Presqu’ile is expecting company this May long weekend

Thousands of migratory birds set to delight during Warblers and Whimbrels 2014
 

As sure as the sun rises, Presqu’ile Provincial Park is once again playing host to thousands of tired, hungry songbirds and shorebirds as they pass through the Brighton area on their way towards their forest and Arctic summer homes via the welcoming peninsulas and treelines of one of Ontario’s best migratory hot spots. 

Although some birds will trickle through Presqu’ile after the waterfowl arrive in March, the second big wave of migration happens in May.  Presqu’ile celebrates this event with its annual Warblers and Whimbrels Festival.  The festival, which takes place during the May long weekend every year, is one of the coolest things about spring in this part of the province.

“Presqu’ile is a bit of a magnet for these migratory birds because of the geography, the habitat and the way the park sticks out into Lake Ontario,” says David Bree, park naturalist at Presqu’ile.  “These birds are on a very long journey and crossing the Great Lakes is very difficult for the smaller songbirds, depending on the winds, so they love to stop and feed and rest in these little points that jut out into the water.  Shorebirds on the other hand are incredible flyers and come here to feed and rest during their long journey to the Arctic.”

 

Dunlins gather at Presqu'ile Provincial Park.

  Continue reading Presqu’ile is expecting company this May long weekend

Wasaga Beach Provincial Park Piping Plover Program Won ECO Award

Congratulations to Wasaga Beach Provincial Park (WBPP) staff, the many volunteers and the Friends of Nancy Island and Wasaga Beach Park for receiving the prestigious Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s (ECO) 2013 Recognition Award for their role in protecting the endangered Piping Plovers.

Listed as an endangered species in Canada and the United States, the arrival of the Piping Plovers at Wasaga Beach in 2006 marked a significant turning point as this species had not successfully nested on the Canadian Great Lakes for over 30 years, and had no breeding success at the park in over 70 years.

The Wasaga Beach Provincial Park Piping Plover Program has been helping to foster awareness, appreciation and understanding of the plight of the Piping Plovers in the Great Lakes region for six consecutive years. The program attracted support from many volunteers and community partners. Together the WBPP staff and the Piping Plover Guardians, a group of 40-80 volunteers who work three-hour shifts, monitor the Piping Plovers and protect them from predators daily. And, they do it every day in the middle of one of Ontario’s busiest beaches from spring until late August.

Last year there were 66 breeding pairs in the Great Lakes population of which five were on the Canadian side in Ontario with two nests at Wasaga Beach. Thanks to the tireless efforts of WBPP staff, the volunteers and the community partners, the 2013 program’s success rate was the highest since its inception: 63 per cent of the eggs hatched into fledgling chicks. This is a vast improvement over the 25 per cent average survival rate of Piper Plovers in the wild.

Keep up the great work!

Did You Know?

  • The ECO’s Recognition Award acknowledges ministries that best meet the goals of the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993 (EBR) or use the best internal EBR practices.
  • WBPP staff monitor the entire 14 km of beachfront starting early in the spring watching for the arrival of piping plovers. Once pair bonds are established, staff monitor courtship and breeding.
  • After a single, sand-coloured egg is discovered; staff set up a perimeter fence and the area is closed for 50 metres either side of the egg. A predator enclosure is installed after the fourth egg is laid – this ensures the nest is protected from predators.
  • Park staff and Piping Plover Guardians then monitor the plovers on a daily basis from 8 am – 8 pm until the plovers’ departure in late August.

Discover ice volcanoes and wintering waterfowl at Presqu’ile this winter!

Guest Blogger: David Bree
Sr. Natural Heritage Education Leader
 Presqu’ile Provincial Park
 

When thinking of visiting parks, most people picture swimming at the beach, walking sun-dabbled forest trails or perhaps just relaxing in front of the tent or trailer while the BBQ warms up.  These are all decidedly summery, warm-weather activities, and only a part of a park’s story.  You need to experience the other seasons to really get to know your favourite park.  While winter camping may not be for everyone (some of our parks offer great winter-camping experiences) anyone can appreciate a day visit to a park in winter.

Although campgrounds in Presqu’ile Provincial Park close at Thanksgiving, the park is open to day-use all year, with car access right to Lake Ontario.  Winter, in many ways, is the most dramatic season at the park as the lake and sky above offer an endlessly changing face.  Water may be blue, green, gray or some unnamed combination of these colours.  It may be mirror-flat or have 3-metre waves rolling into shore.  No matter the violence of the lake, winter waterfowl, such as Long-tailed Ducks, will be bobbing amongst the waves, seemingly unconcerned with either the freezing temperatures or the crashing waves.

Long-tailed duck spotted off the shore of Presqu’ile Provincial Park.

Fresh snow provides its own fascination.  In addition to providing the stuff of traditional winter activities such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or building snowmen, it also provides nature with a parchment to record its stories on.  Creatures almost never seen, leave their tracks behind to be read; a Meadow Vole coming above the snow for a few dangerous metres to investigate a food source before disappearing back into a snowy tunnel; a Fisher patrolling the shoreline, hoping for a meal; small birds hopping around the grass heads poking above the snow, with only some chaff scattered to indicate theseeds that were consumed.  Occasionally something very dramatic can be found: a fox chasing a hare, or a depression, flanked by the trace of wingtips where an owl crashed into the snow to try and get at that Meadow Vole.  These stories are ephemeral however, gone with the next melt, strong wind, or snowfall, a clean canvas for the next chapter.

