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Spring Migration, Lake Erie, Ontario, Canada, May 2022 (14/05/2022 – 22/05/2022. (1 Viewer)


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As mentioned on a previously posted North American trip report, I've long had a fascination with New World Warblers. I've been fortunate to see a few species in the UK, but in the end, I decided to go across the pond and start finding them for myself.

During the late 1990s I was working on a large IT project, which frequently saw me travelling to Massachusetts, where I was able to bird Plumb Island during peak spring migration and in more recent years, I've had a couple of spring birding trips to Florida. These trips combined, have given me a total of 26 Warbler species; however, I still had some gaping omissions on my list.

I'd long been aware that two of the best migration spots were over the border in Ontario, Canada on Lake Erie, at Point Pelee and Rondeau Provincial Park. I was also fortunate that my wife's cousin Mark, who lives in London Ontario, is a keen bird photographer. We'd planned a trip here for a few years, but something always got in the way, which included 2 years of Covid! In early 2022, we finally took the plunge and booked our trip.

Thursday 12/05:

Today saw us catch a flight from Manchester to Toronto with Air Transat. On arrival we picked up a hire car and headed south, with a planned overnight hotel stay in Cambridge.

Friday 13/05:

A quick half hours birding around the hotel before breakfast, kicked the trip list off with a few birds including, Killdeer, American Robin, Cliff Swallow, Song Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, American Goldfinch, House Finch, Purple Finch and a couple of singing Yellow Warblers. Next was a 3.5-hour drive south, to our base for the next 7 nights at Kingsville, which is located on Lake Erie and booked via Airbnb.

En route my wife kindly offered to drop me off at Point Pelee for a few hours, whilst she checked into our house and unloaded the car etc, with my niece and nephew. 40 minutes later and I'd been dropped off around 1 KM into the park, at the Sanctuary parking lot. Within minutes I started to feel overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of birds present in the area and I was soon ticking off numerous warblers. The next 4 hours produced in varying numbers, Nashville Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler (Lifer), Common Yellowthroat, Black and White Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow Warbler (abundant), Cape May Warbler, American Redstart, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Chestnut Sided Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler and Tennessee Warbler. Other notable birds included Grey-cheeked Thrush, Swainson's Thrush, Veery, Philadelphia Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, Downy Woodpecker, Tree Swallow, Willow/Alder Flycatcher, Chipping Sparrow and Swamp Sparrow.

eBird link Point Pelee: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L131153

Saturday 14/05:

Today I met up with my wife's cousin Mark for the first time and we headed to Point Pelee tip, via a trolley bus from the main visitor centre car park. The plan was to start here and work our way back. We birded hard for 8 hours straight, off the point tip were good numbers of Bonaparte's Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls and Common Terns, whilst above us were good numbers of Turkey Vultures (50+) and a couple of Red-tailed Hawks. We then proceeded to walk the various woodland trails, back towards the visitor centre where we added Northern Parula, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Ovenbird, Prothonotary Warbler and Mourning Warbler (lifer), including a close quarter stunning male to the trip list. Other birds added to the trip list included Wood Thush, Hermit Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-headed Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Least Flycatcher and Eastern Wood Pewee. On a frustrating note, I missed Canada Warbler by seconds on 2 occasions!

eBird link Point Pelee Tip: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L611224

Sunday 15/05:

Again I met Mark at Point Pelee, overnight conditions consisted of clear skies with light winds, which were not the best for downing migrants. Nevertheless, we birded hard for nearly 10 hours! Birds were in lesser numbers as expected, but on arriving down at the tip, Mark immediately picked out a stunning male Canada Warbler, which showed well and was a lifer for me.

We also encountered a few sparrows throughout the day, which were White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Field Sparrow and Chipping Sparrow. We also saw Sharp-shinned Hawk, Coopers Hawk, Broad Winged Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk.

Other warblers, vireos and thrushes were also seen and during late afternoon, I discovered a showy Blue-winged Warbler, just feet away from us, where Mark was able to get some great shots. Close by we also had some great views of a singing Northern Waterthrush.

Monday 16/05:

Heavy rain overnight, I needed a change of scenery, so I headed to Rondeau Provincial Park to meet up with Mark.

Unfortunately, the previous night's storm appeared to have stopped birds crossing Lake Erie from the US side. Things were generally quiet, a good range of warbler species were seen, but mostly in ones and twos. Whilst sitting on a bench under a couple of pine trees my attention was drawn to an unfamiliar singing warbler, which turned out to be Pine Warbler (Lifer) and another warbler tick. Brown Thrasher and Eastern Towhee were also added to the trip list. Quite a few male Scarlet Tanagers were also seen in the surrounding woodland.

