2023-05-09 Point Pelee Canada

Downy Woodpecker - Dryobates pubescens
I was surprised and delighted to find this Downy Woodpecker deep in the marsh foraging in the hollow dried reeds for insect larva and other morsels.

2023-05-10 Wednesday

This morning I said goodbye to Point Pelee. The local folks I met during my visit said I was a week early for the warbler migration. Nearly everyone attending the point was excited about the first ever Willow Ptarmigan that showed up at Point Pelee. Clearly a ‘lost bird’, ptarmigan are thought to be pretty much a non-migratory species. I found the bush the bird was hiding in, but the twenty-or-so birders standing vigil did not get eyes on the bird while I was there. Knowing Willow Ptarmigans from the time I spent in the Yukon and Alaska, I expected the bird would stay hidden for a long time, and I moved on.

I arrived late in the afternoon on Monday and bought a three-day pass. I drove to the visitor center and walked some of the nearby trails, but I didn’t see much warbler activity, so I didn’t drag out my camera gear. My plan was to return on Tuesday after booking a short stay at Wheatley Provincial Park, 22 minutes to the north. My camp at Wheatly provided a nice gift. I found a not-so-well hidden American Robin nest with fuzzy nestlings only a few feet from my parking spot. I captured two feeding episodes, one by each parent, and then left them unhindered to do their work.

Tuesday, I got a late start on my trip to Point Pelee. Had I known how popular this place was, and the limited parking available at the Visitor Center, I’d have set my alarm for an oh-dark-thirty launch. Barely halfway into the park, at a location called Delaurier Homestead, park staff diverted all traffic because all parking beyond was already occupied. After securing my parking place, I unloaded my bike and rode two miles to the tip of Point Pelee, where the ptarmigan was reported. Bird-wise, there wasn’t much to capture my interest, so I back-tracked to the Visitor Center, where I found a wealth of birders, and a dearth of birds, so I rode back to my parking spot at Delaurier Homestead. After securing my bike on the back of the RV, I took a mid-day break and caught up with some “Z’s”, before a late afternoon tour of the nearby trails.

I love the trail systems at Pelee. They are well-groomed and where they cross bogs, they provide board walks to navigate seamlessly to the next section of hard-packed trails. Though the warblers were scarce, I enjoyed meeting a Black-and-White, a Cape May Warbler. Yellow Warblers were abundant, and the occasional Veery crept out from the dense understory. 

I made one last stop at the Marsh Boardwalk as I drove north out of the park. As soon as I left the RV, I found a pair of Mute Swans with their clutch of cygnets in attendance. The family showed no fear of us two-legged varmints, and I struggled to get enough distance between me and my subjects to get anything but head-shots. 

The most interesting aspect of the meeting was observing the parents reaching deep to pull clumps of grassy plants from the bottom of the pond, then bringing them to the surface. Shallow, though it was, these signets were too small to reach the bottom where the plants grew. So when the parents brought the clumps of plants to the surface, they would shake them so smaller bits were shed onto the surface, and the cygnets could gather their own morsels. I’ve never seen ducks, geese, or swans directly feed their offspring. Rather, the young birds learn by watching their parents forage. 

Mute Swans are not native to North America, but I saw another pair setting up a nest when I drove away from the marsh. So these descendants of released or escaped pets seem to be making a modest living on the margins of the Great Lakes.

I spent several hours at the marsh, which included a complete amble over the boardwalk. The most unusual sighting for me was finding a Downy Woodpecker well out in the marsh foraging in the reeds. The bird seemed to be finding prey in the hollows of the reeds, and hammered away to open the shafts to get its meal.

More typical of this kind of habitat were Common Yellow-Throats, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, and airborne Barn Swallows. My friends here in Ontario suggest I should back-track the three-hour drive and pay another visit when the warblers are more plentiful. I am considering the option.

Click map markers to reveal further information