Photo Essay and Trip Report by Steve Arlow. Photographs by Steve Arlow.
Dufferin's Island Nature Reserve & Niagara Falls We stayed at the Days Inn motel located midway along Victoria Avenue. The rates were reasonable with a fine restaurant just across the road. To reach the Falls and Dufferin's Island NR turn left out of the motel car park and drive along Victoria Avenue until you reach the traffic lights at Clifton Hill. Make sure you are in the right hand lane to turn right here. Follow this road down the hill to the next set of lights. Turn right here and drive through the park to connect with the Niagara Parkway. This main road passes the falls and there is a large, though expensive, car park on the right. We arrived late on the first day and there was no one manning the booths and the barriers were up so freebee. The Horseshoe Falls are just opposite. We encountered many Ring-billed Gulls wandering the picnic area and many were seen by the falls themselves. The area at the back of the car park gave us Grey Catbirds. At the falls themselves there is a small island at the top that had many Ring-billed Gulls plus a few American Herring Gulls.
When visiting the falls waterproofs are advisable as the mist that rise's can drench you. Further along the walkway past the visitor centre and gift shops is a flat roofed building that you can look down onto and this was good for studying American Herring Gulls. Various birds of different ages were seen here. On the far side of the river by the American Falls is a huge colony of Ring-billed Gulls, many thousand strong.
Further along the parkway you will pass a large building on your left and shortly afterwards a small lake on your right. After passing the lake continue to a sharp right turn, take this and park on the left. There are several trails that lead around the small damp wooded area here and is a good introduction to American birds. Around the trails we encountered singing Carolina Wrens, Baltimore Orioles, Tree Swallows, Northern Cardinal, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, singing Song Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Grey Catbirds, Blue Jays, Night Herons and Belted Kingfisher to name a few. From the car park continue along the same small road until it splits and take the right fork. This will take you to the lake you passed earlier, note this is a one way road. At the lake we found American Wigeon, Mallards, Gadwall, many Canada Geese, Ring-billed Gulls, Black-capped Chickadees and female Hooded Merganser. The wildfowl here had a touch of being just a little plastic.
Kopergaren Woods We had a short visit to the woods as I had heard good things about it. A loop boardwalk trail leads through a few acres of open woods though we encountered little here on our visit. The best birds were in fact back at the car park which included Grey Catbirds, Northern Waterthrush, Black-and-white Warbler, 150+ fly over Bonaparte's Gulls and 5 Cedar Waxwings. The woods would probably be better on fall day though you'd want to be at Pelee on that day.
Wheatley Harbour We found this place by accident shortly after leaving Kopergaren whilst trying to find Hillmans Marsh. From Kopergaren head back along the road towards Leamington and take a left where you see the sign for Hillmans Marsh. At the end of this road turn left (the signs are now gone) and follow this until you see a river on your left. On the river here we had Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons. You will soon come to a small bridge that crosses the river. Before the bridge is a road on the right called Milo Road I believe. Follow this and turn left to the marina. Excellent views of hundreds of Bonaparte's Gulls were had here. Also seen well here were American Robins, Double-crested Cormorants, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Northern Rough Winged Swallows and various plumage's of American Herring Gulls.
The other side of the bridge turn right at the junction and follow to the end. Here you can get more American Herring Gulls on the rocks out in Lake Erie along with other gulls such as Great Black-backed. Also seen here was Lincoln's Sparrow, Black Tern and Lesser Scaup.
Pelee is famous for its annual spring migration of wood warblers but it has just as much to offer in the autumn though without the large numbers of visitors. Spring is obviously the time that most people visit and it can get crowded at times. It can seem like a bank holiday Monday at Minsmere with all the dudes walking about, though to be fair the dudes at Minsmere don't wear luminous yellow water proofs or pink poncho's when it rains.
For our base we stayed at the Sun Parlour motel situated 1km from the Talbot Street / Erie Street traffic lights. When entering Leamington turn right at the lights where the Pizza Pizza is and the Sun Parlour is by the 'Subway' sandwich bar. Facilities nearby include a Minimart just along the road, a Kentucky Fried Chicken just across the road, a Chinese restaurant next door and McDonalds and more restaurants further along the road. There are several petrol stations along this road. The motel was rather expensive for what you get compared with the luxury of the Days Inn at Niagara (one of which is situated near the park entrance) though it was adequate. To get to Pelee: drive along Talbot Street back towards Leamington turning right onto Erie Street at the Pizza Pizza traffic lights. Stay on this road until you reach Seacliff Drive just past Burger King. Turn left here and continue for less than a kilometre to the Bevel Line Road on the right. Turn right here and continue all the way to the park entrance and the visitor centre beyond. At the entrance booth we bought a season ticket that would allow easier access for each visit rather than having to keep purchasing separate tickets each time. The road continues a further 5 or so kilometres to the visitor centre car park. Here you can get the free tram that takes you to the tip and the most southerly point in Canada. The first tram departs at 6am and runs every 20minutes.