As things were generally quiet, late afternoon, we headed off in the direction of Erieau to another spot that Mark liked, which is Erieau Marsh Trail, where a raised footpath stretches out into the marsh. Birds out on the marsh included Great Blue Heron, Great White Egret and Semipalmated Plover. The real hotspot however was a narrow strip of trees, running along the other side of the footpath, which was alive with birds. Unfortunately, a thunderstorm was moving our way quickly; however, before the heavens opened, we quickly saw Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Tennessee Warbler, Willow/Alder Flycatcher, Blue Gray Gnatcatcher and a possible, Orange-crowned Warbler. We also saw an American Kestrel on one of the nearby farms.

eBird link Rondeau: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L265518

eBird link Erieau Marsh Trail: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L1782673

Tuesday 17/05:

First thing and I walked over to the local park on the shore of Lake Erie. The park held plenty of common birds such as American Robin, Common Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, Baltimore Oriel, Northern Flicker, Northern Cardinal and Yellow Warbler (all of which could also be seen in the garden of our house). The only birds of note seen were a pair of noisy Belted Kingfishers, chasing each other along the lake shore and a few Chimney Swifts overhead.

Today my wife, niece and nephew planned to take the car ferry across to Pelee Island. Mark and I decided to tag along, as e-bird revealed a couple of good spots on both the north and south side of the Island. Following a 2-hour ferry ride, we set off to explore the island; however, the birding was really poor and the only warblers encountered were the inevitable Yellow Warblers and a single female Cape May Warbler. Other migratory birds were thin on the ground too, with just a few Swainson's Thrushesand singles of Wood Thrush, Eastern Wood Pewee and Least Flycatcher seen. The main highlight of the trip was a pair of Bald Eagles overhead.

Wednesday 18/05:

Back to Point Pelee with Mark. It rained all day and we spent most of the morning between the Dunes and Sleepy Hollow parking areas on the path along the lake shoreline, where both Kentucky Warbler and Worm-eating Warbler had been seen the previous day. Bird numbers were not huge, but a good variety of warblers were seen, many of which were in full song. The main highlights were 4 male Canada Warblers, 2 Carolina Wrens and a very tame Ovenbird, which caused a traffic jam on the footpath! We also saw an American Black Tern along the lake shoreline.

After lunch we headed to the nearby Hillman Marsh reserve, as I wanted to try and add some waterfowl and shorebirds to the trip list. This was the first time that I'd needed my scope on the trip. From the hide we saw Short-billed Dowitcher, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Dunlin, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, American Wigeon, Wood Duck, Trumpeter Swan, Sandhill Crane, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron and Great White Egret. We then checked out the surrounding scrub where we saw Song Sparrow, Philadelphia Vireo and a few Warblers, the pick of which was a male Mourning Warbler. I had hoped to find Marsh Wren in the surrounding reeds, but none were found.

eBird link Hillman Marsh: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L283720

Thursday 19/05:

My wife wanted to join us birding today, whilst my niece and nephew did their own thing. We decided to head back over in the Rondeau direction, as we really wanted to explore the Marsh Trail again at Erieau. En route we drove over a freshly dead skunk on the road, with the aircon intake on full belt; I certainly won't be making that mistake again!

The birding here is just so easy, as already mentioned, on one side of the raised footpath is a narrow line of bushes and trees, whilst the opposite side gives views of the lake/marsh. We soon clocked up 15 species of Warbler, most of which are just a few feet away. Warblers seen were Ovenbird, Tennessee Warbler, Northern Parula, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Canada Warbler and Wilson's Warbler. Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Brown Thrasher and the usual Swainson's Thrushes were also seen.

Halfway along the path, viewing of the lake/marsh area, with the scope, added the following birds to the trip list: Canvasback, Redhead, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Caspian Tern and Spotted Sandpiper.

The end of the path also proved to be good for birds, as where the tree line ended, we encountered Warbling Vireo, Philadelphia Vireo, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe and Indigo Bunting. Some nearby farm buildings contained good numbers of Cliff Swallows, which were busy building their nests with mud, collected from the nearby drainage ditch. Tree Swallows were also using some nearby nest boxes.

