The second last in a series of posts about an awesome extended weekend of birding in the Pelee area...
I started the morning by quickly checking Leamington harbour and Seacliff beach with David Szmyr, where we found our first Sanderling of the year along with some Ruddy Turnstones and the usual species of gulls. From there it was on to the national park to take in the reverse migration at the tip. I've discussed the morning in a previous post, as we had what was probably a Blue Grosbeak fly over us. As is usually the case when visiting Point Pelee in mid-May, we kept crossing paths with familiar faces and birders we haven't seen in a while. It was good to catch up with both Josh Bouman and Luke Berg this day as I hadn't done much birding with them recently.
The Blue Grosbeak was not the only highlight of the morning. A White-eyed Vireo also took part in the reverse migration, while two small loons went by with a few Common Loons - both appeared to be Red-throated Loons. We even had a Green Heron fly out over the tip a few times! A Brewster's Warbler, which is a hybrid Golden-winged x Blue-winged Warbler, winged overhead as well while several of us obtained poor photos.
Later that day I joined Dan Riley and his girlfriend Nikki to check out the Woodland Nature Trail. We couldn`t come up with a reported Worm-eating Warbler but the long staying male Prothonotary Warbler was singing away along where the boardwalk crosses a wet slough at the south end of the trail.
The following morning was my last until I had to drive back home for some work surveys. I joined the Riley's for a morning of birding, though the reverse migration wasn't really happening that day.
We ran into Mike Nelson at the tip who informed us of a Prothonotary Warbler that he had discovered along the east side of the tip. When we arrived at the spot the bird was foraging low to the ground, gleaning insects and spiders off of the leafy vegetation while the sun warmed the area. Prothonotary Warblers breed in wooded sloughs and other dark, sheltered swampy deciduous habitats, so it seemed a little unusual to be photographing one at close range along the shore of Lake Erie!
Prothonotary Warbler is an Endangered species in Ontario, breeding in only a small handful of sites in the southwest of the province. In 2008, it was estimated that less than a dozen pairs were present within the province, and approximately half of these were in Rondeau Provincial Park. A lack of suitable habitat such as mature deciduous swamps in the extreme southwest of the province seems to be the limiting factor for this species in Ontario.
Despite its rarity as a breeding species in Ontario, Prothonotary Warbler is somewhat rare but regular in migration, particularly at Point Pelee and other natural areas on the north shore of Lake Erie. While some of these migrants are undoubtedly Ontario breeders, I would imagine that a large percentage of Prothonotary Warblers seen during spring migration are southern overshoots.
After filling our memory cards, we left the Prothonotary and continued up the beach to see what other migrants might be undertaking the same foraging strategy. It was fairly quiet for birds, though we did come across two cuckoos quite close to each other. One was a Black-billed, and the other a Yellow-billed!
Birding was fairly slow but steady, but it wasn't long until the sun was high in the sky, killing most of the remaining bird activity. I began the long drive back home, hoping to make a few stops along the way.
Hillman Marsh was crawling with shorebirds - not a surprise, given the time of year and amount of available habitat compared to other places in the area. Among the twelve species were the continuing American Avocet pair, six Short-billed Dowitchers, a lone Whimbrel, and two White-rumped Sandpipers. The latter two species were both year birds for me.
I continued on, stopping briefly at Wheatley harbour where not much was happening. My next stop was the Erieau pier, and as I was about to get out of my car, Reuven Martin appeared. Reuven had been working at nearby Rondeau Provincial Park during the spring, leading hikes for the Friends of Rondeau. Together, we decided to scan the pier, and eventually walked down the pier to see if any shorebirds were settled on the beach.Dozens of birds stretched out in small groups along the shoreline - a somewhat unusual sight at this particular beach. Immediately I spotted a larger one with the group of predominately Black-bellied Plovers and Ruddy Turnstones, which upon closer inspection revealed itself as a Willet.
We drove down the beach a ways to obtain better views. As is usually the case, this Willet was quite tolerant of my approach, allowing some relatively close photos. Cool!
The bird appeared to be of the expected Western subspecies. Eastern Willet has yet to turn up by birders in Ontario, but it is certainly one on the radar.
Reuven and I quickly checked the Blenheim lagoons where a small number of shorebirds were congregating. There were fewer shorebirds than usual and we were unable to pick out anything too interesting. The Tundra Swan however was still hanging out in the back cell (#5). Undoubtedly it was unable to fly or had some other physical ailment preventing it from flying north with all the other Tundra Swans early in the spring.
I continued home, making one final stop to break up the drive at a woodlot near Brantford where a Prothonotary Warbler had taken up residence. Sure enough, it was singing away loudly when I arrived, even though the rest of the bird song was almost non-existent due to the cool, overcast and windy weather.
I arrived at my parent's place in Cambridge that evening, with plans of waking up early the next morning to complete some breeding bird surveys near Hamilton. Little did I know that a mega rarity found later that evening at Point Pelee would change these plans...