A small selection of the many ducks at Presqu'ile

Witness the phenomenon of fall migration in Ontario Parks

Today’s post comes from David Bree, Senior Natural Heritage Education Leader at 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

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.

Many people like to go in search of wildlife this time of year as migration allows them to see species that are only in their neighbourhood for a short time of the year.  I know if I want to see a Baird’s sandpiper around my home I better do it in September because that’s the only time it’s likely to be here.

sandpipers on beach
Spotted at Presqu’ile: Baird’s Sandpiper (middle) and two Semipalmated Pipers on the shore at Presqu’ile Provincial Park. Photo: D. Bree

Migration is best experienced along the shorelines of lakes, or along high ridgelines.  These natural boundaries seem to funnel moving creatures into compact masses, or can hold them up for a few days. Both possibilities increase the chances of finding them.  The Great Lakes are the greatest natural boundary in the province and anywhere along the north shore of any one of these lakes would be a great place to catch up with migrating birds.  As they move south, some (like hawks) will move along the shoreline looking for a way over, as they don’t like to cross open water.

For myself, I love to spend time along the north shore of Lake Ontario

The park I work in, Presqu’ile, is a great place to catch up with some migrants.

Spotting the songbirds

Many small birds, like vireos, warblers and thrushes, start moving through in mid-August and will continue to do so into October.

However, with the trees full of leaves, and the birds not singing their spring songs they can be hard to find.  Some people enjoy this challenge and seeing 20 species of warbler in one day in fall is not unknown.

A good tip is to listen for chickadees and see what other birds are in with these noisy, common birds.  Many warblers join chickadees in fall as they move through the area.

Spotting the shorebirds

My favourite birds to look for in fall, however, are the shorebirds. Sandpipers and plovers on their way from the arctic to South America can often be found along the lakeshores from July to November, but September is best.

Twenty species in a weekend is very possible and unlike warblers, these are standing out in the open along the shore (thus their name) so they can be easy to find. Shorebirds come in all shapes and sizes and watching the different ways they forage is half the fun.

Semipalmated Plovers step and dip, Ruddy Turnstones flip rocks, and Dowitchers look like manic sewing machines with their rapid fire probing of the mud.

Shorebirds at Presqu’ile: (clockwise from top left) Semipalmated plover, sanderlings, golden plover, park visitors watching shorebirds. Photos by: D. Bree
Shorebirds at Presqu’ile: (clockwise from top left) Semipalmated plover, Sanderlings, Golden Plover, park visitors watching shorebirds. Photos: D. Bree

Where to go:

Any of the parks along the Great Lakes shorelines can be great for migration.

You’ll also find special fall migration events every fall at provincial parks on the lower Great Lakes like Rondeau Provincial Park’s annual Monarch Butterfly Migration Festival or Presqu’ile’s Migrants and Monarchs Weekend on the Labour Day Weekend.

Be sure to check here for all Ontario Parks events.

You can’t go wrong with a September visit to these and other Great Lakes parks if you want to experience the miracle of migration. Throw in some fall wildflowers, and September is a great time to be exploring.