Day 1: Arrival and Orientation
Our Point Pelee & Algonquin Park birding tour begins with arrival in Toronto and an introductory dinner. Night in Toronto.
Day 2: Lake Ontario to Pelee
Any morning could bring a “fallout” of migrants and we won’t miss our first opportunity. We’ll start off today near our hotel in Toronto at a local nature reserve jutting out into Lake Ontario. Beginning on a pleasant footpath, we’ll get our first looks at migrant warblers – perhaps a lovely tiger-striped Cape May or the retina-burning Blackburnian. We’ll scan Lake Ontario for Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers en route to their arctic breeding grounds. Common and Caspian Terns whirl in front of Toronto’s skyline while Red-necked Grebes attend to their nests in the bay. After this, we’ll pack up for a drive to Pelee.
En route, we’ll break up the trip with a birding break at one of the great wonders of the world – Niagara Falls. Here we will take a short walk to see the American and Canadian falls, through a nice city park where our first southern specialties will be tame and used to people – Tufted Titmouse, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and the stunning Wood Duck. We’ll make a note to search for two of the newest additions to the list of regularly occurring Canadian avifauna – Fish Crow and Black Vulture, which are now permanent residents in this area. Night at Pelee.
Days 3 – 5: Point Pelee
Point Pelee is a renowned birding location that hosts birders from around the world who come to witness an intense migration spectacle. Indeed, we’ll arrive at prime time that happens to coincide with the birding festival—expect kiosks, pancake breakfasts and birders galore. Also, leaf-out arrives later here so the birds will be visible in the budding treetops and bushes.
A light, warm breeze from the south is the first indication that migrants are on the way. On these days we can expect new arrivals in the hundreds, but if this warm air meets a sudden cold front during the night, the resulting conditions can force thousands of passerines to descend upon the diminutive Point Pelee during their nocturnal procession. The famed “reverse migration” can occur at the tip, where an endless procession of confused birds fly back south over the lake, often to return and land in trees just above our heads. Everything from Wood Stork to Scissor-tailed Flycatcher has been seen this way, and this is what excites many birders to a twitching frenzy, though even on an average day there are dozens of warblers, thrushes, vireos, sparrows and others to enjoy at close range. Just imagine seeing a Kirtland’s Warbler during the few hours it rests en route to its miniscule breeding grounds to the north – a nearly annual occurrence at Pelee! Nothing escapes the network of local birders, and we’ll be kept in the loop with up-to-the-minute details from locals. We will bird the park in the mornings and visit surrounding fields and wetlands such as Hillman Marsh in the afternoon for migrant shorebirds, including regular vagrants like American Avocet, Marbled Godwit and Willet, plus Forster’s and Caspian Terns. Anything can turn up here and at Pelee - and usually does!
Point Pelee is indeed a birder’s dreams come true, and 100 species in a day is regular on our tour. One should expect twenty-to-thirty species of warblers, all potentially foraging at eye-level in their neotropical breeding attire! There is also variety; you may see birds like Little Gull, Worm-eating Warbler, Bald Eagle, White-rumped Sandpiper, Orchard Oriole, and American Golden-Plover all on the same day! Nights in Leamington except last night in Ridgetown.
Day 6: Rondeau Provincial Park
Considered by many to be as fantastic a birding location as the famous Point Pelee, Rondeau is a beautiful Carolinian forest that offers a very pleasant birding experience. We walk some of the trails in the Park, looking for resident Red-headed Woodpecker, Wood Thrush, White-breasted Nuthatch, Baltimore Oriole and the prize bird of the park, the Prothonotary Warbler. Sometimes this “Jewel of the Swamp” allows for arms-length looks at the boardwalk! Early on we’ll sort through the flocks of returning migrants on footpaths that lead past ephemeral sloughs that act as bird magnets. We’ll look for “spring overshoots” – birds that don’t breed in Ontario but regularly arrive to Lake Erie in the spring—such as Kentucky, Yellow-throated and Worm-eating Warblers, Blue Grosbeak, Summer Tanager and maybe even a Chuck-will’s-widow! The visitor’s centre has a great feeder set-up and the picnic areas must offer some of the best birding lunches anywhere. The nearby Blenheim sewage lagoons (the best in southern Ontario) are a hotspot where migrant shorebirds and all five eastern swallows plus Purple Martins abound. Continuing our journey east, we press onward to the Long Point area where we spend our next two nights. Night in Simcoe.