After lunch we headed over to Rondeau, calling in at the nearby Keith McLean nature preserve. The target here was Marsh Wren, which we soon ticked off, with several seen singing in the far side reed beds. This spot is also reliable for sparrows, we had hoped to connect with Savanna Sparrow and Clay-coloured Sparrow, but the only sparrows seen were Chipping Sparrows. This area is also good for shorebirds, where we obtained good close by views of Short-billed Dowitchers, Killdeer and Least Sandpiper.

On arriving at Rondeau, we decided to check out the park entrance where a Summer Tanager had previously been reported (Canada rarity). This was a lifer for Mark and I soon connected with the bird, which was a first summer male. Mark was able to get some good shots with his camera. For the rest of the afternoon, we explored a couple of the park's trails, where the now usual warblers, vireos and thrushes were encountered.

eBird link Keith McLean Marsh: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L2678561

Friday 20/05 to Sunday 21/05:

These were non-birding days, where we relocated to London Ontario, to meet up with my wife's family and to explore both Niagara Falls and Toronto. One bird I did see and hear was a Common Nighthawk over the house we were staying in.

Monday 22/05:

An opportunity presented itself, the family wanted a chill out last day, so I left the house in London at 06:00 AM and headed to Rondeau, as some good birds had been reported over the last couple of days.

An hour later and first stop was the Pony Barns/Harrison Trail area, where a few of the usual and expected birds were seen, although migrant warblers were now getting really thin on the ground. Next I came across an unfamiliar buzzing song in the high tree canopy overhead. I patiently waited, before a real gem of a bird presented itself, which was a stunning male CERULEAN WARBLER!!! This was the one bird, I'd really wanted to see on the trip and thought my chance had now gone. I received a message from Mark to say he was en route and an hour away. I hung around the area for a while and was rewarded with some great views of the Cerulean, as it came lower down into some smaller trees. Whilst waiting for Mark, I also added Yellow-throated Vireo, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Tufted Titmouse to the trip list. Unfortunately, by the time Mark arrived, the Cerulean had gone deeper into the woodland, where it could still be heard but not seen.

Next we explored the Harrison Trail for a while, where we encountered a few American Redstarts, along with singles of Blackburnian Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Least Flycatcher, Blue Gray Gnatcatcher, Swainson's Thrush and Veery.

We were aware that for the last few days, a Yellow-breasted Chat had been reported on and off along the South Point trail (Ontario rarity). We'd tried for it previously, but without any success. I'd already familiarised myself with the song and a short while after walking along the trail, I soon picked up the bird singing intermittently. We patiently waited for a few minutes, before being rewarded with brief, but good views of the Yellow-breasted Chat. This took the Warbler trip list to 27 species!

My curfew was 15:00, as I need to get back to London, before driving to Toronto to catch our evening flight back to Manchester. We decided on one last trip to the nearby Keith McLean's Marsh, as this offered the best chance of adding a few more birds to the trip list. This turned out to be a good move, as on arrival, we soon added White-rumped Sandpiper, Grey Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Osprey and Savannah Sparrow (5) to the trip list, which now totalled 141 species!

I'll try and post some trip photo's and as a follow up post once Mark provides me with some.

Summary and other useful information:

Hopefully the following information will be of use to anyone else, planning a similar trip.

Don't underestimate the size of both Rondeau Provincial Park and Point Pelee National Park, as they are huge parks, containing miles of walking trails. It's not possible to bird each park in a single day and taking Pelee as an example, it's only possible to effectively bird one third of the park, if you work the trails slowly and methodically. We enjoyed basing ourselves at Kingsville, which was a lovely town with a good selection of restaurants. Point Pelee is around 25 minutes drive and Rondeau/Erieau, is just over an hour's drive away. The entrance fee for Point Pelee is $8.50 per person, whilst Rondeau is $12.75 per car. Fortunately, Mark had family season passes for both parks.

Note Point Pelee has a dedicated visitor centre, with information board showing you what birds are about and where. Rondeau has less facilities and sees less birders. Both sites are lacking in food provisions, so it's wise to take food with you.

My favourite site was the Erieau Marsh trail, as for reasons stated above, it's just so easy to bird, with a wide variety of species concentrated in a small area. You can also grab lunch in Erieau.

Overall, the sites visited are a bird photographer's dream, as many of the birds encountered are just so confiding and viewed within several meters.

