Migratory birds funnel through Essex
Migrants filled the sky last weekend in and around Point Pelee National Park. I was birding across Essex County and was impressed with large flocks of common species as well as specialty sightings.
Although the blue jay is common, it was my favourite sighting last weekend. On Sept. 29, an official one-day count at Holiday Beach conservation area near Amherstburg in south-west Essex County tallied more than 40,100 of these birds.
In the skies above Point Pelee, thousands of these jays flapped and flickered like diamonds in the sun. Even the veteran birders who are usually more excited about rarities were staring at them. There also were large flocks of starlings and red-winged blackbirds along with several large kettles of turkey vultures.
Essex County can be described as the bottom end of a funnel. Most migrants flying south across Ontario are steered by the Great Lakes to the west end of Lake Erie.
Some birds head out over Point Pelee, scan the environment, then decide they can make a run for it flying south over the lake. Interestingly, Pelee is a trap for other birds. Some have second thoughts about cutting across the lake so they turn around, fly back up the point in an apparent “reverse migration,” then head a bit further west and zip around the lake rather than across it.
The Ontario Field Ornithologists had their annual convention last weekend and I joined in on a number of the organization’s field trips. Whenever I’m in Essex County I will always check out Pelee and Hillman marsh. These are reliable birding hotspots.
In the park, I did well on a hike led by London birder Tim Arthur. We saw a yellow-billed cuckoo, a nice range of warbler species including black-throated blue and blackpoll, and some monarch butterfly roosts. Raptor species we saw included sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, red-tailed, and broadwinged hawks as well as harrier, bald eagle, American kestrel, and peregrine falcon.
Point Pelee National Park is 100 years old this year, however the park is aging well. Among the changes that are being made are a 24 metre viewing tower at the tip and a turtle-friendly nesting area at the marsh boardwalk.
The fields north of Pelee yielded horned larks, pipets, and a buffbreasted sandpiper. At Hillman marsh, a little further north, there were lots of great egrets and great blue herons. There were more bald eagles plus gull species and wood ducks.
Highlight species at Wheatley harbour included long-tailed duck, Caspian tern, and great blackbacked gull. I birded with some other Ontario Field Ornithologists at Two Creeks conservation area and Kopegaron woods closer to Wheatly. There were lots of blue jays here with yellow-bellied sapsucker and Swainson’s thrush.
Other interesting migrants included other thrushes, both kinglets, and vireo species. I saw one late ruby-throated hummingbird.
We will have seen the last of some warbler species however later warblers such as yellowrumped, orange-crowned, Nashville, palm, and common yellowthroats will continue to be seen. Active migration through will continue through October in Essex County and elsewhere across Southwestern Ontario.
• Two Southwestern Ontario birders were among the seven from across the province honoured by the Ontario Field Ornithologists at their annual convention. Organization president Lynne Freeman in particular Steve Charbonneau’s commitment to sharing rare bird sightings and posting other updates on eBird and Ontbirds. Claire Nelson’s many years of active support of the OFO were also saluted.
• The Fatal Light Awareness Program Canada (FLAP) turns 25 this year. FLAP, works nationally and globally to protect migratory birds from building collisions and other life-threatening dangers of human-created environments. Supported by a dedicated group of volunteers, founder and executive director Michael Mesure and a core team manage FLAP programs. In late September for example they co-ordinated a global bird collision count week. To learn more about this registered charitable organization’s many accomplishments visit flap.org.
• If you want to plan a road trip to admire fall colours sometime in October, remember the website Visit ontarioparks.com/fallcolour. The site is updated each Thursday. email@example.com twitter.com/NicholsonNature
In early October, great egret sightings at Hillman Marsh in Essex County are a slam dunk.
The black-throated blue warbler is one of at least 18 migrating warbler species that have been seen in Point Pelee National Park in the last week.