Monday, April 3, 2017

Sunday in Pelee: Friends, Fire, and Feces

Sunday morning I went to Pelee.  I knew that others would be at the Tip so I decided to check out Pioneer to White Pine in hopes of a Pine Warbler, but no luck.  After that I went to the Visitor Centre and ran in to Rick Mayos.  We both walked the Woodland Nature Trail in hopes of finding a Louisiana Waterthrush.  No luck with that species either but we both agreed it was a beautiful day to be out and enjoy spring! We had great looks at some of our regular migrants such as Rusty Blackbirds, Hermit Thrushes and Tree Swallows around the swamp woodland sections of the trail. There is a lot of water along the trail, so Waterthrushes will have quite a bit of habitat this spring.

Hermit Thrush. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

We then decided to check out Tilden Woods next.  We met Richard Carr who told us that he had a Eurasian Wigeon at the Hillman Marsh Shorebird Cell.  This was great because last year this species was a miss in the Pelee circle altogether!  We later met up with Jeremy Hatt at the north end of the trail and saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on our way out.

Afterwards, Jeremy and I made a dash to the Marsh Boardwalk to see how extensive the fire was.  We were quite surprised how much was burnt when we looked from the tower.  Walking along the boardwalk, the fire did in fact touch the edges of a tiny section of the boardwalk which had to be replaced.  The faint smell of charred cattails was noticeable for a short time as well. There is now speculation that the fire was in fact intentional...which isn't surprising. What is more important is that no one got hurt, and no property was lost.  Hats off to the fire department and Parks Canada employees that made sure the boardwalk wasn't overtaken by flames.  As for those people who were taking their dogs for a walk along the boardwalk and refused to clean up their dog's shit...words cannot express my disgust...I kid you not, you had to keep watch a bit to make sure you wouldn't step in it.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Fire at Point Pelee Marsh

Last night I almost went to bed early, and then Jeremy Hatt texted me before 9pm saying that the Point Pelee Marsh was on fire, and shared a stunning photo.  I called my Mom right away, and before I knew it she was at my house and we were on our way to concession E. 

Driving down side road 12, Mom and I were both surprised that we could actually see the glow in the sky from the 5th concession.  By the time we got to the church at Hillman and turned south, we could clearly see the warm glow and some smoke.  We parked at Road 19 and Concession E, hung out with Jeremy and the locals taking photos while everyone was wondering whether the fire was in fact a product of natural causes (police state that fowl play is not suspected), or if some sh*t disturber started it.

The next morning I went to check it out again before work.  By now we had strong East winds and the fire had spread.  It was actually really beautiful to see the dancing flames over the marsh in the predawn hours.  I quickly grabbed a few photos on my cellphone.

A section of the fire at Point Pelee Marsh from Concession E looking southwest.  The fire started last evening, March 29th, and was out by this morning.  Over 125 ha was burned. Photo by Marianne Balkwill.
It will be interesting to see what new growth will now grow in these open pockets amongst the remaining thick stands of cattails. Hopefully not Phragmites, but only time will tell.
The last time the marsh went up in flames like this was back in 1988.  I was only 7 years old at the time and we didn't go check it out.  This was caused by a lightning strike.  I am sort of surprised it hasn't happened since that time.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Few FOY Birds in the Pelee Area

Another warm push of air from the south brought in some new migrants. I went out both Saturday and Sunday morning before we were supposed to get that so called "wash out weekend" they were predicting.  I didn't bring my camera with me because it sounded like a hell of a lot of rain was going to fall, so this post is pretty lacking in photos.

Saturday morning I hung out for a couple of hours at the Hillman shorebird cell.  Lots of ducks were in the cell, as well as in the section of the marsh just northeast of the shelter.  FOY birds for me included 5 Blue-winged Teal, a brief staying Dunlin and 2 Lesser Yellowlegs, 3 Tree Swallows and a few American Coots. Pretty much all of the expected ducks were present with Green-winged Teal being the most common with easily over 100 individuals.  It was really nice just being there by myself, and the ducks got pretty close. I witnessed the drama unfold as a male Gadwall tried to protect his mate from 5 other males.  It got pretty aggressive in that he would actually sit on top of her then repeatedly launched himself off of her going after multiple males.  Eventually she took off with all of them in hot pursuit. When it began to rain a bit I made my way for home.

