Canada 2023

Simon Papps
Long Point, Ontario, May 4-13

This part of Canada – renowned for its migration potential – delivered in terms of migrants galore, with 22 wood warbler species seen, including some potentially tricky scarcer birds such as Golden-winged, Blue-winged and Hooded Warblers and Northern Waterthrush. Migration was perhaps a little behind schedule, although this meant that some wintering species such as Evening Grosbeak were lingering longer than usual. Movement of birds picked up towards the end of the tour with some outstanding and spectacular ‘falls’ of migrants that also included many species of sparrows, thrushes and other birds.

Thursday 4th May 2023

Our various flights all arrived at Toronto airport by late afternoon and after collecting the vehicle we were soon on our way along the highway north to Huntsville. The first birds with a North American flavour, seen while travelling, included Mourning Dove, Ring-billed Gull, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle and American Robin. Following a stop for supper in Orillia we continued on to our hotel for a welcome rest after a long day.

Friday 5th May 2023

The morning began brilliantly at the West Gate of Algonquin Provincial Park with a flock of at least five Evening Grosbeaks showing well in the trees – a very good find as this can be a tricky species at this time of year. Also in the same area were Dark-eyed Junco, Common Redpoll, Northern Flicker, Eastern Bluebird, Blue Jay, Eastern Phoebe and Chipping Sparrow.

We drove on through the park to the Spruce Bog Trail, making stops for Broad-winged Hawks and Belted Kingfishers beside Highway 60. At Spruce Bog, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets and Yellow-rumped Warblers showed superbly well around the parking area. The woodlands yielded some extremely tame American Red Squirrels, Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches, while around the margins of the bog were Song and White-throated Sparrows. Overhead were Broad-winged Hawk, Common Raven and Turkey Vulture.

Exploration of the Opeongo Road area revealed little in the way of migrants but highlights included a superb pair of Common Loons, Merlin, Northern Flicker, American Herring Gull, Common Merganser and a Wild Turkey walking along the road in front of us. At the visitor-centre lookout we found ourselves eye-level with an extremely co-operative Eastern Phoebe, while not far down the road a fantastic surprise was an American Beaver out in broad daylight. It swam right up to us to examine its work on a dam, before retreating to its nearby lodge.

A wander around the Missy Lake Trail area produced more Common Loons, Common Mergansers, Golden-crowned Kinglets and Yellow-rumped Warblers and a vocal Brown creeper. A Winter Wren was loudly proclaiming its territory from near the top of a conifer and a Bald Eagle flew overhead. The day ended with four pairs of Ring-necked Ducks on a lake beside Highway 60.

Saturday 6th May 2023

The approach to Carden Alvar was slightly delayed due to having to stop for some fantastic roadside birds, with Wilson’s Snipe. Eastern Meadowlark and Hooded Merganser all showing well. At the south end of Wiley Road new trip birds came thick and fast, including Field Sparrow, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhee and Sandhill Crane. Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows were using the roadside nest boxes and showed extremely well, while overhead a constant stream of migrating Blue Jays was heading north. Keeping eyes to the skies also produced a small flock of Sandhill Cranes, at least two Bald Eagles and several Red-tailed Hawks.

Further along the road we added Savannah Sparrow and a brief and unexpected appearance by a Golden-winged Warbler. At the small marsh were at least four singing Swamp Sparrows, a couple of Yellow Warblers and a White-breasted Nuthatch. Retracing our steps we tracked down a Loggerhead Shrike that was actively hunting across one of the meadows. On on the way out of the site a Greater Yellowlegs standing next to a Lesser Yellowlegs made for an interesting comparison of sizes and structures. The journey south to Simcoe was enlivened by sightings of Northern Rough-winged and Barn Swallows and by a number of raptors including at least three Ospreys, several Red-tailed Hawks and a Sharp-shinned Hawk being mobbed by a flock of starlings.

Cape May Warbler

Sunday 7th May 2023

Early morning exploration around the hotel produced an impressive passage of Common Loons overhead with at least 30 heading north and a couple flying in the other direction. The common garden birds in the area included Northern Cardinal, House and Carolina Wrens and Grey Catbird. A Red-bellied Woodpecker perched in a tree and a Hairy Woodpecker was drumming in the nearby wood lot. A few migrants were apparent, including Yellow-rumped, Cape May and Chestnut-sided Warblers and Blue-headed Vireo. White-breasted Nuthatch and Pine Warbler were very vocal.

