Day 1: Arrival and Orientation
Our Point Pelee & Algonquin Park birding tour begins with arrival in Toronto. We will meet for dinner to discuss the adventure ahead. Night in Toronto.
Day 2: Lake Ontario to Long Point
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 for some birding at a local nature reserve jutting out into Lake Ontario. Starting out on a pleasant footpath we’ll get our first looks at migrant warblers, hoping for Nashville, Chestnut-sided and 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 Terns whirl in front of Toronto’s skyline while Red-necked Grebes attend to their nests in the bay.
After things quiet down we’ll drive an hour to Niagara Falls. For those who haven’t seen the falls before, it is a jaw-dropping natural wonder. Others may rekindle memories of former trips. We won’t put off the birding for long and after a quick viewing of Horseshoe Falls we’ll stop at a regional park next to the raging Niagara River to look for the elusive Tufted Titmouse. Friendly Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals abound in the area and we may see Red-bellied Woodpeckers excavating their nests.
Next, we’ll commute another hour through quaint Ontario countryside to the Long Point area where more birding awaits. If time permits we’ll check out a woodlot for exciting birds of the Carolinian forest and perhaps chase down a rare sighting that the prolific local birding community turned up. Night in Simcoe.
Day 3 and 4: 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 visit the “Old Cut” field station in the mornings to see what migrants have arrived overnight. Usually with the help of LPBO’s volunteers we manage to see some exciting birds up close. Resident species such as Carolina Wren and Least Bittern could literally pop up. One day we’ll take a casual walk through Long Point Provincial Park where Great-crested Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Kingbird and others are nesting. Usually some surprise migrants are found in this section. Otherwise, we move inland to more impressive forest tracts to see southern species on their breeding grounds such as Hooded, Cerulean, Pine and Blue-winged Warblers, Yellow-throated Vireo and Scarlet Tanager. 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. After our second afternoon of birding we’ll commute further west to the next Lake Erie hotspot. Night in Simcoe then night in Ridgetown.
Day 5: 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. 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, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Swallow-tailed Kite! The visitor’s centre has a great feeder set-up and the picnic areas must offer some of the best birding anywhere. After our lunch we’ll continue our westward journey, stopping at the Blenheim sewage lagoons (the best in southern Ontario) where migrant shorebirds and all five swallows plus Purple Martins abound. Then it’s onward to the town of Leamington where we spend our next few nights. Night in Leamington.
Days 6 to 8: Point Pelee
Point Pelee is a renowned birding location that hosts birders from around the world who come to witness an intense migration spectacle. 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. Rarities always occur, which is what excites many birders to a twitching frenzy, but even on an average day the birding is steady enough to maintain a moderate buzz for beginners to experts alike. As happens every year, just imagine seeing a Kirtland’s warbler during the few hours it rests en route to its miniscule breeding grounds to the north. We will bird the park in the mornings and visit surrounding fields and wetlands such as Hillman Marsh in the afternoon for migrant shorebirds, such as Short-billed Dowitcher, Stilt Sandpiper and Dunlin, plus Forster’s and Caspian Terns. Anything can turn up here and at Pelee - and usually does!
Pelee is indeed a birder’s dream come true, and 100 species in a day is an easy tally. Twenty to thirty species of warblers is possible, 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 Orillia.
Day 9: Carden Plain
We’ve made our way further north to the forests and fields where many of those migrants come to nest. This morning we arrive at Carden Plain, which is an open area of thin soils on limestone bedrock with poor agricultural potential. 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 Plain's most famous inhabitant, as there are only a handful of sites in northeastern North America which support this endangered subspecies. Wetlands of the area hold American Bittern, Marsh and Sedge Wren, Osprey and Northern Harrier. Following this visit, 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 and 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, Rusty Blackbird, 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. The extensive 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 tour concludes today in Toronto. You can depart anytime today.