OVERVIEW: We are now in the late stages of spring migration - a period when Presqu’ile shines! Most of the wintering waterfowl have left but a good selection of puddle ducks (mostly males) can be seen swimming around the north side of Gull Is. The late warblers – Canada, Wilson’s, Mourning, Blackpoll - have now arrived and some of the earlier ones like Yellow-rumped are now scarce. Although we are near the end of migration the coming week could be quite good as well.
For most of the week the place to be was the tip of Owen Pt. early in the morning, when the light is behind you and heat haze hasn’t distorted the view. Between the masses of gulls, terns and shorebirds many exciting rarities were seen, as well as simply enjoying a weeklong spectacle of watching Arctic-breeding shorebirds up close on their epic marathon migration. The shoals that have formed offshore from the Point are being used for resting and feeding and provide a sense of safety for the birds from disturbance.
Shorebirds are in trouble. Some like the Red Knot are Endangered, many others are vulnerable and almost all show serious population declines. Presqu’ile lies on the direct flight path of northbound shorebirds as they head from major stop-over sites like Delaware Bay on their way to the next stop in James Bay. Numbers seen here are directly dependent on weather. Under good conditions the birds fly non-stop over us and we only see a smattering (hundreds) on the ground, but if poor weather sets in – opposing winds or rain – large groundings involving thousands of birds can occur. When this happens they are vulnerable and need to be left undisturbed and Presqu’ile is critical to them. Therefore it was really sad to see several instances of people in boats, in one case Park staff, boating and/or walking around the shoals and Gull Is. disturbing resting shorebirds. Hopefully over the final two weeks of shorebird migration we won’t see that again.
Redhead: Several have been mixed in with the puddle duck flock that frequents the north shore of Gull Is. all week, with a high of 4 (2 pairs) on 26 May. This species is a rare but near annual breeder here.
White-winged Scoter: After several months of scarcity this sea duck has returned on their way north and west to breed. 57 on 25 May was the highest count.
Common Goldeneye: A late bird was seen on 24 May
American White Pelican: Two striking adults were photographed flying over the Beach 2 road heading toward the gate on 24 May at 3:15 p.m.. Two were seen in Kingston in the morning and two at Hamilton late day – quite possibly the same two roaming around.
Snowy Egret: A bird landed briefly on Owen Pt. on 27 May then flew north into a stiff headwind, landing again briefly on the natural beach, then vanished.
Sora: One was encountered on the Marsh Boardwalk Trail on 26 May. Sora used to be quite regular but in recent years has become rather rare in the Park.
American Golden Plover: Although regular in small numbers in the fall, a very rare spring bird was seen on 21 May. The spring flight is primarily north through the Great Plains.
Whimbrel: It was one of the best weeks in recent memory for this magnificent shorebird at Presqu’ile. Birds were seen almost daily with several significant counts - 132 on 22 May, 423 on 25 May seen by single parties. Other observers had smaller numbers the same day, which may be different birds. A handful slept and rested on Owen Pt. or the offshore shoals for much of the week allowing birders a chance to study these at rest.
Red Knot: A few of these Endangered shorebirds were present off and on for most of the week, peaking at 6 on 23 May.
Sanderling: Small numbers most of the week, peaking with a flock of 45 on 26 May.
Dunlin: No huge numbers yet but it was the most common shorebird most days with a high of 158 on 22 May.
Short-billed Dowitcher: A single of the griseus subspecies was seen on 23 May and again the next day.
Wilson’s Phalarope: A male was on Owen Pt. on 22 May.
Laughing Gull: An adult blew past Owen Pt. heading east on 22 May. This Atlantic gull is almost annual here now, and if the past is any guide this bird may turn up again.
Lesser Black-backed Gull: Four birds (two 1st summer and two 2nd summer) seen on 22 May establish a record high count. One and two was often in sight on the shoals off Owen Pt. for much of the week.
Black Tern: One flew past Owen Pt. on 22 May. This beautiful tern nested annually in Presqu’ile’s marshes but numbers dwindled in the 1990’s and they finally vanished from here by the end of that decade. Now they are not even seen annually in migration.
Forster’s Tern: A bird was seen and photographed with Common Terns off Owen Pt. on 26 May that is tentatively identified as a first summer Forster’s. These almost year-old birds mostly winter well to the south and are rare at these latitudes. Ironically it was with a similarly aged Common Tern.
Rock Pigeon: 1 was seen on 24 May; rarely seen in the Park.
Chimney Swift: A few were reported this week beginning with the first on 23 May.
Peregrine Falcon: A pale adult was seen chasing shorebirds on 24 May.
Blue-winged Warbler: A Blue-winged song type was heard on 25 May but the source – whether it was Blue-wing or a hybrid type – could not be visually confirmed.
Clay-colored Sparrow: A bird was seen in a known breeding area at the Calf Pasture on 24 May but has not been seen since.
Red Crossbill: Birds continue to be seen, mostly near big conifer plantations. Sightings this week were 10 on 23 May and 14 on 24 May.
Evening Grosbeak: One was seen just outside the Park along Huff Rd. on 24 May.
Please Note: Access to Gull and High Bluff Island is closed to visitation between 10 March and 10 September to protect the thousands of colonial birds that nest on the islands.
Directions: Presqu’ile Provincial Park is located south of Brighton on the north shore of Lake Ontario. It is well signed from either Hwy. 401 or Cty. Rd. 2.