Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Trip to Warbler Capital of the world: Point Pelee and Rondeau Parks

CBC trip

Twelve members of Cayuga Bird Club made a trip to famed spring capital of migratory birds of Point Pelee from May 8 to May 10 2009. Although we tried to book for a motel in Point Pelee in February, all hotels were full. So I ended up booking Howard Johnsons motel in Ridgetown. It was kind of blessings in disguise. This motel was just about 20 minutes from Rondeau Provincial Park, which is also equally good as Point Pelee if the winds are right. Also it is a smaller park and less crowded, at least you don’t rub shoulders with other birders or hit other birders with your scopes. As we were coming from different parts of the local area we decided to meet at Montezuma Winery on Rt 89. We took the throughway 90 to Rainbow Bridge, but we missed it and ended up at Lewiston, but it turned out to be better. I had looked up internet as to what was seen in Rondeau (RPP) and Point Pelee PPs (PPPP) and found Rondeau had better birds. From Lewiston, as all drivers were driving at different speeds, we decided to meet at the Visitors center at Rondeau park as there were better birds than in PPPP.

We reached RPP around 2.00 PM. As we entered the park we found a beautiful RED-HEADED WOODPECKER in a beautiful photographable spot. All of us started trying to get photograph of the bird. But as everyone was getting ready the bird flew away and hid behind the trees. While we were there we met some birders and they told us that a TOWNSEND’S WARBLER has been seen in the nearby area and they pointed it to us the location. By then two cars had rendezvoused, but we were waiting to meet the third car. Everyone wanted to go look for Townsend’s but I was the spoilt sport and insisted that we meet at Visitor Center and collect the third car too before we go birding. We reached the center, but no third car anywhere in sight. So we left message for third car occupants and headed for the shortest Tulip trail. On the trail someone told us about Kentucky Warbler behind the Visitor Center. So we headed there. Most of us could not see the bird, though couple got some quick looks. We took a round around Tulip Trail. Trail was comparatively quiet. We did see a few birds, mostly Magnolia Warbler, Black and White warblers and a few Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. By then we had spent almost more than an hour, and past 3.00 PM and no sign of third car. We got worried and tried contacting hotel to see if they had landed there. Most of our cell phones did not work in Canada. We decided to continue birding and we headed to Harrison Trail. We had just parked and were heading towards the trail, when Sara Jane spotted the third car and they also spotted our car. So we ran towards the car. Found out that they had a bad run over a metal part on the road and had two flat tires one rim badly damaged and they were lucky that one of the local guys fixed the rim by hammering and they made it to Rondeau. After the lost group joined us we walked on Harris Trail. We started seeing a few birds, mostly Black-throated Greens and a Magnolia, as we were watching a Black-throated green; I saw another bird flit nearby. As soon as I saw it I recognized it and yelled almost at top of my voice “TOWNSEND'S WARBELR” as I did not want others to miss it. Everybody quickly got on it and we watched it for quite some time actively foraging. Then it dawned on me that I can try taking some pictures and I did and they were good enough to id the bird as Townsend’s. A couple of other groups came by and we showed it to them and then it got lost behind the tangles of vines. We continued to Pony barn and brush pile to look for Golden-winged warbler that was seen in the morning. But, we were not lucky but we did watch some gorgeous Magnolia Warblers in perfect sunlight, some more Nashvilles and other usual birds. As we came off back to main trail, a Scarlet Tanager male sang for us from a leafless tree. We also found a Veery and some Blue Grey Gnatcatchers. Then we started to head back as we wanted to spend some time on Marsh Trail. As we walked past Pony Barn, we watched Gladys watching something and others waving out excitedly to us. As we reached her, we found that she was watching another co-operative KENTUCKY WARBLER. We watched it sometime before it got lost in the depression. We headed back to car and had our dinner of variety of left over lunch and breakfast stuffs. Then we headed to Marsh trail. On Marsh trail it was very windy; the place was covered with Yellow Warblers. Here we realized that yellow warblers had a song that resembled Northern Waterthrush. Then we later found that both Rondeau and Point Pelee had birds that sang like NOWA. It was very confusing at times, because now we were not sure if we were listening to NOWA or YEWA. We also saw a few Common Yellowthroats and White Crowned Sparrows and a SWAMP SPARROW and nothing much else. We reached our motel late by 9.30 PM. So when I asked how early next day everyone wanted to get up, no one said anything, but I suggested that we should be out by 5.45 AM as we had to drive almost three quarters of an hour to reach Point Pelee.