Following an impromptu stop for a roadside Northern Mockingbird, the first destination after breakfast was the Bird Studies Canada site, where migration was immediately in evidence with the likes of Wilson’s Warbler and Field Sparrow close to the centre. Two Ospreys circled overhead and there was a huge amount of hirundine activity, including superb views of Cliff Swallows at their nest sites and Northern Rough-winged Swallows hawking over the lake. The lookout over the lake produced Canvasback, Redhead and Lesser Scaup among a huge raft of Ruddy Ducks. A Bald Eagle put on quite a show carrying a large fish, while several Caspian Terns patrolled the bay.

Further along the trail we came across some interesting dabbling ducks, including seven Green-winged Teal, two Blue-winged Teal, two Northern Pintail and an American Black Duck. Wandering back through Port Rowan Cemetery produced White-crowned Sparrow, Baltimore Oriole, Swamp Sparrow and Common Yellowthroat. A lunch stop at Port Rowan wetland enabled us to watch four Buffleheads, Spotted Sandpiper and several Killdeers at close range.

In the afternoon the wood lot at Old Cut was absolutely heaving with what must have been hundreds of White-throated Sparrows. Several Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Baltimore Orioles gave excellent views on the feeders. Other birds in and around the woods included Black-and-white, Magnolia and Nashville Warblers, at least three Northern Parulas, Wood and Hermit Thrushes, two Brown Creepers, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets and several Grey Catbirds. The lookout over the marsh produced American Wigeon and three Wood Duck, while adjacent Lighthouse Crescent held Black-throated Blue and Cape May Warblers and Red-breasted Nuthatch.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at Big Creek, where interesting sightings included two Northern Harriers, two Belted Kingfishers, three Great Egrets, several Sandhill Cranes and three Red-breasted Mergansers passing overhead.

Monday 8th May 2023

The day began at Old Cut, where Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Least Flycatcher, Swamp Sparrow, Northern Cardinal and Blue Jay were among the birds we watched being banded. The area around the marsh produced several Green Herons, singing Carolina Wren, Brown Thrasher and Wood Duck. In the wood lot we came across Northern Parula and other warblers, including Nashville, Blackburnian, Yellow-rumped and Cape May. The feeders were once again busy with the likes of Baltimore Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and White-throated Sparrow.

Not far along the road, exploration of the dunes and woodland around Cottonwood Campground produced more of the same species, plus Palm Warbler, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, a perched Red-tailed Hawk giving close views, American Redstart and several Ruby-crowned Kinglets. A small group of Ruddy Ducks was on the lake.

At Big Creek, from the viewing platform we watched Northern Harrier, several pairs of Sandhill Cranes, Belted Kingfisher, three American Coots and a Pied-billed Grebe keeping very low in the water as it hunted for fish.

In the afternoon we called in at Townsend Lagoons, which were busy with wildfowl. A pair of Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, two Gadwall, several Northern Shoveler, two Northern Pintail and good numbers of Lesser Scaup and Ring-necked Duck were seen, together with Lesser Yellowlegs and Sharp-shinned Hawk. Later on, exploration of the shore of Lake Erie around Port Dover produced good numbers of Bonaparte’s Gulls, with perhaps 40 seen, including some really smart-looking adults. Other highlights included several Red-breasted Mergansers, a first-summer Little Gull, and several American Herring Gulls and Caspian Terns.

Scarlet Tanager

Tuesday 9th May 2023

Wild Turkey and American Kestrel were two excellent finds from the car during our journey to Backus Woods this morning. Once in the woods, several Ovenbirds were immediately apparent and singing well, while a pair of two of Pine Warblers also gave close views. Several each of Scarlet Tanager and Rose-breasted Grosbeak were singing, with both species seen high in the trees.

Woodpeckers were much in evidence at Backus, with Downy, Hairy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker all showing very well, while several Pileated Woodpeckers were heard but remained resolutely hidden from view. At least a couple of Wood Thrushes gave excellent views close to the swampy area, but the highlight of the visit was a exceptionally cooperative Northern Waterthrush which sang its heart out in the bare branches very close to where we were standing.
Other birds seen at Backus included Wood Duck, Red-tailed Hawk and White-breasted Nuthatch.

Following lunch beside the feeders at Old Cut, where are the likes of Baltimore Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and White-throated Sparrows were all showing well, we took a walk through the wood lot and into Long Point Provincial Park. Although rather quiet in terms of migrants, new birds added to the trip list included Great Crested Flycatcher and Forster’s Tern, while familiar faces included Cape May, Yellow-rumped and Yellow Warblers, Pied-billed Grebe, Sandhill Crane, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Red-breasted Nuthatch. Raptors were clearly on the move, with a Red-tailed Hawk passing through with a Sharp-shinned Hawk in hot pursuit, while a dashing fly-past by a Merlin scattered Tree Swallows and Red-winged Blackbirds in all directions. A Camberwell Beauty butterfly – known locally as ‘Mourning Cloak’ – showed very well close to the park entrance.

