Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Crouching Sparrows, Hidden Warblers

We arrived at Point Pelee National Park by 6am on Wednesday morning with high expectations of seeing lots of Warblers, Sparrows and Vireos, Oh My.  And though we ended the day with 46 species seen, it was not great in terms of Warbler fallout.  It was a great day of seeing birds in general and we did get to see lots of very good birds by the end of the day, but the morning was a grand disappointment.   It seemed to be for most birders out there.  It started off well enough with a male wild turkey doing everything in it's power to attract a mate, except for the fact that there were no females present.

After checking out the Turkey, we walked the 2.6 KM to the Tip, the southernmost point in Canada, where the waves will drag you under if you even think of dipping a toe in the water.  Along the way we saw lots of Baltimore Orioles and Yellow Warblers and for a while we were wondering which of each we had seen more of.  I think the Orioles took a commanding lead in the morning, but the Yellow's had a good comeback in the afternoon.  We also saw a goodly number of Orchard Orioles, and Barn Swallows as well as a few sightings of Eastern Kingbirds.

When we got to the Tip, there were lots of people looking for birds, but very few birds to be seen.  Mostly the background music was Orioles and Red-winged Blackbirds, with a few others thrown in for an occasional change in melody.  And everywhere we looked there were birders, men and women and kids of all ages, walking the paths from one end to the other, hoping to see anything but a Yellow or Yellow-rumped Warbler.  At the very end of the Tip, as we stood as far south as one can stand in Canada without getting wet, we did get a look at a Herring Gull, mixed in with lots of Ring-billed Gulls.

Even so, there seemed to be no joy in Peleeville.  At least for the morning.  Not that we weren't seeing birds, but they were mostly birds you'd see anywhere.  People come to Point Pelee in May to see lots of migrating Warblers and the like.  The three previous days had been great in terms of numbers of birds.  Oh well.  We plugged along and the day got better and birdier as the temperature climbed.

We walked up to the Sparrow Field and got some very nice birds, including a Brown Thrasher and Chipping Sparrow.  I also got my first House Wren of the year, thanks to Sue taking a seat on a log to rest, while I hunted, yet again, for a Clay-colored Sparrow, again with out luck.  I did find an American Redstart along the way, and got a nice look at an Eastern Bluebird, as well.

As I was walking back to where Sue was sitting, she was silently waving me over.  As I crouched down next to her, she pointed at a bush where a diminutive bird was perched.  I got my eyes on it and yes, it was a House Wren.  We had seen many birds already that morning, but it was my first new Year bird of the day.  By then it was time for lunch, but not before we stumbled upon the best bird we'd see that day.

As we were walking back to the main park road to walk back to the Visitor's Centre, we heard an odd, distinctive bird call that neither of us recognized but knew was something to be seen rather than heard.  We crossed the street and within seconds spotted a big bird.  I knew the look, as I had seen a Yellow-billed Cuckoo in Florida recently.  This was a Black-billed Cuckoo and one of the birds that was top of my list for Pelee.  It was the best, and last new Year bird of the day, but it was cool and another example of being at the right place at the right time.

An example of not being at the right place at the right time was the search for the Canada Warbler, another top of the list bird for us on our first day in Pelee.  Along one of the park paths, as we were returning from seeing the Red Morph Eastern Screech Owl at least a dozen birders were gathered round a pile of shrub off the path in the woods.  We knew they had something special.  People were saying they had just seen the Canada Warbler.  Oh boy!  Jackpot!  Nothing!  It had vanished into the thicket.  There was one moment of hope, but it turned out to be a Magnolia Warbler.  Well, it could have been worse, it could have been raining.

Claps of thunder, low clouds, cold wind and yes, rain.  Sue and I stayed a little longer, but decided to spend the rest of the thunderstorm taking an afternoon nap in the dry warmth of the car.  It was a good rest, and nice to snack on coffee and cookies as we waited, but within a half hour the rain had stopped and we headed back to see if the Canada Warbler had come out to dry off.  Again, a dozen, if not more, birders were gathered around where the bird was seen.  As I was walking up to them something darted across my field of vision.  I couldn't see it, but as we approached the group, one woman said that she had just been looking at the Canada Warbler and it had flown across the path into the other side of the woods.  Great.  Missed it by "that" much!  However I did get a nice look and photo of a Chestnut-sided Warbler, so it turned out just fine.

We waited a while, continued walking, maybe we'd at least get a Water Thrush.  But within minutes the sky darkened, the temperature dropped, the winds increased and it felt as though a hurricane was about to blow through.  Sue headed to the car for safety but I hung out for one last chance at the Canada Warbler.  It didn't appear, but I did get to have a nice chat with Justin, who was one of our guides up in Algonquin Park a couple of weeks back.  That was fun while we waited in vain for the warbler to show, and he did explain how to tell the Magnolia from the Canada Warbler, as the Magnolia has a yellow rump.

Soon the rains began in earnest and it was time to flee for the safely of the car.  By then it was late enough to call it a day. Before we had a chance to exit the park, we stopped one more time, though.  Sue had thought it we might be able to see Black Terns, but as it turned out, we got to see a baby owl.  A Great-horned Owl that looked more like Cousin It from the Adams Family than any owl I'd ever seen.

So, in the end, it was a good day, but not the great Warbler day I had hoped for.  But until December 31, there is always tomorrow and we will be up once again at the crack of dawn trying again to see if the Warblers and Sparrows might not be crouching or hidden every time we walk by.

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