Pelee Episode VIII - The Rise of the Whimbrel

 Ok, more about my spring in Pelee!

I left things off on the 17th, so this post will cover May 18th onwards. This will be my last Pelee installment.

After the epic day on the 17th with Blue Grosbeak, Little Blue Heron and Wilson's Phalarope, I entered into a bit of a dry spell on May 18th and went 3 days without seeing a new species. This was honestly rather disappointing, as I was on a streak with new birds and had seen one every day since April 25th. I knew it was bound to happen sooner or later, but still... it stung ; )

The birding around Pelee was still quite good though! It's just that I had almost all of the common birds and anything new would have to be rather unusual. On the morning of the 18th myself and Alessandra tried chasing down another Worm-eating Warbler that had been found by The Dunes. I wanted to try and get some photos of one since I didn't have my camera on me the night that Jakob refound the Post Woods bird. Apparently it wasn't meant to be though, as the bird remained hidden in the undergrowth. It did sing frequently though, my first time hearing a worm-eater which was cool...

The next morning I started off at the tip with Alessandra and put in almost two hours, with not a lot to show for it. Again the wind wasn't productive for reverse migration at all, so the quiet morning wasn't overly unexpected. 3 Surf Scoters, a few Sanderlings and Little Gulls were the highlights. After abandoning the tip, we birded the forest for awhile and turned up a singing male Cerulean Warbler... Always a nice treat. There were some new migrant songbirds around, but overall an increase wasn't very noticeable. 

- Little Gull

- Little Gull

That afternoon we killed some time by driving over to the Wheatley Harbour and did an impromptu lakewatch for a few hours (never napped, of course). Flocks of Black-bellied Plovers were passing by the whole time, with the total ending up around 150... Along with Ruddy Turnstones and Dunlin.

- Dunlin

It was on May 20th that things started to pick for me in terms of new birds. Again, I started off at the tip around sunrise, with Alessandra, William, Ezra and Gavin Mckinnon. There were more birds moving than there had been for the past few days, however it  wasn't hopp'n. The highlight was a Red-throated Loon that flew right over the tip, a new Pelee bird for me.

- Trashy Red-throated Loon photo

 We were making our way north through post woods a bit later on, finding some fun things like Yellow-throated Vireo, White-eyed Vireo and Hermit Thrush (getting latte). Then an alert came in about a Connecticut Warbler that had been found at Tilden's Woods, so our little possie made hast for that spot. Just as we were walking up to the stakeout I heard the loud, rising "chippy-chuppy chippy-chuppy chippy-chuppy" of a Connecticut Warbler. After joining the mob that had assembled there we managed to get fantastic views of the bird. however I botched my attempt at photos...

That afternoon I was doing another Wheatley lakewatch with Alessandra when news came in about a Laughing Gull in Erieau. Steve Charbonneau was watching the bird from the Wheatley marina and generously offered to stay on the gull until we arrived. We got there an hour later to find him still standing on the pier watching the far shoreline. Apparently the gulls had been roosting on the far sandbar (the south point of Rondeau) a few times, and although they had taken off a few times they were still sitting there. The way the sandbar was orientated, the far side of it was out of sight from our vantage point... and of course this was where the Laughing Gull had last gone down. I wasn't too concerned, as boats were going by frequently and the bird had to go up eventually. Sure enough a few minutes passed, and then the gulls all went up in a flurry of white and grey. Sure enough, mixed in with the Bonaparte's Gulls was a slightly larger bird with a dark hood, dark upperwings and an underwing pattern resembling a black-backed gull. Laughing Gull for sure! My photos are through the scope and are pretty bad... but better than nothing right?!

- Laughing Gull

- Laughing Gull


- needs no caption


After circling around a few times the gull flew west with a strong, deliberate flight and disappeared out of sight. Ezra and Andy arrived 10 minutes too late unfortunately and missed the bird. This could have easily been the case for me as well if it weren't for Steve, so thanks a lot! Laughing Gull can be a tricky big year species, as even though they are annual, they are often don't stick around very long and are seen by only one or a few observers.