Days 7 & 8: Long Point
One of the "Big Three" migration hotspots of the northern shore of Lake Erie, Long Point is home to North America's oldest bird observatory, LPBO. We have many options in the area but the focus is on the assortment of large woodlots that harbour breeding specialties such as Hooded, Cerulean, Pine and Blue-winged Warblers, Yellow-throated Vireo and Acadian Flycatcher. In some years Louisiana Waterthrush may be nesting. The Bird Studies Canada headquarters is an excellent place for lunch and to scope out ducks over Long Point’s inner bay.
If conditions are good, we visit the “Old Cut” field station one morning to see what migrants have arrived overnight. Usually with the help of LPBO’s volunteers we manage to see some exciting birds up close. We’ll visit the huge Big Creek Marsh, where Least Bittern and King Rail are real possibilities, amongst an assortment of marsh birds. After our second morning of birding we’ll pack up and head north. Night in Orillia.
Day 9: Carden Plain
We’ve made our way further north to the forests and fields where many of those migrants we saw earlier come to nest. This morning we arrive at Carden Alvar, which is an open area of thin soils on limestone bedrock with poor agricultural potential that has just recently been turned into a provincial park. This so-called alvar supports an abundance of birds like Upland Sandpiper, Eastern Bluebird, Golden-winged Warbler, Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Grasshopper, Vesper, Field, and Savannah Sparrows, as well as Eastern Kingbird, and Loggerhead Shrike. The shrike is the Carden Alvar's most famous inhabitant, as there are only a handful of sites in northeastern North America that support this endangered subspecies.
Wetlands hold American and Least Bittern, Marsh and Sedge Wren, Sora and Virginia Rail, Osprey and Northern Harrier. This gorgeous area is in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city only an hour and a half to the south. Following Carden, we continue on our way to the Algonquin area to spend the rest of our day in this dramatic last stop of our tour. Night in Dwight.
Days 10 – 11: Algonquin Park
Algonquin Park is one of Canada's premier wildlife viewing sites. The rugged topography of its highlands leads to vast broad-leafed forests more typical of southern areas. Cold, mossy bogs and coniferous forests found throughout most of Canada's north are equally prevalent. This mix of habitats creates a fantastic diversity of birds and other wildlife. Expected birds include 15+ species of wood warblers, Hermit Thrush (one of North America's best singers), Canada Warbler, Northern Parula, Blue-headed Vireo, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Winter Wren, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, White-throated Sparrow, Evening Grosbeak, Purple Finch and many more. We’ll have a close-up look at American Woodcock displaying over open areas. In addition, we’ll keep an eye out for boreal species such as Common Loon, Spruce Grouse, Gray Jay, Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee and the wanderers of the north, Red and White-winged Crossbills. We will take an evening excursion to an area where Great Gray Owl has bred for the past several years to try and see this ghost of the north. The extensive hardwood forests of the park are good habitat for residents like the Pileated Woodpecker, Barred Owl, and Ruffed Grouse. Of course we are always on the lookout for the many species of mammals commonly found in the park such as Marten, Black Bear, Red Fox, Eastern Wolf and River Otter. We should encounter Algonquin's largest inhabitant on a daily basis: Moose. At this time of the year, Algonquin is truly an amazing place to explore. Nights in Dwight except the last evening we return to Toronto, 2.5hrs south.
Day 12: Departure from Toronto
Our Point Pelee & Algonquin Park birding tour concludes today in Toronto. You can leave for flights home anytime today.