Saturday, 12 May 2012

Midges, Warblers & Farewell to Pelee

After more than a week of birding in the Pelee/Rondeau area it's getting more difficult to find new birds each day!  Nevertheless, our final two full days here have not been without their memorable moments - both good and bad! After a day in Rondeau on Tuesday we decided to spend Wednesday in Pelee and to start early. We arrived at the park at 5:30 a.m. when it was still dark. Rather than wait for the first shuttle bus we had decided to walk the 2.5 km to "The Tip", hoping to hear an Eastern Whip-poor-will or perhaps see a mammal or two. As we walked we noticed a steady and ever-louder hum from the surrounding tree tops - rather like the drone of an airplane overhead. We quickly realised this was the result of vast swarms of insects gathered above us. Midges! We were grateful that these things seemed to be high enough to be of no concern. Or so we hoped! As the minutes passed and the sun rose slightly above the horizon, these creatures descended from the stratosphere to the level of we humans.  Long before we reached The Tip, we were surrounded by them and I for one became decidedly less interested in any bird life that may have been present!

Midge Attack!

This initial discomfort was not the end of it. After a quick walk around The Tip trail, I persuaded my comrades to try the West Beach Trail. Given the steady west wind, I reasoned, we would surely find the midges less bothersome and might even find a mourning warbler or two. All agreed to this clever strategy but five minutes later we were choking out billions of midges that were even thicker than before. With my planning credibility shot, we beat a hasty retreat back to the east side of the peninsula!

Midges were not the only insect issue in Pelee. We were warned about ticks back on our first day here and we took as much care as we could to avoid this particular critter. Despite our best efforts we did find a couple of them. Mike kindly modelled this one for our cameras.
Red-legged Tick

On these last couple of days we had only five new year birds. Two of them were good warbler finds, a Canada Warbler and a Blackpoll Warbler. We had great views of both!
Canada Warbler

Two others were Chimney Swift and Short-billed Dowitcher, neither of which allowed a close-up view. The fifth bird was very noteworthy. Thrushes have been fairly common here (Swainson's Thrush, Hermit Thrush, Wood Thrush and Veery). Today we saw what was most likely a Gray-cheeked Thrush. There were a number of observers who felt this thrush might actually be a Bicknell's Thrush which would be amazing! These observers put their huge lenses to work and no doubt greater authorities than any of us will make a final determination. We will stick with Gray-cheeked Thrush in the interim!
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Though our primary focus was on new year birds, we had several repeat encounters with birds already seen and sometimes these afforded us better views and better pictures. Most memorable were an incredibly obliging Philadelphia Vireo which came within ten feet of us and then today, a pair of Prothonotary Warblers!
Philadelphia Vireo
Prothonotary Warbler
On the mammals side of things, we had an amusing incident. Brian has taken to exploring the overhanging roofs of any old buildings we come across in the park in an effort to fnd a bat. Last night he found one. We photographed it and spent a lot of time poring over the pictures and various field guides to try and determine which species it was. Today we went back to take another look at it in case it was still there. It was. But it looked suspiciously similar in position to the previous evening. A passing by naturalist decided to give it a prod with a stick. The poor thing was dead!  We spent all our time studying a dead bat it seems!
Little Brown Bat (dead)
Tomorrow morning we are off to Long Point Provincial Park for our last day before flying home to Calgary. We've had a great trip here to Pelee and we've seen a lot of birds!

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