Sunday morning had rain on the radar, so I left my camera at home again. I decided to head out to Pelee. I decided to park at Pioneer Picnic area, make my way down to Black Willow, and up to Dunes and back.  Walking to the lake from Pioneer I noticed 5 Common Loons flying overhead. Altogether I had 17 Common Loons (FOY), and 33 Horned Grebes (FOY) of different plumages. Both these species were clearly on the move. I was hoping with east winds the west side of the lake would be great for viewing ducks, unfortunately it was pretty empty overall with a few Scaups, Common Mergansers, a couple of Bufflehead and a Surf Scoter. Tree Swallows were a plenty with 15 birds total coming in off the lake.  Also had my FOY Eastern Phoebe on the beach which is always such a great site in early spring.

Walking down to Black Willow I had a FOY Fox Sparrow.  Golden-crowned Kinglets and Brown Creepers were probably the most common species encountered.  Walking up to Sleepy Hollow along the seasonal trail I flushed and American Woodcock. Another Eastern Phoebe greeted me in the Sleepy Hollow parking lot along with a FOY Field Sparrow at the beach that was hanging out with 3 American Tree Sparrows and a Song Sparrow. Near Dunes along the bike trail a 3rd Eastern Phoebe greeted me, while Golden-crowned Kinglets teased me knowing I didn't have a camera by coming within an arms length from me....the cute little

One thing that I have noticed the past few times I have been at Pelee is the amount of car traffic.  Maybe it is because I'm usually out on the weekends now, or maybe it is because of the free admission to all National Parks this year? Makes me wonder what it is going to be like here in May?  I think I'm going to go with my usual strategy by avoiding the crowds at the Tip altogether and bird the north end of the park this spring.

When I got home I did manage to get one photo for this blog post when I went birding in my yard.....not a happy photo I am afraid.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Point Pelee January 26th. Plus the mysterious Carbonated Swamp-Warbler!

Both Aaron and I have a cold, and since I had the day off and Aaron choose to work from home with the heat set to an oven, I had to get some fresh air. I find that when I'm sick with a cold (which is like never) getting outside and breathing in some fresh air is a far better remedy over staying in bed.

I drove down to the Tip of Point Pelee first around 8:30am.  This is when I noticed that I forgot my camera but I wasn't in the mood for taking photos anyway. Lake Erie at the tip is open on both sides and almost devoid of bird life when I got there.  Just some Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls on the water, along with very few Common Goldeneye.  A Common Merganser and a small flock of Red-breasted Mergansers flew over....time to leave!

I decided to park at the Visitor Centre parking lot and walk some trails to find some winter resident birds.  I walked Tilden Woods Trail, and Shuster Trail and was not disappointed as there was quite a bit of activity for the "dead of winter".

The highlight of the walk was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet that was in a mixed flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets, a Black-capped Chickadee, a White-breasted Nuthatch and 6 Yellow-rumped Warblers.  While going through the "Butter Butts" I had a brief look at one of the birds that didn't appear to have the contrasting dark auriculars with the pale throat.  The look was very brief and could have just been the lighting or who knows what it could have been, but just like that the bird flew north with the rest of the Yellow-rumped Warblers. Something to keep an eye out for as I'm sure the flock won't be leaving the area any time soon.

I also had 2 Horned Larks flying north quite high over the trail.  I would suspect these are spring migrants.  Jeremy Hatt had the same thing happening over Leamington last Saturday when we had those record breaking temperatures. This winter has been surprisingly mild which is great...for colds and the flu....

Changing the subject completely, last year I obtained a nice hard cover book of "The Birds of North America" a well known publication which has 435 plates by John James Audubon. The paintings were produced in the early 1800s so to many today they may look crude and almost comical.  You must remember though that these paintings were created when birding was practiced with a gun, not binoculars, and specimens were collected for identification.  Audubon took these specimens and created life like poses for his works that often depicted a single bird species in it's natural habitat.  One of these plates while going through book struck me.  A plate of two birds with the title "Carbonated Warbler" also known as the Carbonated Swamp-Warbler.

Apparently Audubon created this print by using two specimens he collected from the field in the state of Kentucky in 1811.  Though Audubon is a great artist and a pioneer in ornithology, I am afraid he was also well known to stretch the truth, and exaggerate a bit. In this case it seems that no one else but Audubon himself saw these birds and they were never to be seen again.  He may have in fact painted this plate from memory, perhaps a distant memory, where he forgot some field marks and added others instead. However, it should not be completely ruled out that he did in fact see and collected what may have been some of the last remaining individuals of a species (or subspecies) that had a very limited population before going extinct.

What do you think?  Could this have been a real species long gone from the earth, or just Audubon describing a bird he saw in the field and illustrating what field marks he actually remembers?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Wheatley Provincial Park. January 13th, 2017

With Point Pelee National Park closed until the 23rd of January due to the deer cull, Jeremy Hatt and I decided to check out Wheatley Provincial Park for a change.

