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  • Merri-Lee M.

Birds of the Huron Fringe

Every year in May, bird lovers gather in and around MacGregor Point Provincial Park to bear witness to the miracle that is spring migration. Groups of eager, bleary-eyed people show up before 6 a.m. to take part in tours of the Park, the surrounding roads and shorelines, and other areas of the Bruce Peninsula. The birds rarely disappoint.

Warblers are always crowd-pleasers, especially when several different kinds show up at one time in a “wave”. They don’t stay in one place for very long, and it is a challenge to focus binoculars or cameras in time to see and identify these tiny birds!

Blackburnian Warblers are easy to pick out with their flashy orange and black colours.

Palm Warblers are some of the first to arrive in the spring, and I found quite a few of them in the weeks before the Festival around MacGregor. After the middle of May, they were not nearly as plentiful. Palm Warblers often return at around the same time as the Yellow-rumped Warblers.

I saw many more Northern Parulas than usual this year. It could be that I just happened to be in the same spot as they were during their return. These Warblers are distinguished by the yellow throats, partial white eye-arcs, and greenish back-patch. And the upper dark, lower yellow bills always give them away. Perched in the blossoms, they make a lovely picture, although this little one looks a bit bedraggled after its long flight!

Chestnut-sided Warblers made several appearances for our groups, and were singing loudly. It was always nice to have someone in the crowd who could identify the songs -- it was a special treat to spend one morning with Michael Carlson, who hears and identifies far more birdsong than most of us can ever hope to do!

I was only able to catch a fleeting glimpse of a Bay-breasted Warbler this year.....

Black-throated Green Warblers were singing (and eating) high in the treetops at Cabot Head. I also saw my first ever Blackpoll Warbler on this tour (led by John Haselmayer), but will have to wait for another day to photograph the Blackpoll!

Yellow Warblers were plentiful, as always, and their cheerful song is one that is unmistakable.

An Orange-crowned Warbler landed near me briefly. These Warblers are named for the orange-ish patch on their heads which is rarely noticeable when we are observing them.

On a hike with Marshall Byle, we found a Canada Warbler in MacGregor Park.

He sang high above us with his long, “warbly" song. These little Warblers are becoming harder and harder to find, but there must have been a pair in this area of the forest. The Canada Warbler is the only one with a black “necklace” on a bright yellow breast, a yellow stripe from the bill to the eye, and a full white eye-ring.

The Common Yellowthroat was seen quite often, usually in the lower understory near water.

And a few Magnolia Warblers darted in and out of view around the Park.

A Golden-winged Warbler was singing and feeding in a tall tree along the road to the DU Pond, and just around the corner, a Hybrid (Golden-winged x Blue-winged) showed itself for a brief moment. I am not sure which combination this one is, but have arranged them side-by-side in the hopes that someone can figure out the genealogy! These birds were at quite a distance, and photos are not the best, but hopefully can be used for comparison of the 2 birds. On the left is the Golden-winged Warbler, and on the right is the Hybrid......I am inclined to think that the Warbler on the right is a “Brewster’s 1st generation adult male”, based on the pictures in my Sibley’s guide (thin black mask, white throat, yellow breast, 2 yellow wing bars....), but would welcome other ideas!


Some interesting Sparrows always make their way onto “birder

lists” in the spring. These next 2 photos are of a Swamp Sparrow, with the “blurry streaks on gray-buffy breast”, “yellow base of bill”, and “unstreaked throat” which are described by Mr. Sibley......

In the fields around the Park, Savannah Sparrows scuttled along the ground among the Dandelions, or perched and sang on fenceposts. The yellow facial stripe helps them to blend in with their surroundings in the spring!

A special treat for me (one early morning in mid-May) was the sight of a Lincoln’s Sparrow enjoying a small water hole near the Ducks Unlimited Pond. The Lincoln’s Sparrow is distinguished from other Sparrows by its small, pointed bill, shorter tail, and buffy “waistcoat” which is streaked cleanly with dark brown lines. The rufous crown is often standing up. Facial markings on the second photo are representative of this species.


A Black-billed Cuckoo showed up in the same spot to feast on its favourite food -- Tent Caterpillars! I couldn’t resist taking a few photos, even though the sun was behind the Cuckoo, and branches were in the way.....

The DU Pond itself is a great place to see all sorts of surprises in the early morning. An American Bittern and a Common Grackle were having words near the reeds,

and the Bittern eventually flew off with the Grackle pursuing it. The Bittern landed in view of the Tower, and continued with its “pretending to be a branch” game...

Around the edges of the pond, Eastern Kingbirds are frequently seen diving through the air for insects. They often return to land on the same perch again and again.

There were several sightings of the stunning Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Its song is a beautiful, melodious one, and its

markings --- wow!

Indigo Buntings chased each other along the dirt road to the south of the Park in the blossom trees, and fed on grubs and bugs,

and the Veery called from the forest, occasionally popping out for a quick look at us!

We were fortunate to have 2 sightings of the Olive-sided Flycatcher. It chose a snag on which to perch, and dove through the air for insects, always returning to its chosen branch.

In the same spot in MacGregor, near a small parking area, a Northern Waterthrush hopped up into a tree and sang for us.

On the southern boundary of the Park, near the entrance to the Tower Trail, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker entertained one morning, oblivious to onlookers. It had likely arrived that day, and was very hungry.

Across the road from the Sapsucker, a flash of scarlet alerted us to the arrival of 2 male Scarlet Tanagers. A female was present as well, a little further back in the forest.

For the first time this year, Mom and Dad Osprey are nesting along the Tower Trail. They are extremely skittish, and not at all sure about allowing people to walk the trail underneath their nest!


The J-1 Line is often a good place to spot some interesting birds. Upland Sandpipers make the east field (which the landowner has very generously left in its natural state) their home every spring. The field to the west of the road has been worked in the last few years, and this Upland Sandpiper was wandering in the bare field, feeding sporadically. I was surprised by the way this bird seemed to be standing on its toes when it was still....

A Wilson’s Snipe was sitting on a post by the side of the road, posing perfectly. It always amazes me that its long bill doesn’t make the poor Snipe topple forward!

A few Eastern Bluebirds were sighted around the area in their stunning spring finery.

An unexpected sighting for me this year was the Northern Mockingbird, seen along the 12th of Bruce near the old schoolhouse. It perched in a small tree, then flew back and sat on the fence behind the ball diamond until another bird chased it across the road into the small forest.


There were a few stopovers by avian migrants along the shorelines that were of interest. A pair of Black-bellied Plovers was feeding along the beach at Sauble.

Semipalmated Plovers show up, usually singly, along Sauble from time to time on their migration routes. They are longer and sleeker, I think, than their Piping cousins, and facial markings are much darker.

A Dunlin appeared at Sauble, and then again south of Gobles Grove, in the company of a Piping Plover.

Of course the Piping Plovers are an attraction in their own right! Returning to Sauble Beach for the 10th (11th?) year in a row now, these little birds are truly remarkable in their persistence and determination to survive against all odds.

This is “Peggy”: she has even more to deal with than the other Plovers, because she runs the beach, feeds, and has laid eggs in a scrape in spite of her disability. Peggy has only one foot.

(Read more about Piping Plovers in the “Featured Posts”.)


Back to the Park --- let’s finish off with the Huron Fringe Birding Festival mascot: the delightful little American Redstart, resting after his long flight, and preparing for a busy summer.....

It was another great month of May, as we shared in the Spring migration on the “Huron Fringe!"


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