From the entrance of the PP Park it was another 10 minutes drive to visitor center, on the way we were blocked by a displaying Turkey, he insisted that road was a better place than in the woods as humans also could watch him. Cars got blocked in long queue behind us while Turkey was enjoying human attentions. Finally, we decided to overtake the car that was very intensely watching the turkey’s progress from road to woods. As we were nearing West beach, we were stopped by park volunteer and told us that the Visitor center parking lot was full and we need to park on West Beach parking lot. But fortunately the road was connecting the Visitor Center and we managed to park just 5 min away from VC. Now we were waiting for Gladys and Kathy to join us as they were in the damaged car that was driving slowly. Luckily, we saw them driving in at the visitor center parking lot. While we were waiting for Gladys and Kathy we met another Cathy (Sendell) from Seneca Falls and chatted with her and she gave us some of the locations where they had seen some good birds. We took ride to the Point on the shuttle. As we go off from the tram, there seemed to be a huge crowd and felt as if I was in Matunga market in the evening. So I suggested to our group that we take a different route. Initially, it was very slow, but slowly it picked up, we started seeing a few warblers here and there. Lots of Nashville and a Chestnut-sided warblers were being seen by people. Nashvilles were trying reverse migration at the tip, some would go away and others would go to the tip and out on the lake and come back. Lake had more of an ocean like look as waves were crashing on the shores. Someone located an Orange Crowned Warbler and most of us got to see. Bobbie, located a CAPE MAY WARBLER and pointed it us. As there were so many eyes, different people would call different species and everyone try to look at the birds. We literally were rubbing each other’s shoulders and our scope tripods were poking other birders. At the tip. we also some water birds, that included a flock of Red Breasted Mergansers and a couple of Common Loons. After an hour and half at the Point we started heading back towards visitor center along the road, several Orchard Orioles were defending territories and chasing away other males, Baltimore Orioles were ubiquitous. A Sparrow crossed the road and landed on tree. Laura immediately identified it as a Lincoln’s Sparrow. We found a forested seasonal path, so we followed it in search of a Yellow-breasted Chat; instead we found more Orchard Orioles and Eastern Towhees (some singing weird variations), Indigo Bunting. Larry kept missing Orchard Oriole and he thought we were making fun of him every time we saw one. We also found a singing White-eyed Vireo, who just gave us glimpses of his self, but as a usual habit, he kept to thicket. Through a long circuitous road we arrived back on the road about 0.9 KM from the visitor center. Actually, we were looking for a path to go to locate the previously reported Prothonotary Warbler. After a short break we walked the board walk and the Prothonotary was busy feeding in the marshy patches and we all got good looks but were very difficult to photograph as he hid among the bushes. Here were waiting for Laura to return from the visitor Center. While waiting for this Kathy who for last two days was looking for a Blackburnian Warbler and as luck happens she was the one to locate a bird in the newly leafing Maple. We watched it for quite some times. Soon we found a Northern Parula buzzing away. Several Yellow Warblers were calling and all had different songs. They had various dialects. It would be interesting to know how many of them were migrants and what is the local dialect or the local birds have all the dialects as they hear many migrants. Further down along the route we found a Bay-breasted Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak who was having a leisure toilette. Someone else had found another bird and others were trying to identify it and it turned out to be a Philadelphia Vireo. By then it was time to go have lunch and a bit or relaxation from birding. After lunch we went to Tilden Woods. This was not as crowded as the Point. Slowly but steadily we kept adding new species on this trail. We saw Redstarts, Swanson’s and Wood Thrushes, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, Parula, Great-crested and Least Flycatchers. We then headed to Marsh Board walk in the hopes of seeing bitterns etc. It was very windy and cold and not many birds were around. But we did see some coots, Bank, Barn and Tree Swallows. There were a couple of Marsh Wrens, who flitted around and came into the open occasionally. I think wind kept them down. We located one of the spots where the wren went down in the bushes and heard him singing. So we were hoping to catch him when again he popped up. So we kept an eye on that location. As if to tease us, he popped up just a few feet ahead of us, far away from where he was seen going in and chatter in front us and dash to cover again. We did not have any luck with bitterns and sora. Today everyone wanted to eat a good dinner and go to bed early as they were tired. After local enquiry we found a well respected restaurant in downtown Leamington and ended up getting some hot meal. Next day morning we decided to go to Rondeau instead of driving all way back to Point Pelee. That was a great decision. I wanted to go listen to the dawn chorus early morning, but everyone called me “boot camp leader” put their foot down and decided to leave the motel by 6.00 am. Secretly, I too was happy to sleep longer.

Ironically, my group was the last one to arrive at the Harrison Trail next morning. As we arrived the other two car passengers were watching a bird intensely, when they saw us, they told us they are watching a CAPE MAY WARBLER. So we all piled out and looked for it. Soon another Cape May joined in, and then the third one was located and in one area there were as many as five of them. Then it turned out that it was a CAPE MAY DAY in Rondeau. They were everywhere and singing. Interestingly we did not see and any females. May be we just did not pay enough attention to drab females as there were so many beautiful males all over the place. Or simply females were still not migrating. Blackburnians were also singing and some of them gave us spectacular views from up close. I was photographing one of the Blackburnians and I followed him as he moved from one spot to other. He occasionally stopped singing and preened and rested for a few seconds. I watched him once almost fall asleep. He sat and his eyes were just closing, but suddenly he jerked up and gave a bar of a song. It looks like, after a long trip, they can’t even take a bit of rest for the fear of losing the territory to a rival male. I felt sorry for him. Also, only Nashville’s were the birds that did not sing while all others sang. So why is that? Is it the birds we were watching were all females and the males had already passed through? The Nashvilles are monomorphic and are difficult to distinguish between males and females. Harrison trail was dripping with warblers and we ended up finally seeing as many as 19 species of warblers along this trail. By mid morning we headed back to visitor center and did Tulip Trail, but did not see anything of note. Here Gladys and her group split up to head home sooner as they were driving slower, while the rest of us decided to go to Spicebush trail. We did come across some mixed hunting flocks but nothing as spectacular as Harris Trail. One note of interest was, we saw a fully fledged American Robin baby, which I thought was very early. After lunch we too decided to head back home. Just as we were nearing MNWR, as there was still light, Stuart wanted to take a quick drive around wildlife drive to get shorebirds that we had missed. So we made a quick dash and found a few shore birds that included Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, Blue Winged teals and Ospreys. We returned home fully satiated with warbler viewing! Our total trip tick was 110+ species of birds and two species of dragonflies and three species of butterflies.