At dusk we positioned ourselves at a viewpoint looking into the back of the Wilson Tract area of forest. As the sun set, three Chimney Swifts passed over and a Field Sparrow sang close by. Several American Woodcock were displaying and an Eastern Whip-poor-will gave a distant rendition of its onomatopoeic song and the croaking calls of Black-crowned Night Herons could be heard as they set out on a nocturnal hunting trip. Two Eastern Screech Owls were in good voice at Backus Woods not long after dark.

Wednesday 10th May 2023

There was some evidence that migration was starting to pick up at Old Cut during our pre-breakfast visit. Wood warblers included Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Black-and-white, Magnolia, Nashville, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Cape May, Blackburnian, Common Yellowthroat and American Redstart. Other highlights were Swamp, White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, Great Crested and Least Flycatchers and two beautiful male Indigo Buntings.

Later in the morning we headed to the forest at Wilson Tract. The nearby ‘sparrow fields’ were extremely productive with fantastic views of Grasshopper, Field and Vesper Sparrows, with perhaps eight or ten of the last species seen. Also present were Song and Chipping Sparrows, several Eastern Bluebirds and Chimney Swifts, and a female American Kestrel. In the woodland were several each of Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Ovenbird, while Brown Creeper, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Common Garter Snake were also seen. On the way out of the site a Pileated Woodpecker performed a fly-past, a pair of displaying Eastern Kingbirds put on a quite remarkable show, and a couple more Vesper Sparrows gave close views, while two species of swallowtail butterfly were noted.

In the afternoon we took a look along Front Road, stopping in the woodland and at the Turkey Point lookout and the surrounding area. Birds seen included Northern Harrier, Grey Catbird, Bald Eagle, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler and Wild Turkey.

An after-dinner excursion to Big Creek resulted in views of a booming American Bittern and a very close Solitary Sandpiper. There was much bird activity, with hundreds of Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles going to roost, while the sight of Sandhill Cranes in front of the setting sun was particularly memorable. As night set in we visited a small wood where we had glimpses of American Woodcock and heard a very persistent Eastern Whip-poor-will.

Golden-winged Warbler

Thursday 11th May 2023

Migration had been a little bit quiet for a couple of days and it turned out that everything had been waiting to appear today, with a big fall of migrants at Old Cut. Stars of the show were Golden-winged and Hooded Warblers. It was a good sign when it took us 15 minutes to leave the car park because there were so many birds to see around the trees there, including various warblers and a stunning male Scarlet Tanager.

Warbler totals included perhaps four Black- throated Green, six Black-throated Blue, seven Chestnut-sided, four Nashville, five Magnolia, three Northern Parula, eight Cape May, several Common Yellowthroat, 10 each of Yellow-rumped, Black-and-white and American Redstart, and many Yellow Warblers.

As if by magic thrushes appeared too, with four Swainson’s, a Hermit and a couple of Veery. There was several Lincoln Sparrows in and around Lighthouse Crescent, while other birds seen included at least a couple of Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, two Great Crested and several Least Flycatchers, Indigo Bunting, three Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, five or six Warbling Vireos and maybe 10 Blue-headed Vireos.

Migration was also in evidence along Hastings Drive, where a flock of eight White-crowned Sparrows was with a single Savannah Sparrow and other obvious ‘fallout’ birds were Chestnut-sided Warbler and Least Flycatcher, alongside the more expected Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier and Sandhill Crane.

After lunch we took a walk around the Bird Studies Canada site at Port Rowan, and while things had quietened down a bit we still found pair of Wood Duck, a couple of hundred Ruddy Duck, a few dozen Lesser Scaup and several Redheads.
Interesting passerines included Cliff Swallow, Chestnut-sided and Nashville Warblers, Common Yellowthroat and Least Flycatcher.

In the evening we investigated the area around Turkey Point, where two Caspian Terns, a Belted Kingfisher and a female Hooded Merganser were on the lake, while the shore pools produced a pair of Wood Duck, one Least and two Spotted Sandpipers, five Dunlin and two Long-billed Dowitchers, while distant Sandhill Cranes serenaded us at sunset.

