Preparing for the 2016 Festival of Birds

The Best Place for Bird Watching in Ontario

We have just over 2 days until we leave for our 4th year of travelling to Point Pelee National Park for the Festival of Birds (aka spring songbird migration). Point Pelee is recognized as a world-class birding destination that brings hundreds of species to the park’s grounds as one of the best locations in inland North America to observe the northward migration of songbirds. Used as a stop-over or migration route for many species, the diversity of warblers is a site to see.

Observing and Photographing the Birds: Etiquette

It is important to remember as a birder, photographer, or someone interested in visiting the park that protecting the landscape and animal and plant species are essential. It is requested by the park to avoid flash photography, the use of recordings, and cornering birds. It is always important to respect the etiquette, and for everyone’s enjoyment and for the protection of the plants and animals.

Where to Stay when visiting Point Pelee

Planning our trip starts in February of each year, when we book our accommodations at Sturgeon Woods Campground located in Leamington, only 1 kilometre from Point Pelee National Park. We have stayed at this campground since we have been coming to the festival of birds and have had two different camping experiences.

The first 2 years, we borrowed my aunt’s trunk and camper combination which was such a convenient option. We could take the whole trunk into the park, have lunch inside the camper and go over our checklists for the morning.

Camper at Point Pelee

Renting a Cabin near Point Pelee

Last year was our first year trying something different and renting one of the cabins on site. It was a great alternative to the camper which was no longer available for us to borrow. A great little setup, equipped with electricity, a mini fridge, two bunk beds and a desk. Just outside, there was a picnic table and fire pit.

Cabin at Sturgeon Woods Campground

Camping at Sturgeon woods

How many birds can you see at Point Pelee?

Once we make our way into the park, we purchase the birding parking pass that they have available for this time of year. It grants you access to the park for 3 days and cost $50.00.

Our mornings start early, waking up at around 5 am to make it into the park to catch the first tram down to the tip. This is a chance to see any of the new migrants that have travelled overnight or to have a chance to see some of the late arrivals we missed the night before. Neither one of us can really handle the excitement of what is to come for the day, when that golden light of the morning breaks the horizon and lights up the east side of the beach. We join the others for an early morning photo session.

Last year we saw over 81 different species of birds in just 3 days! This includes some incredible species including a Mourning Warbler, Hooded Warbler, and Blackpoll Warbler!

Bird watchers at Point Pelee

Bird Watching at the Southern Tip of Ontario

We usually hit the tip a couple times a day, while hitting some of the other trails in between. The great part is there is a giant map of the park in the visitor’s centre where they mark recent sightings, so if you’d like to better your chances of seeing a particular species, you could try scoping that out. Last year, we visited a path twice (Tilden Trial) to try and catch a glimpse of the Hooded Warbler that was spotted in the area. After trying a different trail, we were with a group of people who gave us a description of where they had just seen him and we headed in that direction on the Woodland Trail in behind the visitors centre. After some searching with some other eager birders, we got our first glimpse of this beautiful warbler.

Hooded Warbler at Point Pelee
Hooded Warbler

Enjoying our stay Sturgeon Woods Campgrounds

After a long, 12-15 hour day, we retire back to our site to make dinner, clear off our cards, charge batteries and go through and process our photos on our laptop. This is quite the process considering we both fill 32GB memory cards in one day. There is nothing like knowing you had a really good photo session, only to have this confirmed when you find a razor sharp image of a bird. The hardest part is not staying up too late in order to do it all over the next day.

Camping at Sturgeon Woods Campground

Stepping up our Bird Photography Game

This year we are adding a new element to our trip. We have purchased a GoPro and are going to try and get some vlogging going or our YouTube Channel to share about our trip. We bought a Gorillapod to go with it and hope to get some great birding footage!

Some of the Best Bird Photography Opportunities in Canada

As a photographer who is into birding, there isn’t really a better time of year. You see so many magnificent species and have the best photo opportunities. Last year, we shot a red-breasted grosbeak that was practically an arm’s length away; we had to back up with our cameras in order to get him to focus. He stayed long enough for us to get a ton of shots.

The same happened a few years back with Scarlet Tanager that seem to be following us around the park.

Scarlet Tanager at Point Pelee
Scarlet Tanager

This photo of a Black-throated green warbler was our first shot of the trip last year, taken first thing in the morning at the tip.

Black-throated Green Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler

Typical Weather in Early May at Point Pelee

The weather, as during most trips, can be a bit of a tossup. Last year the weather was sunny, and hot for the majority of the trip, whereas our first year we nearly froze in the camper; sleeping in sweats with blankets pulled up over our faces. So it is best to be prepared for all types of weather.

Bird photographers at Point PeleeAs I finishing writing this I just got off the phone with a good friend from a little town called Dresden, not a far drive from our birding destination. We will spend the night catching up and talk about all the birds we hope to see, whether our host cares to hear about it or not (she often tells her class about how nerdy her friends are). We will leave first thing in the morning in order to get there as early as possible and start our spring migration for this year!

Keep an eye out as we will be very active on Twitter and Instagram, posting our favourite shots each day!

Stay tuned to our blog and YouTube channel as we will be posting about our trip upon our return.

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