Monday, May 15, 2017

Point Pelee: Where Snowbirds Meet Songbirds

This post was written by Robert Williams

Welcome to the southernmost point in Canada! Point Pelee is one of the smallest national parks in the country, but is the perfect place - for both snowbirds and songbirds - to return home after a long winter of travel in America. Spring is not just about the return of green, but also the appearance of many beautiful colors - red, yellow, blue and orange - as more than 300 species of birds make their way across the Ohio River and Lake Erie to come back to their summer stomping grounds in Ontario and beyond. April and May of each year finds the annual bird migration festival at Pelee Park and other nearby venues for hundreds of thousands of nature enthusiasts eager to catch the arrival of their favorite species.

Bird watching - more commonly known as "birding" - is an underrated global pastime enjoyed by millions of people year round, and in Canada, wildlife is the country's middle name. Birders come from all over the world to see the migration of birds here at Point Pelee, which is nearing its one hundredth anniversary as a national park, and this year entry is free to all as part of Canada's 150th birthday celebration. The first three weeks of May are a complete frenzy as visitors arrive with their high powered binoculars and incredibly long camera lenses to capture many birds in flight as they land - exhausted - on this tiny lower triangle of southern Ontario. Many of the favorite species sought out by experts - the magnolia warbler, the Baltimore Oriole, and the scarlet tanager, to name just a few - are shy and demand patience from anxious onlookers, much like paparazzi. And, when they do appear, you have to act quickly to see them and get a shot. Collecting birds for your album is no easy task.

Point Pelee Park features a long peninsula that narrows to a tip at the 42nd parallel, further south than parts of northern California. The parks include miles of hiking trails, campgrounds for tenters, a wildlife visitor center, organized birding tours, a visually stunning boardwalk marsh, the DeLaurier pioneer homestead exhibit, and ferry trips to nearby Pelee Island. While it didn't quite feel like the most southern part of Canada during an unusually  cold spring, this was still an incredible first peek at our home country - as tourists - for the first time in seven months.

As for me, Chantal, I discovered bird watching after photography, so I am naturally attracted to the photo aspect of birding. Walking around with binoculars is not enough for me, I need pictures to learn which bird I saw. At Point Pelee, you have both birders and photographers sharing the same space, and that can lead to some eye rolling at times! Overall, I enjoy the walking and relaxed atmosphere all around.