Always use the dedicated eBird web pages (links included above) to check what's about, as many birders update it whilst in the field, although many don't provide detailed directions to the birds. This proved frustrating at times, as we missed a few rarities by way of Golden-winged Warbler, Kirkland's Warbler and Louisiana Waterthrush. The free Merlin bird app is also very useful, as it now contains a Sound ID function, meaning you can stand there and your smartphone will tell you what birds are singing. This is great for the typical UK birder, who is unfamiliar with the songs and calls of North American passerines. We were able to use my niece's mobile phone, as she could use her UK data at no extra charge on EE. My Vodafone provider was a different matter and it cost me £6 per day to use my UK plan!

May temperatures can vary greatly and can range from days of single digit temperatures to days in the high twenties. We experienced both extremes, therefore pack cloths for all eventualities. Mark also confirmed that snow is possible during May.

On a few occasions we flicked ticks off our cloths, including twice whilst in the car. They are rife in Canada, so it's wise to avoid areas of long grass. Wear long pants and shoes where possible and check your rucksacks and equipment, before getting in the car. Fortunately, mosquitos are not really an issue this early in the year.

Species list:

A - Abundant, VC - Very Common, C - Common, O - Occasional, R - Rare (status based on my own personal experience and not being overly familiar with bird call/song):

1, Canada Goose, VC

2, Mute Swan, O

3, Trumpeter Swan, R

4, Wood Duck, O

5, Blue-winged Teal, O

6, Gadwall, O

7, American Wigeon, O

8, Mallard, C

9, Canvasback, O

10, Redhead, O

11, Greater Scaup, O

12, Lesser Scaup, O

13, Red-breasted Merganser, C

14, Wild Turkey, O

15, Mourning Dove, C

16, Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon, C

17, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, O

18, Common Nighthawk, R

19, Chimney Swift, O

20, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, O

21, Sandhill Crane, O

22, Grey Plover, O

23, Semipalmated Plover, O

24, Killdeer, C

25, Ruddy Turnstone, O

26, Dunlin, C

27, Least Sandpiper, C

28, White-rumped Sandpiper, R

29, Semipalmated Sandpiper, O

30, Short-billed Dowitcher, C

31, Spotted Sandpiper, O

32, Greater Yellowlegs, C

33, Lesser Yellowlegs, O

34, Bonaparte's Gull, C

35, Ring-billed Gull, C

36, Herring Gull, C

37, Great Black-backed Gull, R

38, Caspian Tern, R

39, Black Tern, O

40, Common Tern, O

41, Double-crested Cormorant, C

42, Great Blue Heron, O

43, Great White Egret, O

44, Green Heron, R

45, Turkey Vulture, A

46, Osprey, R

47, Sharp-shinned Hawk, R

48, Cooper's Hawk, R

49, Bald Eagle, O

50, Broad-winged Hawk, O, Lifer

51, Red-tailed Hawk, O

52, Red-headed Woodpecker, O, Lifer

53, Red-bellied Woodpecker, O

54, Downy Woodpecker, C

55, Pileated Woodpecker, R

56, Northern Flicker, C

57, American Kestrel, R

58, Eastern Wood-Pewee, C

59, Least Flycatcher, C, Lifer

60, Alder/Willow Flycatcher, C, Lifer

61, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, R, Lifer

62, Eastern Phoebe, R

63, Great Crested Flycatcher, R

64, Eastern Kingbird, C

65, Yellow-throated Vireo, R

66, Blue-headed Vireo, R, Lifer

67, Philadelphia Vireo, C, Lifer

68, Warbling Vireo, C, Lifer

69, Red-eyed Vireo, VC

70, Blue Jay, VC

71, American Crow, O

72, Black-capped Chickadee, O

73, Tufted Titmouse, R, Lifer

74, Tree Swallow, VC, Lifer

75, Sand Martin, C

76, Barn Swallow, VC

77, Cliff Swallow, C

78, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, O, Lifer

79, White-breasted Nuthatch, O, Lifer

80, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, C, Lifer

81, House Wren, C, Lifer

82, Marsh Wren, R, Lifer

83, Carolina Wren, R, Lifer

84, Common Starling, VC

85, Grey Catbird, VC

86, Brown Thrasher, O

87, Northern Mockingbird, R

88, Veery, C

89, Grey-cheeked Thrush, R

90, Swainson's Thrush, VC

91, Hermit Thrush, R, Lifer

92, Wood Thrush, C

93, American Robin, A

94, Cedar Waxwing, O

95, House Sparrow, VC

96, American Goldfinch, C

97, Chipping Sparrow, C, Lifer

98, Field Sparrow, R, Lifer

99, White-crowned Sparrow, R

100, White-throated Sparrow, R

101, Savannah Sparrow, R, Lifer

102, Song Sparrow, C, Lifer