The ride only takes about 10 minutes to the end with a further 10 minutes walk to the tip using several well-laid out tracks. Point Pelee is wooded virtually to the very tip which is itself a sandbar. There are many seasonal trails around Pelee that are marked by orange ribbons or tags and these get you off of the main paths. It is possible to walk back to the visitor centre by several routes depending on how you feel or on what the weathers like and if there are many birds about. We experienced a reverse migration day where many birds were flying the wrong way over the tip heading south. These included Baltimore Orioles, Bobolinks, Great Crested Flycatchers, Eastern Kingbirds, hirundines, Indigo Buntings, warblers and so on. The visitor centre can be of useful for finding out what's about. It is best to ask the centre staff rather than relying on the sightings books as many of the birders encountered couldn't tell a Red-eyed Vireo from a Tennessee Warbler.
The trails: There are many trails dotted about the park though we only walked a few of them, an account of these follows.
* Tildens Wood Trail > In the far corner of the main car park you will find the Shuster trail. Follow this and on the left hand side is a small wooded pool that had several good birds present that included a long staying Northern Waterthrush. Also here were Swamp Sparrows, Blackburnian Warbler, Common Yellowthroat and others. Shortly after passing this pool there is a track off to the left. This is the beginning of the Tildens Tail. The woods begin to open out and good views can be had of many of the birds. Midway along the trail a path branches off to the right called the Chinquapin Oak Trail. Some good birds were seen along this trail one morning including Grey-checked and Wood Thrushes, Eastern Bluebird, Blue-headed Vireo and others. Back along the Tildens Wood Trail 100yards past this junction is the boardwalk and this was a hive of birdlife with a small trail off to the right just past the boardwalk. This small trail produced our first Canada Warbler and a fine Golden-winged Warbler. Highlights of Tildens include a cracking male Kentucky Warbler, a Whip-poor-will out in the open, numerous warblers include the bird of the trip a stunning Black-throated Blue Warbler (of which many were seen), Scarlet Tanagers, Ovenbirds, Northern Waterthrush, the list goes on.
* Shuster trail and East Beach > If you continue along the Shuster trail you will pass through a swampy area which had Yellowthroats in residence and will eventually come out on to the upper East Beach. If strong a westerly persists then walking the east beach could produce some good birds in the sheltered areas. We walked from here to the tip, a good few miles but in doing so we saw some good birds, albeit most were near the tip. Several Swainson's Thrushes out in the open, an Eastern Wood-pewee that was so knackered it wanted to sit on my hat, cracking male Hooded, Wilsons, Blackburnian, Palm, Black-throated Blue and Black-throated Green Warblers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo out in the open, Scarlet Tanagers, flycatchers and thousands of hirundines that were exhausted after an obviously tough lake crossing.
Of these there were thousands of Barn Swallows and Sand Martins with hundreds of Tree and Cliff Swallows all just sitting on the sand. On the lake were hundreds of Cormorants and terns, including Caspian, and many Red-breasted Mergansers.
* The Woodland Trail > The entrance to this long loop trail is just behind the visitor centre and many good birds were seen here, these include the Blue-winged Warbler that shone brightly right next to the path. In fact many of the birds here were right next to the path. At the 'bridge', a boardwalk through some wooded pools, many good birds were found and we lingered here as birds were constantly changing. On the southern edge of the trail is a 'seasonal' trail that leads you through the Post Woods and Sparrow field to the tip so it is possible to walk to and from the tip but allow a few hours to do this in.
* DeLaurier Trail > Midway back along the park road the trail cuts through more open habitat and can be the place to get American Woodcock and Nighthawks though the latter was not in when we arrived in the park. I only walked a portion of the trail though this produced great views of some of the commoner birds.