That evening I got jaw dropping views of a Worm-eating Warbler that I found at Northwest Beach with Steve Pike, but yet again I didn't have my camera with me.. Ah well.

The following two days passed without any other yearbirds and migration seemed to be winding down overall. Blackpoll and Wilson's Warblers were around en masse, always a signal here in Ontario that songbird migration is almost over for another spring migration season. A self found Connecticut Warbler that I heard singing in Post Woods while birding with Alessandra was a highlight, a bird I have never self found before. Lesser Black-backed Gulls at the tip and a Peregrine Falcon in the Onion Fields were other highlights. 

On May 22nd the whole west beach of the park was crawling with songbirds, including 2 Yellow-billed Cuckoos, 14 Black-billed Cuckoo, 1 Cerulean Warbler, 28 Blackburnian Warblers and 18 Canada Warblers. and a plethora of other warbler species. Nothing crazy rare, but the trees were dripping with birds!

- Yellow-billed Cuckoo

- Black-billed Cuckoo

- American Woodcock

- Blackburnian Warbler


On the 23rd I saw an American White Pelican flying up the shore at West Beach, a yearbird and only the 2nd time I have seen one in Ontario before. The sheer size of these birds is amazing and it could even get devote non birders to appreciate it.

- American White Pelican

That afternoon I drove over to Wheatley with AW for what had become the near daily norm for the Pelee trip... Lakewatching for an hour or two and catching up on a little sleep during the hottest part of the day. This was a way to avoid getting overtired and still have energy for birding in the evenings. There had been a number of Whimbrel reports around Ontario, and along with Red Knot it was one of the main things I was hoping to see at Wheatley. I had missed several already, but of course it is not a species I was worried about, as I figured if I spent enough time in the region I was sure I'd come across some. Anyways the "taking shifts" method of lakewatching kind of broke down that day and we both ended up nodding off... So when I snapped awake to the calls of Black-bellied Plovers I wondered what was missed during the half hour I was out. I asked Alessandra how many Whimbrel she thought we had missed and she said 30... so when I scoped the break wall of rocks out past the harbour and saw 32 Whimbrel sitting there it was pretty funny to say the least! 

- Whimbrel

The beach was quite productive and there was also a numbers of White-rumped Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones and Dunlin, as well as a nice 2nd cycle Iceland Gull.

- White-rumped Sandpiper

On May 24th I didn't see any new species, but it was a great day of late May birding at Pelee, In the morning I tallied 85 species in the park.. not to shabby for a few hours of fairly limited effort... Highlights included;

- 23 White-winged Scoters

- 90 Ruddy Turnstones 

- 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull

- 2 Trumpeter Swans

- 1 Willow Flycatcher

- 7 American White Pelicans

- 17 Warbler Species, including lots of Blackpolls, Canadas and Wilson's

- Ruddy Turnstone

- Ruddy Turnstone

- Common Tern

- Trumpeter Swans

- American White Pelican

- Black Tern

That afternoon the Wheatley watch was pretty fire! 2 Willets were foraging along the beach along with a Lesser Black-backed Gull. Flocks of Ruddy Turnstones and Black-bellied Plovers passed by in small numbers, then WHAMM the sky was filled with Black-bellied Plovers... Conservative estimate was 3000 but there could well have been more. This was the largest flock of shorebirds that I had ever seen at once in Ontario and was truly an an amazing spectacle. Makes me wonder what the massive flocks of ten of thousands of birds looked like centuries ago...

- Black-bellied Plovers

- Plover Maddness

- Ruddy Turnstones

- Sanderlings

- Willet

- Willet

That night was my last one at Pelee, and to celebrate an exhausting month I slept in until 9am! The insanity of it all!! Then after a fairly quiet morning around the point I packed up my things and headed out, with my sights set on Ottawa and Arctic Tern migration. It was strange in a way, leaving a spot that had been my home base for the past month... But such is a big year, constantly moving around. Before leaving the southwest though, I stopped by the Blenheim Lagoons and picked up a gorgeous female Red-necked Phalarope in alternate plumage, by far my best views of this species.

- Red-necked Phalarope

 Random Pelee area mammals...

 - Deer with Bambee

- Beaver

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