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17 May 2010 @ 09:59 pm
A Birding Vacation Part III: The rest of Point Pelee  

The cemetery was sheltered by trees and completely unlike anything I had imagined. I had pictured a sunny, open lawn with neat rows of gravestones, perhaps surrounded by a picket fence, and certainly bordered by the thickets that were supposed to harbour breeding Yellow-breasted Chats and White-eyed Vireos. Instead, the tiny graveyard was located in a clearing in the woods, with trees and headstones both sprouting randomly from the lawn. Sunlight filtered through the leaves, filling the clearing with soft green shadows and light. There were a few prominent headstones, along with several unmarked white crosses lined up in a row. I counted about twenty graves in the clearing altogether.

Summer Tanager

One of the graves was chained off from the rest of the cemetery, while the most intriguing grave was enclosed in a high white picket fence.

A view of the cemetery

The chained-off grave belonged to the DeLauriers, the family that built the homestead near the parking lot. The house is now a museum, although it is not open to the public.

The DeLaurier Grave

The grave enclosed by the picket fence intrigued me most. There is no indication as to who is buried here; there is no headstone, just a simple white wooden cross which almost disappears against the white fence. This grave, unlike the others, was untended and overgrown with vegetation.

A Hidden Grave

There were two other prominent headstones, and, like the other graves, both faced random directions.

We did see a few birds in the area, mostly White-crowned Sparrows. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet was also a pleasant surprise; both species were new for our trip list. We left shortly after that, and walked back the way we came. There was a gate where the wide, grassy lane ended and rejoined the Chinquapin Oak Trail, and I stopped to take a picture. Behind the gate we could see what used to be a trail long ago but has since been reclaimed by nature; this was probably the main road into the cemetery back when it was still in use. Although not visible in the photo, the trail makes a sharp left-hand turn where it re-joins the gravel path of Chinquapin Oak Trail.

The Gate in the Woods

On the way back we found a small group of warblers and kinglets, including Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler and an unusually cooperative Ruby-crowned Kinglet. We also ran into not one, but three Ottawa birders: fellow OFNC members Jeff Skevington, Bob Cermak and Mike Tate! Mike pointed out a Wild Turkey sitting on a nest right beside the path beneath some lush vegetation. When I asked how he had ever found her, he said he had been there for a few weeks and discovered the nest before all the vegetation had grown up around her. While we were talking, he got a call on his radio from another member of his birding group: a Summer Tanager had been found on the Tilden Woods Trail! He took us to the spot, where we found a group of birders and photographers already there. The tanager was foraging high up in a tree, but his bright red plumage was quite visible.

Summer Tanager

This bird is the only bird in North America which is entirely red. Primarily a resident of southern forests, its range extends from southern California to the southeast coast. Although it does not breed north of New Jersey, it is one of the most common species to overshoot its breeding territory each spring, with a handful of individuals showing up in southern Canada each year.

The Summer Tanager specializes in eating bees and wasps, both in the summer and on its wintering grounds in Central and South America. It catches its prey in flight and then kills it by beating it against a branch. The tanager will also remove the stinger by rubbing it on a branch before eating it.

This bird was a lifer for both my mother and me, and my second one of the trip. I watched it for a while, taking as many pictures as I could before we left to get something to eat. After finishing our lunch in the parking lot, we drove to our next destination: the DeLaurier Trail. We had our best bird on the trail just past the parking lot: a beautiful breeding-plumaged Cape May Warbler. This is only the third one I've seen, and first in spring plumage!

Cape May Warbler

This striking warbler breeds in the coniferous forests across Canada where its primary diet consists of spruce budworms, the larval form of the spruce budworm moth and one of the most destructive insects of softwood trees. It is unique among warblers in that it feeds on nectar in the winter, and has a curled, semitubular tongue designed to collect the sweet subtance from flowers.

Unlike last year, we didn't see much on the DeLaurier Trail itself. We added only Black-and-white Warbler to our list and didn't see anything so interesting as the Sandhill Crane which landed in the marsh right in front of us last year. There were lots of Red Admirals, however, and a few more American Ladies.

American Lady

We had better luck in the wildlife department when we saw a couple of Painted Turtles basking on logs in the canal. I watched them from an octagonal viewing area for a bit, then, deciding they weren't close enough to photograph, turned around to go back to the trail. To my surprise, a small raccoon was ambling down the path straight toward me! Before I could raise my camera he saw me, turned around, and started climbing the nearest tree.


The poor thing clung to the tree trunk for several minutes, and then, while my mom and I were still watching, a couple of grackles started to dive-bomb him! We let the raccoon alone after that, hoping he'd climb down and find a better place to spend the afternoon.

It was getting late in the afternoon, so we stopped at a couple of picnic areas to check out the lake. We didn't see any waterfowl on Lake Erie at all - no loons, mergansers, cormorants or ducks whatsoever. There were lots of swallows flying over the beach, however, including our first Purple Martins of the trip, and we saw a single Spotted Sandpiper making his way down the shore. The best bird was an Eastern Towhee at one of the picnic areas. We heard him singing, tried to track him down, failed, then saw two of them just off the path to the beach! That was a life bird for my mother.

Our last stop of the day was the Marsh Boardwalk. We saw the usual Barn Swallows nesting in the observation tower, and once again the Canada Geese had taken over the lawn next to the parking lot with their young.

Canada Goose with goslings

Canada Goose goslings

There wasn't much to be seen in the marsh itself, and the wind was quite strong out in the open and quite cold. We saw a male Common Yellowthroat, and then we heard a couple of terns calling overhead. When I looked up I saw four Black Terns flapping over the marsh....my second lifer of the day! Mom pointed out one which had landed in the marsh, and I got this photo before he took to the air again. I hoped one of them would land in the marsh again, but instead they flew further and further away until they all disappeared from sight.

Black Tern

We also saw this medium-sized Snapping Turtle basking in the sun.

Snapping Turtle

As usual, we left Point Pelee National Park after finishing the boardwalk loop. I was very happy to see two new life birds on the trip, but was disappointed that the park didn't seem very "birdy" overall that day. Every species that we added to our trip list was hard-won, and we worked hard for every warbler that we saw. I couldn't believe that we were still missing several common warblers, including Nashville, Chestnut-sided, Northern Waterthrush, and Northern Parula; however, these misses were offset by the wonderful birds we did see, such as Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Towhee, Carolina Wren, Black Tern, Cape May Warbler, and the Summer Tanager.

Timing is everything, as they say, and it looks like our timing was bad this year; only a few days later the OFNC visited Point Pelee and reported near-fallout conditions! One day I'd like to spend three or four days at Point Pelee alone just to get a better sense of what migration here is truly like.

  • Lifer #260 Summer Tanager
  • Lifer #261 Black Tern