* The Blue Heron Picnic Ground and Marsh Boardwalk > One evening we saw a group of birders gathered by some trees by the Blue Heron Picnic ground as we drove past so I decided to stop and see what was going on. Many warblers of numerous species were flicking about the trees and bushes and this was to be the best spell of warbler watching yet. Here we had Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Black-and-white, Blackburnian, Yellow and Nashville Warblers along with American Redstart, Scarlet Tanager and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Great hours birding. Nearby is the Marsh Boardwalk. A looped platform through a huge marsh. By the car park is a small café where you can buy burgers, hotdogs and coffee. The best place is to take the left side and just before the raised bridge is a couple of small open pools. Here we had Sora Rail at dusk. Around the boardwalk Yellowthroats are common and Swamp Sparrows can be found. An American Bittern and Green Heron put in brief appearances and a Sandhill Crane done a flyby.
Just outside the park is the Pelee Wings store, a place to get books and optics if required and is well stocked. There is also a fish restaurant that we visited a couple of times and is recommended, good food. It was popular with birders leaving the park in the evening and we ended up queuing on the first visit.
This was a real disappointment and a wasted visit. The best bird was seen near the car park with a fly over Greater Yellowlegs. From the main car park right round to the new flooded fields we saw little with a few Great Blue Herons and Tree Swallows. The newly flooded fields were covered with gulls with 200+ Ring-billed Gulls and in the region of 700+ Bonaparte's Gulls. Waders were familiar fair with Dunlin being common, I can see thousands of these at home. A fly over flock of American Golden Plovers did not linger. Along the path edge a little further along were several pairs of Yellowthroats. In the far corner of the flooded lake were roosting female Bufflehead and drake Long-tailed Duck with a few Green-winged Teals, American Wigeon and Lesser Scaup. Not the wetland wonderland I had been hoping for. The site was difficult birding and we only spent a total of about 1 and half hours here the whole trip.
The Carden Plain
This remnant grassland habitat is midway between Algonquin and Toronto and we spent a few hours here mid morning picking up the area's specialities. From Algonquin West Gate we travelled down the scenic highway 35 to Coboconk and then headed west along route 48 turning right before Kirkfield onto Victoria Road. After a few kilometres we turned left onto McNamee Road and birded along here. We did not have time to visit some of the other birding roads nearby. The area is open grassland and fields and we added a few birds to trip list here. Highlights here were a field full of displaying Bobolinks, several displaying Upland Sandpipers, 5 Eastern Bluebirds, Eastern Kingbirds, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Meadowlarks, Savannah Sparrows, Brown Thrashers and Red-tailed Hawks.
Great place and my personal favorite. When coming from Leamington allow at least 1 hour travelling time. From the Erie Street / Talbot Street traffic lights head east (straight across) along Talbot Street East and stay on this road all the way to Blenheim. At the first set of traffic lights in Blenheim turn right (there's a petrol station on the right) onto Marlborough Street which becomes Chatham Street and in turn becomes the Talbot Trail again. Stay on this road until you reach the Kent Bridge Road junction. Turn right here (Rondeau is clearly sign posted) and follow to the park entrance. Entrance fee per day visit is $6. If arriving early there is a pay machine so make sure you have the correct change. Display the ticket on the dashboard. Follow the main park road to the visitor centre or just keep going until you reach the South Point Trail Car Park.
The visitor centre is again a bit dude like but the feeders outside will keep you busy for a while. Here we had Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Red-headed, Hairy, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, White-crowned, White-throated and Chipping Sparrows, American Goldfinch, White-breasted Nuthatch and Baltimore Orioles. There is a drinks machine by the centre door.
* South Point Trail > This was our first stop. It was raining quite heavily so only about half of the trail was worked first thing. The trail moves through open parkland type habitat which becomes more brush like habitat and a good variety of birds were found. We did find a couple of large pine trees to stand under which just happened to have bags of warblers in the immediate area. Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Blue-winged, Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, Black-and-white, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided and Yellow-rumped Warblers were all here with Blue-headed and Yellow-throated Vireo's. Also the south facing side of the tree line was worth exploring from the car park as several good showy birds were discovered within a short distance from the car. We returned later in sunny and hot weather and the place was transformed with a wholly fresh selection of birds. Some of the highlights were Swainson's and Wood Thrushes, Chestnut-sided Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, Least Flycatchers, Eastern Kingbirds, Veery, Cerulean Warbler and Killdeers.
* Tulip Tree Trail > A short loop trail from the visitor centre car park moves through open woodland and passes a largish wooded pool. This pool is meant to the place for Prothonotary Warblers but zero sign of any when I was there on two mornings. However this loop trail did have some class act birding and is well worth several visits, both morning and evening. Here we encountered several nice Ovenbirds wandering out in the open, Scarlet Tanagers, Canada, Black-throated Green, Magnolia, Blue-winged, Orange-crowned, Black-and-white, Chestnut-sided and Yellow-rumped Warblers, several woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatch, Veery, Swainson's, Grey-checked and Wood Thrushes, Brown Thrasher, Blue-headed Vireo, Great-crested Flycatcher and Eastern Towhees.