Nothing too fancy around.  The lake from this location was wide open and most of the ducks we saw were Common Goldeneye, with around 500 individuals.  The only other waterfowl we saw were Common Merganser.

The only photo from the day was of Jeremy Hatt scanning the open waters of Lake Erie.

Other than that we had many of the regular land birds that you would find at this time of year. In just over 2 and a half hours we tallied 20 species, which I guess isn't too bad for mid January in such a small area covered.  Wish I could say something exciting happened while we were there, as this is a pretty boring blog post. 

eBird List:

One thing I never noticed before in Wheatley Provincial Park is how small the campsites are! There is no privacy whatsoever! Then again this is coming from a backcountry snob where I normally don't even hear my neighbours let alone see them.

After lunch at my house, we began to compile the December sightings for the Point Pelee Birding area.  If anyone has any sightings please feel free to send them to the following email address:

Saturday, December 31, 2016

End of Year Birding

With gusty southwest winds today I decided to go birding by car this afternoon to check out Hillman Marsh, and Lake Erie on the (somewhat) calmer east side.

Hillman Marsh currently has some open sections.  Highlight at the north bridge on Mersea Road 2 was a lone male Gadwall.  Ring-billed, Herring, and Bonaparte's Gulls were also present, along with a lone adult Bald Eagle that flew over.  No sign of the Ivory Gull that was found and photographed in central Ohio on the 29th.  Worth keeping an eye out for! 

At the Northeast Beach parking lot Lake Erie was pretty rough.  Common Goldeneye, Scaup (that were almost absent for the CBC), a few Bufflehead, and a couple of White-winged Scoter were present bobbing up and down on the waves.

I arrived at Wheatley Harbour pretty early in the afternoon at around 2:30pm.  Most gull activity seems to be in the later part of the day.  The break wall had no gulls, but the lake had a ton of the usual suspects of ducks.  Inside the calm harbour there were also a few ducks, that included a beautiful male Canvasback.  I haven't had the chance lately to do some photography, so I shut my car off and just waited for the ducks to get comfortable with my presence for some photos.  It was actually kind of nice to relax and just observe the daily ritual of the ducks diving for food, while the ever present gulls waited for them to bring up something to steal.  Most of the time the ducks did keep their prize.

The most cooperative subject was this little Ruddy Duck.
I wish everyone that reads this blog a Happy New Year!  Let's hope 2017 is a good one! 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Point Pelee CBC. Highlights from our area on December 19th

Yesterday was the Point Pelee Christmas Bird Count and probably the coldest I have ever participated in with temperatures around -10C.  Luckily in the morning the winds were calm.  Our group consisted of Ian Woodfield, Matt Timpf, Jeremy Hatt and myself. 

Matt Timpf scanning for waterfowl.  Photo by Jeremy Hatt

Our area included the onion fields east of County Road 19 up to the Essex County side of Wheatley Harbour.  I had to go to work for a few hours in the afternoon, but managed to make it back for the roundup at the visitor centre in Point Pelee National Park. Our total was 59 species, with possibly our Green-winged Teal and Canvasbacks for count week being the only ones for the CBC, though the results haven't been completely tallied yet.

Some of the best birds in our area include the following:

Long-tailed Duck: 2 off Marentette Beach

Killdeer: 1 on the beach just north of Coterie Park (Unfortunately it's tail was frozen)

Dunlin: 2 NE Hillman Beach (most likely the same 2 individuals Jeremy and I had on Friday. See previous post)

Glaucous Gull: An immature/1st winter bird at Wheatley Harbour

Double-crested Cormorant: 1 Wheatley Harbour

Eastern Meadowlark: 2 at Hillman Marsh

American Pipit: 15 birds total at various locations

Brewer's Blackbird: 1 at Hillman Marsh

Glaucous Gull at Wheatley Harbour.  Photo by Jeremy Hatt
Eastern Meadowlark at Hillman Marsh.  Photo by Jeremy Hatt

We had a few misses, though they were found in other areas.  Probably our most embarrassing misses were Lapland Longspur, American Robin, and White-throated Sparrow.

Definitely with all the CBCs going on there are some noticeable trends.  One of those is the amount of Fox Sparrows and American Pipits still lingering in the area. This fall into winter has also been a pretty dismal year for Pine Siskins.  In fact we were commenting during the count how we saw more Pine Siskins in May then this fall/winter, though this is a species that is not always guaranteed every winter. Another interesting note these past few weeks is the mass movement of Northern Harriers beginning around December 12, which was just after our first big snow fall. Last Friday, during our scouting for the count, Jeremy and I had quite a few birds flying east to west at the Leamington Marina, clearly on the move.

Merry Christmas everyone!