 

But it is the shoreline that continues to draw me back.  Lake Ontario almost never freezes over, and where there is open water there will be wildlife in the form of ducks, gulls, or maybe I’ll finally spot that elusive Fisher!  Even though the lake doesn’t freeze over, there can still be ice.  Ice floes sparkling in the sun with rafts of Goldeneye and Scaup diving between them is a sight that never fails to inspire me.  And sometimes, when conditions are just right – we get volcanoes!  When it gets cold enough, ice starts building up along the shoreline as an ice shelf.  If the temperature, wind direction and wave height is right, the gentling sloping limestone just offshore funnels waves under the ice shelf and up through it at a weak point.  This results in a blowhole type phenomenon, with icy water spewing up into the air through the ice.  This water falls back down and freezes, eventually building up a cone through which the water continues to erupt.  A volcano! An ice volcano!  But ice volcanoes can be shorter-lived than snow tracks.  The ice shelf builds out or the waves decrease and the water can no longer make it up and through the volcano.  It goes extinct, no longer spouting water.  While live volcanoes can be hard to see, Presqu’ile’s winter shoreline is often ringed by an icy field of extinct volcanoes, their hollow cones pointing to the winter sky, waiting to erupt again.

Ice Volcano observed along the shore of Presqu’ile Provincial Park (Photo Credit: D. Tyerman).

 

Whether you are lucky enough to find a live volcano or a Fisher track, Presqu’ile’s winter landscape will hold some exciting discovery for those that seek to know her winter face.

 

Planning your visit:

  • Overwintering waterfowl: can be seen throughout the winter
  • Ice Volcanoes:  best seen in February
  • Skiing and tracking: Conditions vary.  Contact park office for conditions: 613 475-4324
 
Please note:
Cleanup from the recent winter weather events is still ongoing.  Please use caution when driving and walking around the park.
 

Citizen science is for the birds this winter

Male Pine Grosbeak at feeder at the Algonquin Park Visitor Centre (Photo Credit: Mike Burrell).

Many people flock to Ontario Parks every year, binoculars and field guide in hand, to view the amazing world of birds.  From the Northern Hawk Owl at Sleeping Giant to the Tufted Titmouse at The Pinery, Ontario Parks across the province offer opportunities to see both northern and southern species.  Whether you are a “bird nerd” or a beginner, here are some of the ways that your hobby can contribute to science this season:

 

 

Continue reading Citizen science is for the birds this winter

Three Redpolls, two Gray Jays and a Chickadee in a Pine tree

Now in its 114th year, the Christmas Bird Count is a bird census that occurs across North America between December 14 and January 5.  The count is administered by the National Audubon Society who partners with Bird Studies Canada.  The North American count is made up of regional counts, each run over a 24-hour period and within a 24 kilometre diameter circle.  These counts are conducted by volunteer birders who set out, binoculars in hand, to track species and numbers of birds either seen or heard throughout the day.  The submitted results contribute to a data set more than a century old that provides information on the long-term health of bird populations across the continent.

The noisy Blue Jay is often seen (and heard) on Christmas Bird Counts. (Photo Credit: Mike Burrell)

There are counts going on across the province, but here are details for a few of the counts occurring in Ontario Parks:

  Continue reading Three Redpolls, two Gray Jays and a Chickadee in a Pine tree

Birds of prey by the thousands

Birds of prey migrate by the thousands past Ontario Parks along the north shore of Lake Erie every fall.

Mornings are best to view this fall phenomenon – just after dawn until mid-morning and especially after a cold front has rolled through. That’s when park visitors gather on park beaches or in beach parking lots to watch the fall migration.  Some days, the birds pass by at tree-top level. Other days, they are high in the sky. On a good day and with a pair of binoculars, you’ll see birds everywhere.
Red-tailed hawk spotted in Port Burwell (Photo Credit: Cliff Dickinson)

Continue reading Birds of prey by the thousands

Witness the phenomenon of fall migration in Ontario Parks

Guest blogger: David Bree
Sr. Natural Heritage Education Leader
Presqu’ile Provincial Park

 

 Migration is a miracle of nature that has fascinated humans since… well since forever.  Where do these creatures come from? Where do they go?  How do they know when to leave?  Many of those questions have been answered over the years but there are still many mysteries to uncover.  September is the height of fall migration, and with great weather, smaller crowds, and many parks still open it’s a great time to do some migrating of your own and go out to witness this phenomenon. Continue reading Witness the phenomenon of fall migration in Ontario Parks

Species at risk: researching eastern whip-poor-wills in Algonquin Provincial Park

Have you ever heard the call of a whip-poor-will? Unlike many other birds, its call is very distinctive. The eastern whip-poor-will (Caprimulgus vociferus) is a “name-sayer” and certainly a vociferous one, with records of calls repeated over 1000 times!

Continue reading Species at risk: researching eastern whip-poor-wills in Algonquin Provincial Park

March is for Owl Prowls

March is a great time to experience owls in Ontario Parks; some are nesting and many will be hooting to proclaim their territories.  Plan your own owl prowl during March Break  in a provincial park. Park staff suggest an evening walk in an area with lots of cover.  Go on a still night when there’s little wind. Owls don’t tend to call on a windy night and it’s difficult to hear them or be heard! Continue reading March is for Owl Prowls