* The Spice Bush Trail > I personally didn't walk the trail, opposite Bennetts Road, as I ran out of time though I had heard good things about it with several Prothonotary Warblers being reported there. On my next visit I walk this trail.
* Bennetts Road / Harrison Trail > I came here as a twitch for Prothonotary Warbler as one had been seen for two mornings running in the pond area just by the road. I just missed it by 10 minutes. The pool is quite extensive and extends well back on either side of the road. While waiting several species were seen though the prize was elusive. I walked the Harrison Trail which runs parallel on the south side of the pond. Again an earlier morning visit would probably produce much more bird activity rather than at midday. Just past the end of the 'deer' fence I found a very showy Ovenbird and the light bulb of birds, a stunning male Prothonotary Warbler. It stayed in view for 10 minutes with just me watching it, my own private showing. A cracker.
St.Clears and Mitchell's Bay
If coming from Leamington route 77 head east along highway 401 to the Queens Line turn off, clearly sign posted. Follow this road until you reach Merlin Road and turn left and continue along this road, over a railway line and river, to the T junction. Turn right and you are on County Road 2. A short way along here is a turning on the left for Prairie Siding. You go over a large bridge that crosses the river. Continue until you reach the traffic lights and turn left here and head towards Bagnall. The tarmac road comes to an end at a crossroads and you turn right here, sign posted for St.Clears though the sign is not big. Follow the dirt track until you reach an obvious bridge over the canal shortly after passing a bungalow on the right. Cross this bridge and follow the dirt track that runs parallel to the Canal. At the end is the reserve car park. There's an information board and a sighting's book.
The reserve is a huge reed bed marsh with open areas of water and many waterbirds can be found here. There is a single track that leads out into the marsh for several kilometres and there is a raised viewing platform midway. This is a good place for yellow-headed Blackbirds though we failed to find the one or two that had been reported here. Along the path we encountered Black Terns, Pied-billed Grebes, American Coots, Moorhens, Garter Snakes and Great Blue Herons though wildfowl were generally scarce with the exception of Canada Geese. About 200yards before you reach the platform there is an isolated stand of two or three trees on the right side of the path set back by about 50yards. Here was the site of the adult and well grown juvenile Great Horned Owl that both showed very well. Several Marsh Wrens and Yellowthroats were seen while we searched for the Yellow-headed Blackbirds. In addition a Sora was flushed from close to path as Sheryl attempted to video a Muskrat. Nearby along the 'main' dirt road/track directly on the other side of the canal are some bungalows which are reported to sometimes get Yellow-headed Blackbirds on the lawns though again we did not find any. A male Dark-eyed Junco was found though and it remained the only one of the trip.
If you continue along this track you will come across another marshy area on the right which was perhaps a little better than the main marsh. There are several channels that cut into the reeds which allows some good viewing. From several stops we found American Bittern, Green Heron, male Northern Harrier, many Killdeers, up to 8 Blue-winged Teals, American Coots and Pied-billed Grebes though again no Yellow-headed Blackbird. Where there are open fields by the track Horned Larks were found with the occasional bird being seen on the road itself.
The marsh at Mitchell's Bay was perhaps the best of the three locations. From St.Clears continue along the same dirt track until you cross a small bridge and reach tarmac again. Turn right onto the 'Rivard Line' road and continue all the way to the main road, you will see some large grey silos on the left near the junction. Turn left here and continue along this road, through traffic lights, until you see a dirt track on the left, Angler Lane, with a largish brown sign that reads 'Vincent's Guide Services'. Midway along this track you will see a large log cabin on the left. The marsh directly next to this is the one that had all the birds in it. It is a private marsh though the owner allowed myself and a few other visiting birders to walk across the ditch to the embankment for a far better view. Here we had at least 6 - 8 singing male Yellow-headed Blackbirds with one showing very well on the short mown grass of the embankment itself. They are also reported to get on the lawn of the lag cabin though I suspect early mornings are probably best for this. Also seen at this marsh was a pair of Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, Great Blue Herons, Mute Swans, Forsters and Black Terns,
I explored further along this dirt track to the end, parking just before the bridge and walking down a path through the reeds to the lake shore. There was extensive muddy edges but again the morning would probably have been better. I did find a few Least Sandpipers, a Semipalmated Plover, Forsters Terns, hundreds of Lesser Scaup and Ring-necked Ducks and a small herd of Mute Swans that contained both Tundra and Trumpeter Swans.
