I love doing birding marathons! The entire day is blocked off on the calendar, set aside for full-on birding. I challenge my eyes and ears to try to find as many species of birds as possible.
Saturday, May 13 was Global Big Day, and the day of my third annual birding marathon. The species of birds I find are added to totals from all over the world, with an effort to locate and record a bigger number of species each year.
As usual I started my day around home at about 4:30 AM, with an early morning walk down my road before and during the dawn chorus. This allowed me to hear many night birds such as American Woodcocks, who I would not find otherwise because they are quiet in the day. It also let me hear many of my neighbourhood birds as they were just waking up and singing. I left home at 6:00 am with 35 species already just from my neighbourhood and backyard birds who started coming to the feeder as I ate my breakfast.
Next I drove down to Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory, which is about half an hour southeast of Picton. From our house it is around an hour and a half drive each way. This was the only part of my plan that I was not sure about, since although some birding can be done from the car, there is nothing like being outside to be able to look and listen for birds. However, PE Point is an internationally recognized Important Birding Area, and the volume and variety of its spring bird migration did not disappoint. I was also able to go on two guided tours there, the first from Terry Sprague who is a long time local expert.
It was supposed to pour rain all day but luckily there were just light showers for most of the morning. It was quite grey and damp and my camera stayed in my bag for a lot of the time while I looked for birds with binoculars. I did manage a few shots of yellow rumped warblers, who were the most abundant species of warbler there.
Prince Edward Point sticks way out into Lake Ontario, and is next to a chain of small islands. Migratory birds do not like to cross over wide open bodies of water, so stick to the islands and the points of land as much as they can. Often, PEPT is their first stop on the mainland. The woods around there are just full of little birds who are too busy calling and eating to mind a bunch of humans walking by.
Happy to say no ticks were brought home.
The woods are also home to a carpet of tiny wildflowers that add to a fairytale like atmosphere under the budding trees. Add to that hundreds of little birds of all colours, singing away and you get birdy paradise !
Getting a clear view of this little ovenbird was one of the highlights of my day. Ovenbirds are part of the warbler family, and make a huge noise for a such tiny birds. They call out “teacher-teacher-teacher” in a rollicking crescendo from hidden spots near the forest floor. Because their call is so high pitched, it is really hard to pinpoint their location- little ventriloquists.
The Veery is another secretive bird that I often hear but rarely see. They are in the thrush family- therefore related to another wonderful singer, the American Robin. Their flute like descending harmonic call is fascinating, and one of the highlights of summer birdsong for me. Veery have two sets of vocal chords, so they can sing in harmony with themselves. I have put links to hear the songs of both the Ovenbird and the Veery at the end of this post.
Overall, warblers are the highlight of a visit to Prince Edward Point, as they come in so many bright colours and sing so enthusiastically.
Despite the grey day, the woods were full of colour. I was so in love with it there I probably stayed 2 hours extra that I hadn’t planned.
Every bird counts, and it was time to move on to Brighton to find some shore birds and waterfowl.
When I got to Brighton Constructed wetland, which is like a waterfowl nursery, I was pleased to see a number of Canada Geese with their families of tiny goslings. But other than a random Long Tailed Duck and a couple of Mallards, I did not see the plethora of waterfowl that usually nest there. Maybe it’s too early this year- our weather has been decidedly cold and wet and perhaps the Black Ducks, Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, and Northern Shovelers that I usually see there will be along soon.
My last stop of the day was Presqu’ile Provincial Park, which is where I usually spend most of my time in birding marathons. I did not get there until 6:45 and stayed right until dark at 8:45. I was enjoying the bird life in the forests and fields so much I never did get to the beach, so missed out on potential numbers in gulls, terns, shorebirds, and waterfowl. Just as the sun was setting I heard two of the park’s Barred Owls calling to each other. On the way out of the park I heard the “peent” of American Woodcocks in the wet areas. Gorgeous day.
Last year I set myself a goal of how many birds I wanted to find, and raced around. This year I decided to just go where I felt like and see what happened. The difference was 8 species of birds. My total this year was 93! And on top of all that I was reminded of how much I like birding, a pastime which has gotten gobbled up by other pursuits lately.
So, another fun birding marathon! I feel like this Turkey Vulture today, the morning after. But I already have plans to head out early tomorrow morning and see who is migrating through the area.