Green Heron

Friday 12th May 2023

It was looking like another ‘big fall’ day so we headed straight down to Old Cut to take in the action. There were migrants everywhere – particularly warblers – with numbers much increased since yesterday. New species included two Bay-breasted Warblers and a Blue-winged Warbler. Numbers of birds, probably gross underestimates, included perhaps 40 Yellow, 15 Chestnut-sided, 20 Black-and-white, 15 Magnolia, 20 Cape May, eight Blackburnian, 15 Black-throated Blue, one Black-throated Green, four Palm, one Wilson’s and three Nashville Warblers, eight Northern Parula, 15 American Redstart, 15 Common Yellowthroat, one Wilson’s and an Ovenbird.

Other new species were two each of Red-eyed and Philadelphia Vireos, and perhaps three Eastern Wood-peewee. Among the other species seen were Northern Flicker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Indigo Bunting, 30 Rose-breasted Grosbeak and 20 Baltimore Oriole and several Green Herons, including one eating a large frog. Sparrows were well represented, with singles of Swamp and White-crowned, two Lincoln’s, several each of Chipping and Song, and perhaps 50 White-throated Sparrows.

A Ruby-throated Hummingbird gave excellent views on a feeder along Lighthouse Crescent, while thrushes were again much in evidence, with maybe three Swainson’s and five Veery, while Grey Catbirds were everywhere with dozens seen. There were about five Least Flycatchers, a Great Crested Flycatcher, Belted Kingfisher, Brown Thrasher, hundreds of hirundines and about 20 Ruby-crowned Kinglets and 15 Blue-headed Vireos. A walk up to the Long Point Provincial Park produced Pied-billed Grebe, Cooper’s Hawk, Golden-crowned Kinglet and a scattering of additional warblers and other migrants. We spent nearly four hours in that small area and there was so much to see that the time just flew by – it felt like we had only been there for minutes!

Eventually we dragged ourselves away to find some lunch, checking the Big Creek area on the way past and finding several Sandhill Cranes, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets and Caspian Terns, plus Bald Eagle, American Coot, Spotted Sandpiper and a very close Muskrat.

In the afternoon a visit to St Williams Forest produced a singing male Blue-winged Warbler, while in the same area were singing Eastern Towhee, White-breasted Nuthatch and Chestnut-sided Warbler. A nearby woodland area produced a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers, while in the adjacent fields were a pair of Eastern Bluebirds and a singing Savannah Sparrow.

We couldn’t think of a better way to round off the last full day of the trip than paying another evening visit to Big Creek. American Bittern obliged with one seen and two more heard, while vocalising Least Bittern and Virginia Rail were added to the trip list. Other sightings included Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier and the bizarre sight of an adult Canada Goose walking along with a gosling tucked under its wing, with the young bird’s little legs kicking the air as it went. A stream of Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles passed overhead as the sun set, and the evocative calls of several Sandhill Cranes added to the magical experience.

Song Sparrow

Saturday 13th May 2023

An early start at Backus Woods resulted in a dawn chorus that included Wood Thrush, Veery and Ovenbird. Scarlet Tanager and Rose-breasted Grosbeak added their voices shortly afterwards, while Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker were all heard too. A Bay-breasted Warbler showed well but star billing went to two singing Hooded Warblers that were glimpsed but not so obliging.

A stroll from the Bird Studies Canada site to Port Rowan Cemetery and back produced a real purple patch, with first a singing male Orchard Oriole showing well in the treetops and then a stunning Red-headed Woodpecker that appeared to be excavating a nest hole. Other birds seen included two Green Herons, eight or nine Wood Ducks, Yellow-rumped and Cape May Warblers, several Common Yellowthroats and four Warbling Vireos, while overhead there was a small passage of about 12 Common Loons and 10 Great Blue Herons. Scanning out into the marsh added Marsh Wren, Semipalmated Plover and Swamp Sparrow, while on the lake a distant flock of ducks contained Redhead, Lesser Scaup and Ruddy Duck. A Common Raven on the outskirts of Port Rowan was a good find as this can be a scarce bird in this area.

After breakfast we headed to Niagara Falls for a spot of sightseeing, and of course we enjoyed Niagara’s birds too, with thousands of Ring-billed Gulls settling down to nest, smaller numbers of American Herring Gulls and Common Terns seen, and breeding colonies containing Double-crested Cormorant, Great Egret and Black-crowned Night Heron. Chimney Swifts passed overhead and passerine highlights included some final encounters with Cliff Swallow, Yellow Warbler and Chipping and Song Sparrows.

All too soon it was time to head back to Toronto airport to conclude an excellent tour where we had been lucky to experience some superb migration action and many fantastic species.

The final tour list was a respectable 165 species, which included a few scarcities such as Loggerhead Shrike and Golden-winged Warbler, but the abiding memories will be of warm, sunny days spent watching spectacular spring migration in this fantastic part of the world.

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