Saturday, May 25, 2013

Bird watching in Point Pelee

Well, spring was here, at least for a little bit.  Luckily for us the Victoria Day weekend was beautiful and sunny since I suspect bird watching would not be a lot of fun in the rain and cold.

Yup, me and the kids (and my husband and parents) decided to try out bird watching and what better place to do it than Point Pelee National Park during their annual festival of birds?

Point Pelee is the southern most point in mainland Canada and an important stop along the way for migrating birds returning to Canada after a winter away in warmer climes which makes it the perfect spot for amateur bird watchers to give it a go since even inexperienced and easily distracted birdwatchers (ahem, us) can see hundreds of birds in the course of a leisurely afternoon.

A sign marking the 42nd parallel which places Point Pelee on the same latitude as Rome, Barcelona and Northern California

Birds we saw (listed in order of excitement generated among our bird watching party)

red winged black birds
red winged black bird
A red winged black bird in the marsh area.

A swallow in a nest
One of many swallow's nests we say near the Point.

wild turkeys
a pelican
an eagle - even more exciting because he was attacking a coyote.

We also saw the above mentioned coyote, turtles, fish, muskrats, dragonflies and the usual assortment of chipmunks and squirrels.  Apparently there are also flying squirrels in the park but we didn't manage to find one.

Along with bird watching there is also a small but great visitors centre,
checking out the puppets at the visitor's centre
Checking out the animal puppets in the visitor's centre.

hiking and biking trails, canoe rentals, a lookout tower,

Checking out the view from the lookout tower
The view from the lookout tower in the marsh area.

a board walk over a marsh (where we saw the muskrats), beaches, and old-timey homestead, and a shuttle that takes you to the southern tip where you can look back and see all of Canada stretching out before you to the north.
View from the southern most point in Canada
Heading back from the very tip of Canada.

Bird watching was a lot of fun for the whole family.  The kids enjoyed the thrill of the hunt and adding to their list of spotted wildlife and the adults enjoyed the beauty of the natural surroundings at Point Pelee.

I highly recommend Point Pelee, it is beautiful, surrounded on all sides by Lake Erie with a host of wildlife and a rich Carolinian forest.  It also and has a wealth of things to do and see, including several guided hikes and talks each day.  There are a few drawbacks to the park that you need to keep in mind though.

1.  You can't actually camp in the park (unless you are part of an organized youth group like the scouts).  The nearest campgrounds are about a 15 minute drive from the park.  We stayed at Holiday Harbour campground which is mainly a RV park but they do have a few tent campsites as well.  It doesn't have the natural splendour of a national park but it is right on the beach and has a great playground (also right on the beach).  There are also lots of B&Bs around the park and a couple of hotels.

checking out the beach at the campsite
Checking out the beach at the campsite.

2.  There is nowhere to get anything to eat in the park, at least not in May, so bring your own food or be prepared to drive out of the park to get something to eat. Be warned the service at the restaurants just outside of the park is slow, to put it mildly.  You can get coffee in the gift shop at the visitor's centre.

3.  The gift shop does not have a book that has pictures of the birds you are likely to see in the park.  There are lots of bird guide books but they are not specific to the park.  There is a book called something like "Birds of Point Pelee" but there are no pictures, at least not of birds!  Amazon has a couple of books listed but I can't tell from the descriptions whether or not they are any better.  So, maybe invest in or borrow a book like this one.

You don't have to go all the way to Point Pelee to see birds.  Most city parks will offer occasional guided birdwatching hikes.  Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton and The Arboretum in Guelph among many other places also have birdwatching sessions.

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