Saturday, 24 May 2014

Birding on the other side of the pond - Rondeau Provincial Park - May 2014

My next stop after leaving Point Pelee was Rondeau, which is another great migrant trap but also known for its breeding Prothonotary Warblers. There are numerous trails throughout the park which I was hoping to bird, but a change in my plans meant that I only had time to do two, Tulip Tree Trail and Spicebush Trail.

Tulip Tree Trail
This is the trail which is probably the most reliable for seeing Prothonotary Warbler, well at least it is the one that is the most accessible for seeing them, since an entrance is located off the visitors centre car park. I parked at the centre and quickly visited some feeders that are located by the centre. There can often be some woodland species that would otherwise be more tricky to find here, but if not at least you can get the opportunity for some good photos. 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Male) - Rondeau

The species present were pretty much as I remembered from my last visit here with Red-headed and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatch’s, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Indigo Bunting and of course loads of Chipmunks.

White-breasted Nuthatch (Rondeau)

The trail itself gave the impression of being relatively quiet, except for the continuous and somewhat monotonous song of the Red-eyed Vireo. The trees were more advanced than at Pelee which made birding harder, but at least thrush species were more evident with both Grey-cheeked and Swainson’s present. The best place to look for Prothonotary Warblers is on the boardwalk over the swamp with the interpretation board on it. On my first visit to this boardwalk I did not see the bird, but on my return I had the best views I had ever had. Initially I picked up a male bird, but it was quite a long way off and quickly flew over me and out of sight. I hung around for about 10 minutes and picked up another in the same location as the first. This bird was steadily working its way towards me, feeding and occasionally singing. It continued to come towards me until it was so close that I had to move back to focus. 

Prothonotary Warbler (Male) - Rondeau
Prothonotary Warbler (Male) - Rondeau
Prothonotary Warbler (Male) - Rondeau

I have to admit I have seen some pretty stunning warblers over the last few days but this species, is amazing, and even more so when seen this close up!

Spicebush Trail
After leaving the Prothonotary I headed to the Spicebush Trail, and if I am honest I wasn’t expecting the birding to surpass what I had just experienced, but the birding was excellent. Red-eyed Vireos were initially the most numerous species again but as I worked my way along the back trail I hit a little ‘purple patch’. The first warbler species was the ever present Yellow, followed quickly by the first of many Blackburnian and Chestnut-sided. A Black and White Warbler put on an amazing show, with Magnolias and Blackpolls also present.

Black and White Warbler - Rondeau
Chestnut-sided Warbler - Rondeau

There was almost too much going on but when a Canada Warbler appeared in front of me I ignored everything else for a while. This species I have seen several times before but think they are one of the the best looking warblers, unfortunately the only photos I got were through vegetation so do not do the species justice. The next warbler species were Black-throated Blue, several American Redstarts, and Black-throated Greens. A male Blue-winged Warbler was a surprise and was followed by Tennessee and a couple of Bay-breasted Warblers. That took my total to thirteen species of warbler on the trail.

But of course it was not all about the warblers, Least, Willow, Yellow-bellied and Great-crested Flycatchers were also present, as was Eastern Wood-pewee with its distinctive song. More Grey-cheeked and Swainson’s Thrush’s and as I returned to the car, Northern Flickers fed on the roadside opposite the car park.

Great-crested Flycatcher - Rondeau
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher - Like many people I struggle with the Empidonax flycatchers
but this individual small, with a generally yellowish-olive tone and a yellow throat so looks 

spot on for yellow-bellied

In many ways I think I prefer Rondeau to Pelee, and you certainly feel as if you are more in the Wilderness. The South Point Trail is the best for migrants first thing, I was intending to do it the next day but headed north instead.

Angler Line, Mitchell’s Bay
I had met a local birder, Rick, whilst on the Spicebush Trail. He was very generous with his bird knowledge of the park, including the location of a Pileated Woodpecker nest. Unfortunately I did not see the woodpeckers there, but he did also inform me of a small breeding colony of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, north of Chatham at Mitchells Bay. This was a new species for me (and likely to be my only one of the trip) and as I would be staying in Chatham overnight I decided to check them out the next day. The birds are located off Bear Line at the western end of Angler Line, about 25 minutes drive north of Chatham. I arrived at the site to see five birders already there and several male Yellow-headed Blackbirds holding territory in a small patch of reed bed.

Yellow-headed Blackbird - Mitchell's Bay

There were at least seven or eight territories, which were easy to count due to the prominent song perches of the males, who appeared to be sitting directly above their mates. Apparently, these birds have been at this site a few years now and are on the extreme eastern edge of their range here, which is why the local birders are getting so excited about them.

Yellow-headed Blackbird - Mitchell's Bay

It was well worth the visit for me they were great birds, with a bizarre song. Whilst there I saw several Green Herons, and American Coot and a couple of Common Gallinules. One of the other birders told me that he had also seen a pair of Least Bitterns there, but there seemed to be some debate about them. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to hang around as I wanted to be back in Oakville for mid-afternoon. 


  1. Tremendous photos Trev. The Prothonotary Warbler is a particular beauty. What price one of those on your local patch?

    1. Thanks Andy! As you can see having a fab trip! Could you imagine that!!


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