103, Lincoln's Sparrow, O, Lifer

104, Swamp Sparrow, R, Lifer

105, Eastern Towhee, O

106, Orchard Oriole, C

107, Baltimore Oriole, VC

108, Red-winged Blackbird, A

109, Brown-headed Cowbird, C

110, Common Grackle, VC

111, Ovenbird, O

112, Northern Waterthrush, O

113, Blue-winged Warbler, R

114, Black-and-white Warbler, O

115, Prothonotary Warbler, O

116, Tennessee Warbler, O

117, Nashville Warbler, C

118, Mourning Warbler, O, Lifer

119, Common Yellowthroat, C

120, Hooded Warbler, R

121, American Redstart, C

122, Cape May Warbler, C

123, Cerulean Warbler, R, Lifer

124, Northern Parula, O

125, Magnolia Warbler, C

126, Bay-breasted Warbler, VC, Lifer

127, Blackburnian Warbler, C

128, Yellow Warbler, A

129, Chestnut-sided Warbler, VC

130, Blackpoll Warbler, O

131, Black-throated Blue Warbler, O

132, Pine Warbler, O, Lifer

133, Yellow-rumped Warbler, O

134, Black-throated Green Warbler, C

135, Canada Warbler, O, Lifer

136, Wilson's Warbler, O

137, Yellow-breasted Chat,R, Lifer

138, Summer Tanager, R

139, Scarlet Tanager, C

140, Northern Cardinal, VC

141, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, C

142, Indigo Bunting, O
Great read, mirrors my 2008 trip for ten days, but I only managed 141 species. Saw most of what you saw but dipped on Mourning, Canada, Pine, and Blue winged Warbler but got Yellow Breasted Chat, Prothonotary, Cerulean, Worm-eating Warbler, as well as Louisiana Waterthrush. Most painful dip was missing Golden winged Warbler by ten seconds. Didn’t get Yellow-billed Cuckoo but did get A Black- billed Cuckoo.

An enjoyable report! Makes me want to go back.
Great read, mirrors my 2008 trip for ten days, but I only managed 141 species. Saw most of what you saw but dipped on Mourning, Canada, Pine, and Blue winged Warbler but got Yellow Breasted Chat, Prothonotary, Cerulean, Worm-eating Warbler, as well as Louisiana Waterthrush. Most painful dip was missing Golden winged Warbler by ten seconds. Didn’t get Yellow-billed Cuckoo but did get A Black- billed Cuckoo.

An enjoyable report! Makes me want to go back.
Thanks and glad you enjoyed it.

I hope to go back at some point in the future, to get some of those missing warblers.

Mark the guy I was with, has previously founds his own Golden-winged Warbler at Pelee and Kirkland’s Warbler at Rondeau!
Ironically I wasn’t too bothered about Kirtlands, one was reported on the day I left. I had a list of those glorious males I wanted to see - Black-throated Blue (4), Blackburnian (4), Cerulean (1), Prothonotory (1), Black and White (20), Bay-breasted (3), Parula (4), Magnolia (4), Cape May (5), Hooded (1) along with Bald Eagle (1), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (6), Indigo Bunting (4), Pileated Woodpecker (1), Carolina Wren (1), Great Crested Flycatcher (2), along with Yellow- throated, Warbling, White-eyed, Red-eyed Vireos.
Nice report - another place added to the already very long list of those to visit!

Did you think the time in May you chose was good in terms of timing for species numbers?
Nice report - another place added to the already very long list of those to visit!

Did you think the time in May you chose was good in terms of timing for species numbers?

I've been following the sites on eBird for a few years, this along with the available literature, points to the second and third week of May being the best time. If I repeated the trip again, I'd probably make the first full days birding around 10/05. This said I cant grumble with the number of warbler species seen and especially Cerulean and Yellow-breasted Chat on the last day.

Rarer Canadian warblers present, but not seen by us, at Pelee/Rondeau, whilst we we there, included Connecticut, Kentucky, Worm-eating, Palm, Prairie, Kirtland's, Louisiana Waterthrush and Golden-winged. They were there to be found.
For me as a 'once-in-a-lifetime-visitor' back in 2008, I had a list of species I wanted most to see and it didn't include any of the big rares mentioned above, it was simply based on splendour.............as in my earlier post in this thread. Blackburnian and Black-throated Blue were top targets along with Pileated Woody, though I did manage to see Cerulean, Prothonotary, and Worm-eating Warblers, and Yellow-breasted Chat too.

I would like to go back I must admit.
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