Christmas Bird Count at Point Pelee

This past Monday I had the pleasure of attending the 68th annual Christmas Bird Count at Point Pelee. I was also stoked to be assigned to the Point (our area extended from the Point to the visitor’s centre).

Though not as warm as other years, the weather was pretty reasonable for December. The count hit the ground running with some White-Winged Scoters, Red-breasted Mergansers, Great Black-Backed Gulls, and a nice flight of 250 Red-Winged Blackbirds.

The morning was intense and we surpassed the 40 species mark before lunch time. The afternoon definitely slowed down quite a bit. It was a great time to be out, and the west side of the point was extremely calm and still.

The best bird on the entire count (not just our area) was BY FAR a bird we saw right at the point, a Purple Sandpiper! It was my life bird #291 and year bird #250. I only got a few extremely poor shots which *might* qualify as a record shots.

Other Highlights from my area included: a mind-boggling amount of White-winged Scoters (800), 3 Long-tailed Ducks, a Lesser Black-backed Gull, a Black Scoter, hundreds of Red-Breasted Merganser, several Red-Shouldered Hawk (including an extremely close eye-level flyby) and a lifer mammal (a Silver-haired Bat, a migratory species which usually doesn’t hibernate here).

Before and after the count, I spent a few minutes at Delaurier (within the park), and got to hear 3 Great-horned Owls and saw a Chipping Sparrow.

All in all, it was a great day at the point! Many thanks go out to Paul Pratt (retired Ojibway Park Naturalist), who skilfully lead my group. I ended up with 45 species and the all the areas reporting, the Point Pelee Bird Count notched 94 species.

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Essex County Birder Gathering – March 2018

Yesterday, birders in the Essex County came together for a meal and, of course, some birding. I think it’s fair to say that most of us were pretty excited about it. For me, the excitement started right out of the gate as I spotted my first two Turkey Vultures of the season on the road in Leamington.

A number of us started off at the east shore of the Point Pelee tip, near Sparrow Field. The group of people who were there before I got there had seen an Eastern Meadowlark and Long-tailed duck before I arrived, but I was unable to re-find them. The weather was cold but considerably warmer and less stormy than on the west shore. There were large rafts of ducks (mostly Scaups and Scoters) and I was quite excited to find my first White-winged Scoter and as well as my FOY (first of year) Surf Scoter. Now only the Black Scoter remains to be found!

As Jeremy Bensette studied the rafts, he noticed one duck which was different and identified it as a King Eider. What an exciting sighting! He mentioned that this was his first self-found King Eider. This large arctic duck is found now and then in our area, but it’s a majorly exciting find. A few more birders came immediately afterwards, but by then it had flown off and wasn’t re-found by a number of others.

We then stopped by the Marsh tower and watched a few Bald Eagles, Herring Gulls, and Tundra Swans off in the distance. It was also really neat to watch a mink swim.

While within the park we also had the delight of seeing a Great Horned Owl!

One of the highlights of an event like this is the kindness and generous attitude of the birders in our area. There are many ways in which tagging along can help you develop as a birder. For instance, if you are in the market for new optical equipment, an event like this is a great way to experiment with different models of scopes, binoculars, or cameras. For instance, Jeremy Bensette brought an extra tripod and binoculars, which I and other birders got to try out and enjoy.

Using Jeremy’s extra binoculars (Vortex Crossfire 8×42 bins, I believe), the flaws with my current binoculars (Bushnell Powerview 20×50) became evident and I am now convinced that I want to replace them. It was extremely valuable to see that and also to get some practice with using scopes.

(Point Pelee National Park: 3 hours, 25 species, 1 lifers, 3 FOY species)

Next, on the way to Hillman Marsh, I took a short drive through the local onion fields. They were rather quiet and there was nothing significant to report and so I quickly moved on to the Hillman Marsh shorebird cell. The shorebird cell had fewer ducks than my last visit earlier this month. We saw a substantial amount of Northern Pintails, though. As we walked away from the cell and through the marsh, we saw at least eleven Rusty Blackbirds, a species which has been eluding me this year. There were more ducks in others areas within the marsh. Before we left Hillman we were surprised to see the early Great Egret which a few had seen in flight when they arrived.

(Hillman Marsh: 1 hour 35 minutes, 15 species, 0 lifers, 2 FOY species)

Our next stop, the Chatham-Kent side of the Wheatley Harbour was rather quiet, but we were presently surprised with a masterful view of a Snowy Owl! It was nicely perched on a rock barrier in the lake.

(Wheatley Harbor: 23 minutes, 4 species, 0 lifers, 0 FOY species)

After all that time outdoors in the cold, I think most of us were ready to head indoors! About 25 people were present when we met at 7:00pm at Freddy’s Restaurant in Leamington.

(thanks to Kit McCann for the group photo)

It was really nice to spend time getting to know some local birders a bit more. Hopefully more events like this will be planned.

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