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.
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.
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. More on birds of prey (raptors), in this blog article.
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. Many small birds, like vireos, warblers and thrushes have been moving through for a couple of weeks 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 20 (species) warbler days in fall are 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.
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.
Where to go:
Any of the parks along the Great Lakes shorelines can be great for migration.
- On Lake Ontario: Sandbanks, Presqu’ile, and Darlington
- On Lake Erie: Port Burwell, Wheatley, Rock Point and Rondeau
- On Lake Huron MacGregor Point, and The Pinery,
- On Lake Superior: Sleeping Giant (which can get western birds I can only dream of seeing down my way).
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 (Sept. 15, 2013). 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.