Until I started birding, I always thought of Ontario as a somewhat dull place and couldn’t ever imagine wanting to travel the province. I fled at every opportunity. To think of what I had been missing all these years!
As a birder, there’s nothing more exciting than being in Southern Ontario during the month of May, when the spectacularly colourful migrant songbirds grace the shores of Lake Erie and early days alight with warbling song. I made my first trip out to Point Pelee National Park a few weeks ago and wasn’t disappointed! Right before we got to Pelee, we stopped near the fabled St. Clair Marsh and saw several Yellow-headed blackbirds. How such a stunning bird could have such a cacophonous croak of a song is one of the great avian injustices or perhaps just mysteries. Nevertheless, it was beautiful.
At Pelee, the warblers literally hung out at our feet — they must have been so exhausted from their night of travel. I saw Scarlet tanagers strolling along the beech, an Orchard oriole leisurely ambling at the base of a tree. At Pelee I saw close to 20 species of warblers without succumbing to the infamous “warbler neck”! I didn’t even have to look up! Highlights included Bay-breasted, Blackburnian, Black-throated green, and Chestnut-sided warblers and my first look at a Northern waterthrush. Glorious Indigo buntings paraded their brilliant colour for us, and Ovenbirds sang up a storm. From Pelee, we made our way over to the hamlet of Erieau, where we saw a Snowy Owl — an incredible, and somewhat frightening sight in the middle of May — hunkered down in a field, a bit confused as to his own whereabouts.
Next up was Rondeau Provincial park, where we saw most of the same songbirds, but at eye level. Rondeau has a number of beautiful trails through sloughs, which are prime Prothonotary warbler habitat. Though we narrowly missed the Prothonotary, circumstance treated me to fabulous looks at a Canada warbler (which I misidentified as a Hooded, and suddenly I found myself surrounded by a dozen eager Hooded-seekers only to have to announce that I’m a beginner and, alas, a good percentage of what I call out is wrong, to which they smiled; we’ve all been there, the smiles told me). The feeders at the Visitor’s Centre attracted a glorious Red-headed woodpecker, scores of Baltimore orioles, Rose-breasted grosbeaks, and other delightful specimens. The evening ended with an otherworldly American Woodcock aerial courtship display, where the male hurls himself into the ether, spins around wildly in wide circles two or three times, and then plummets to the ground with a yelp and then performs the acrobatic feet all over again. The last thing we heard on our way out of the park were Whip-poor-wills calling.
Oh Southern Ontario…there’s no other place I’d rather be in May!