You know you’re a birder when you wake up at 3:15am and are excited about it.
May is an exciting time for birdwatchers in Canada as it signals the beginning of peak bird migration. Warblers, shorebirds, and many other families of birds make their way north from their wintering grounds to begin to scope out breeding locations. Southwestern Ontario happens to be home to a couple different key migration stopover locations, one of which is Rondeau Provincial Park, located on the north shore of Lake Erie in Chatham-Kent county. I had never been to Rondeau before, so I’m sure you can imagine my excitement to finally head there for a day of birding.
On the drive to the park from Guelph, I got my first life bird of the day: a Red-shouldered Hawk. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of it as we were driving too quickly to stop on the busy highway, but it was a nice way to start off the day. The group of us (4 in total consisting of University of Guelph Wildlife Club members) arrived at the park between 6:15am and 7:50am. Right as we stepped out of the car at the visitor’s centre, we were treated to the sounds of singing Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Baltimore Orioles, both very colourful (in sight and sound) spring migrants.
We started the search for birds on the Harrison Trail, which begins right near the visitor’s centre. The first warblers we saw were Yellow Warblers, a very common but very welcoming warbler to see in the area. Not too far into the trail, we came across a Black-throated Green Warbler, my second life bird for the day.
Almost immediately after, we came across another good find and my third life bird of the day: a Blue-winged Warbler. Paul, the member of the group that arrived to the park before the other three of us, ended up seeing it about an hour before we did, so I was glad to see that it stuck around in the same area for the rest of us to see it. As with most warblers, this one was very active and not doing a great job at sitting still, so I didn’t manage to get a great photo of it.
The fourth life bird of the day also came on the Harrison Trail, just on the way back to the visitors centre. This time, it was a Blue-headed Vireo. This bird was also moving too quickly to actually get a good photo of it, unfortunately. Another notable bird we saw soaring above the trail was four Bald Eagles, consisting of two adults and two juveniles.
Along the Marsh trail, we spotted a fair amount of Red-breasted Mergansers out on the lake, with plenty of Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows skimming the lake for insects. While we never got a visual of it, we heard a Sandhill Crane (possibly two) in the reedy area. As we were eating lunch on the trail, we caught sight of a Northern Harrier flying over the reeds and out toward the water. I also managed to spot my fifth life bird of the day, a Common Tern, flying over the lake along the trail as well.
The House Wrens were a pretty common sight and sound throughout the day.
The Spicebush trail produced more of the usual birds, with an Ovenbird making it’s “teacher-teacher-teacher” call from somewhere in the trees. That ended up being my sixth and final life bird of the day. This trail also allowed us to view a good amount of herps (umbrella term for amphibians and reptiles) such as Painted Turtle, Snapping Turtle, and a Northern Leopoard Frog. While I don’t consider myself a herper, I’ve found myself getting more interested in finding them out in the wild. To be honest, I should just take up herping instead; there’s far less species in Ontario to try to commit to memory!
Our final major viewing spot was actually back at the visitor’s centre feeders. Bird feeders are an easy way to be able to view and photograph many different bird species all in one spot. Though there was nothing too noteworthy at the feeders, there were still a good amount of photo worthy birds.
I somehow managed to capture this Chipping Sparrow more or less staring right at me.
Others that showed up to the feeders were Blue Jays, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, House Finch, House Sparrow, American Goldfinch, and White-throated Sparrow.
We had heard that a Hooded Warbler had been spotted at the first Lake Erie beach access, so we thought we’d try to get it on the way out. Unfortunately, we didn’t end up finding it, but we added two more warblers to the final tally: Black-and-White Warbler and Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle).
In total, I managed to spot 56 species at the park, breaking my personal record for most birds spotted in a single checklist. The total number of birds spotted on the day (this includes notable birds spotted while driving to and from the park) was 59, breaking my personal record for most birds spotted in a single day. I’m hoping to break this new record next Saturday, May 13th for Global Big Day 2017. More details on that later.
The entire checklist for the park can be viewed here.
Overall, my first trip to Rondeau Provincial Park was a very positive one. I was impressed with the wide variety of habitats that were contained in one park. From the first minute I stepped out of the car and onto the trail, I could see why it’s one of the most popular birding hotspots in Southern Ontario. I hope to make it back there sometime soon to see what else I can find.