Monday, 27 October 2014

Pelee weekend!

This past weekend I headed back down the 401 to spend 48 hours in the Pelee area. The weekend ended up being warm and sunny both days with west (ish) winds, which allowed a moderate hawk flight and some decent birding at the tip.

I made a few stops on Friday on my drive down...

Blenheim Lagoons
-shorebirds! 7 species including a Pectoral, 3 Leasts, and a Stilt
-6 Tundra Swans
-lots of Ruddy Ducks, but not a lot of additional duck variety
-a Steve Charbonneau sighting

pond visible from Highway 3 near Cedar Springs:
-1 Cackling Goose with a large contingent of Canadas

Wheatley Harbour
-thousands of Ring-billed Gulls, good numbers of Herrings, but not much else
-at least 24 Common Loons and 33 Horned Grebes offshore
-White-winged Scoters, scaup, etc flying by

Hillman Marsh
-I walked around a portion of the marsh in the early evening sunshine for a few hours. With the west wind there weren't a ton of songbirds active, but it was just awesome being out.
-1 Orange-crowned Warbler
-1 Eastern Meadowlark (flying over a few times, then landing on a dead stalk out in the middle of the shorebird cell)

On Saturday I birded the park with Jeremy Bensette until around 3:00 PM. There were moderate numbers of waterbirds flying in the strong southwest wind including quite a few Common Loons and Horned Grebes. We watched one Blue Jay that had flown out too far from the point, which several Herring Gulls noticed and attacked. It evaded their attempts for a few minutes but eventually as it tired a gull caught the jay, and the frenzy began.

There were a few songbirds near the tip including a group of sparrows which contained a Lincoln's at Sparrow Field. Pine Siskins have certainly arrived - they were the most common finch of the day!

The leafless branches visible in this photo aren't from the actual tree - in fact they belong to the massive Poison Ivy vine snaking its way up the trunk. Several Yellow-rumped Warblers were in the area - undoubtedly they make use of this abundant food source in the Poison Ivy berries.

In early afternoon Jeremy and I checked out DeLaurier to look for roosting Saw-whet Owls. We were unsuccessful in that regard but did come across a nice little group of songbirds that included at least seven Nashville Warblers. To have more than one or two is unusual by mid to late October.

The highlight was certainly the juvenile Golden Eagle that Jeremy spotted flying right at us, not far above the treeline. The Blue Jays were giving it a hard time as it passed by within 50 meters of us. Awesome looks at a really cool bird! This was a species I was hoping to see this weekend as I hadn't seen one in about a year, and late October is peak migration season.

Autumn Meadowhawks were one of the more numerous species of dragonflies on the day.

male Autumn Meadowhawk - Point Pelee National Park

male Autumn Meadowhawk - Point Pelee National Park

Later in the afternoon I received a call from Steve Pike who had found a bird which he thought might be a Pacific Loon  along Lake Erie near Hillman Marsh. By the time we arrived the bird was nowhere to be seen, but we did observe both an adult and a juvenile Red-throated Loon.

On Sunday the winds were out of the due west. Jeremy and I were a bit late entering the park in the morning and another decent waterbird flight was underway. The best bird was certainly the juvenile Pacific Loon that Alan had eventually spotted with a feeding frenzy of mergansers not far offshore. Guess everybody else was sleeping at the wheel (or sleeping in...). Despite the bird being only 100 m south of the tip it was tough to observe for long periods of time as it constantly dove. Occasionally someone would relocate it, and there would be about a 10 second window to get your scope on it, before it dove under again. It ended up hanging around for about an hour, allowing excellent views with time. It certainly has been a good two weeks for Pacific Loons in Ontario!

Other interesting sightings at the tip included some American Wigeon, a single Hooded Merganser, and a few flocks of scoters and Ruddy Ducks.

By late morning a hawk flight was developing and Jeremy and I kept an eye on the sky from the tip parking lot with Donna Crossland, a biologist from Nova Scotia who was doing some work in the park.

A growing kettle of raptors slowly appeared, containing a few Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, a Cooper's Hawk, several Sharp-shinned Hawks, and a dozen Turkey Vultures.

Red-tailed Hawk - Point Pelee National Park

Red-shouldered Hawk - Point Pelee National Park

It didn't take long for a great bird to appear as a juvenile Golden Eagle joined the kettle of raptors. It ended up circling several times - luckily we all had our cameras on us!

Golden Eagle - Point Pelee National Park

We ended up checking out the SeaCliff hawkwatch, but by then the hawk flight had pushed further north. I left shortly after to make the long drive back, but took the Highway 3 route to Blenheim along the lakeshore to hopefully see some additional raptors

This ended up being a good strategy as I came across a few birds including another juvenile Golden Eagle near Cedar Springs that I followed with my car for a bit. A fine end to a great weekend in southwestern Ontario.

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