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.”
Warblers and Whimbrels, you say?
Everyone at Presqu’ile looks forward to the annual Warblers and Whimbrels festival as it’s a sign that spring really has sprung. It’s also one of the best opportunities for birders, families and nature lovers to experience the spectacle of thousands of migratory birds singing and splashing en masse.
Bree says there could be as many as one to two hundred species of shorebirds and songbirds passing through.
“The shorebirds will be easy enough to spot because you’ll see them on the shoreline but as for the smaller songbirds you just have to look towards the trees and listen for a nice song or a flock of birds flipping through the leaves.”
Here is a sampling of some of the special birds that you might encounter
- The blackburnian warbler, a small bright orange and black warbler, winters in Central and South America and passes through the Great Lakes region en route to its summer Arctic home.
- The common yellowthroat is a small warbler with an olive back, wings and tail, a yellow throat and chest and white belly.
- The dunlin is a very familiar shorebird, known for its bright reddish back and black belly and long, drooping bill.
- The lesser yellowlegs is a long-legged shorebird with brightly colored legs that give it its name. It’s an aggressive feeder and can often be seen running through shallow water to try to catch its prey.
- The northern parula is quite small and dainty with less obvious colouring than other warblers, yet its understated soft blue and yellow color scheme is no less beautiful.
Cool things to do during the Warblers and Whimbrels Festival
- Go bird watching early in the morning; the park will be offering guided bird hikes at 6:30am and 10am starting at the lighthouse
- Use your digital camera as binoculars to catch a close-up glimpse of some of the birds and take a picture while you’re at it
- Take an afternoon guided walk on Saturday or Sunday at 2 p.m. starting from the Owen Point Trail parking lot where park naturalists will take you out to see the shorebirds
- Check out a bird banding demonstration, which will allow you to see the birds up close and learn why this particular activity is so important. Banding usually starts in the Owen Point Trail parking lot at 8 a.m.; this early morning start is a great activity for families with little ones who get up with the sun anyway
- Visit the Lighthouse Interpretive Centre and Friends’ Gift Shop; open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and always a hotbed of activity
- Take in The Lighthouse Gallery to view the work of local artisans
- Chow down at the BBQ, hosted both days by the Friends of Presqu’ile, starting at 11 a.m.
So why take in this very cool spectacle at Presqu’ile?
“This is a chance to actually see these beautiful birds up close and share the wonder of these little tiny creatures that have flown thousands and thousands of miles to get to our park,” says Bree. “After such a long winter, it’s just a joy to be able to see and hear these beautiful birds and share that experience with other people.”
Spring birding is just one of the cool things at Presqu’ile. Check out this video for more Cool Things.