This park is huge and consists of Pine Forests, broad leaf woodlands and a multitude of lakes. The main area for visiting is along highway 60 that cuts through the southern section of the park. You will need to purchase daily permits from either of the two gates from either the information centre or the ticket booth if entering the park before opening times.
Daily tickets cost $12 and must be displayed in the windscreen. Our visit here was a difficult one with few birds about with some of the trails literally bird less, no hooded Mergansers were seen the whole trip. Of the better trails we walked the Spruce Bog, Booths Rock and the first 100yards of the Mizzy Lake Trails were the best. Spruce Bog trail is a must for superb views of Spruce Grouse, we had several down to few feet. A fine singing Ovenbird put on a performance for us here and our only seen Golden-crowned Kinglet was here. Be here for dawn or shortly after for the grouse. The Booths Rock trail is a fairly long loop trail which starts through open forest and eventually opens out onto the lake shore and more open scrubby habitat. We walked the early parts of the forest part of the trail and also along the Rock Lake part of the trail. Both produce quite different birds. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Black-throated Blue and Black-throated Green Warblers, Ovenbird, Moose and Snowshoe Hare along the former and Golden-winged, Bay-breasted, Canada, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, Yellow Rumped and Nashville Warblers, American Redstart, singing Northern Waterthrush, Two-barred Crossbills and Ruffed Grouse along the latter. Again early morning was by far the best here.
The first 100yards of the Mizzy Lake trail had Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper and Pileated Woodpecker but we saw nothing further along. The Opeongo road was also very productive with several good birds being found along here with a pair of Belted kingfishers on Lake Costello. Numerous Great Northern Divers (Common Loons) were found and it was also perhaps the best place to get close to Beavers. Late evening along the stretch of road close by Opeongo Lake near the lodge was good for this animal with several right by the roadside feeding on the short grass. At the logging track we found a family of Grey Jays that readily came and sat on your hand and take bread, this was a real highlight of the trip. The top car park of the Opeongo Lodge was good for warblers in the trees with several species seen but it was especially good for Evening Grosbeaks with many being seen here. I visited the old airfield and railway line trail that cuts across it one evening and saw only one bird, an Osprey fishing over a nearby lake so the 2 hours here was a waste of time. Other trails and paths were visited but birding was slow though other years have been far better. The visitor centre is ok with Grey Jay being seen briefly but it was especially good for Evening Grosbeaks with up to a dozen being seen around the car park near the feeders. At the visitor centre it is best to ignore the sightings book unless you want laugh and instead ask at the counter for a map that shows the best locations for birds.
We stayed at the Algonquin East Gate Motel that was in the town of Whitney a few miles outside the east gate entrance and was adequate. The town has a convenience store nearby, several petrol stations and restaurants. The motel had hummingbird feeders with around 2 or 3 birds paying regular visits. You can also get something to eat in the park with a good breakfast available at both the visitor centre and the Lake of Two Rivers store with meals available at both all day. Snacks can be bought at several of the other lodges. One of the highlights is seeing Moose and possibly the best way to see them is to drive out early in the morning or in the evening along highway 60 as the animals come out and wander about. One day we saw 6 different animals.
All in all we had four days here but could have just done with two and used the others to better effect at Rondeau, Pelee or Long Point which we didn't visit.
If arriving from Leamington Route 77 continue straight across Highway 401 and head towards Haycroft and Stoney Point, all sign posted. Continue until reach the end and you only have the choice of turning left or right. You are at Stoney Point. Turn right onto St.Clear road and follow this road until it runs out at the reserve car park.
I only explored the area from the car park down to the shore of Lake St.Clear. A short path leads from the corner of the car park, past a picnic area, and comes out on the other side of the trees at the lake.
The shore directly out from here had exposed mud and had several wader species present, these being two Solitary Sandpipers, two Killdeers and a Spotted Sandpiper. Further along the shore there was a flock of Grey (Black-bellied) Plovers which had a fine American Golden Plover amongst them and a small group of Turnstones. Forsters Terns flew back and forth close by whilst two pairs of Ring-necked Ducks were further out on the lake as was a drake Canvasback. The shoreline was generally covered in washed up dead branches and tree trunks. I did not explore further along the shore or visit the lagoons though I did look from the raised platform but could not see a great deal other than the tops of reeds. From here St.Clears is about half hour drive. Return along the same road and take the first left. Follow this to the end and turn left onto County road 2. This road will take you all the way to the Prairie Siding bridge turnoff. See directions for St.Clears from here.