male, Slate-colored morph), Point Pelee National Park
Dark-eyed Junco (female, Slate-colored morph), Point Pelee National Park
Golden-crowned Kinglet, Point Pelee National Park

The sandy beaches and dunes on the western side of the peninsula culminate in the southerly land is in the United States:

Point Pelee National Park
In the haze today, the reverse view (north) from the end of the sand spit gives an eerie (pun intended) feel of being on a tiny island in the middle of the lake.

Point Pelee National Park
There were loons, grebes and several species of ducks in the water around the tip but too far off shore to get good photos. 

Bufflehead, Point Pelee National Park
Red-breasted Merganser (female L and male R, Point Pelee National Park

Onshore, however, there were several small passerines feeding on seeds and insects on the sand. It was easy to imagine them spotting the first land after flying across the lake and immediately dropping down for a feed.

Eastern Phoebe, Point Pelee National Park

and these two Juncos were for a brief while, the most southerly birds on mainland Canada.

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored morph), Point Pelee National Park

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Early Spring in Ontario Canada: Pinery Provincial Park

Not exactly Australia but I couldn't resist the opportunity to do some local birding on the spare weekend while working in Ontario Canada for two weeks. There are several locations where the Spring northerly migrations hit the Great Lakes so I chose two that were half sensible day trips: The Pinery Provincial Park and, tomorrow, Point Pelee National Park.

The Pinery preserves an oak savannah ecosystem that sits on top of the dunes on the eastern shore of Lake Huron at the mouth of the Ausable River, beautifully described on the park website as:
"Towering Oak trees, sun flecks on a golden carpet of leaves, shrubs & wildflowers and a rich abundance of unique and rare organisms".

Spring has been late this year with recent cold temperatures and snow and the peak of the migration arrivals usually occurs in mid May so I was not expecting too many birds but the advantages of the late spring are what birds are there are much easier to find and photograph without foliage on the trees and undergrowth and the beautiful soft pastel colours make for great landscape opportunities.

Old Ausable Channel, Pinery Provincial Park

There were a few of the old faithfuls around

Canada Goose, Pinery Provincial Park
Juvenile Bald Eagle, Pinery Provincial Park

There are several feeders at the Visitor Centre that attract a wide range of birds:

Black-capped Chickadee, Pinery Provincial Park
Blue Jay, Pinery Provincial Park
Northern Cardinal (male), Pinery Provincial Park
Tufted Titmouse, Pinery Provincial Park
White-breasted Nuthatch, Pinery Provincial Park

and a few non-avian scavengers...

Gray Squirrel (black morph), Pinery Provincial Park

The Gray Squrrel is common through much of North America but is usually a light grey-brown colour. In Ontario the most common variety is this black morph. Very cute but my favourite is the red Squirrel.

Red Squirrel, Pinery Provincial Park

On the way "home", I drove past Mitchell's Bay as the weather was closing in. The biggest challenge was operating the camera with the temperature hovering at 2-3C with a howling wind off the lake making the wind chill closer to -20!

Mitchell's Bay, Lake Huron, Ontario

However, the few gulls hanging around the shore made interesting subjects

Ring-billed Gull, Mitchell's Bay

Tomorrow, Part 2: Point Pelee National Park.

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