This past Saturday, I had plans to make it to Point Pelee for sunrise, but when the alarm went off, hitting the snooze button felt like a better plan. Hey, it’s not migration so I can be a little lazier. I was still out the door at a respectable 7:15 and was in the park just after 8. I headed straight down to the tip to check it out. I hadn’t been down to the tip for many weeks so I was curious to see what kind of shape it was in. The tip has been taking a beating with the high lake levels so it’s always a surprise to see how much or little beach is available to stand on.
I headed out on the “42” trail to get a look down at the tip and see if it was worth making the trek. I had the place all to myself (hence the first half of the post title – Solitary… the rest will make sense later). The wind was howling out of the west and from the parking lot, I could see ice piled up all along the west side, so I wasn’t expecting the tip to be open. Which it wasn’t. But to my surprise, there was quite a bit of open water on the east side directly out from the 42 trail. With open water comes ducks which is what I was after.
A lot of the expected species were flying by in big groups, including Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Mergansers, a few Common Mergansers, and handful of Scaup but the nice surprise was a group of 8 Long-tailed Ducks. We don’t see a lot of Long-tailed Ducks down this way. White-winged Scoters, flying by in small groups, were new for the year for me. With the open water, there was lots of potential to find a rare duck but everything seemed to be staying out pretty far from shore making the IDs tricky even with the scope cranked up to 60x.
After scanning the lake for a while, I decided to try my luck at land birds up through Sparrow Field. The walk up was quiet, and Sparrow Field was even quieter with only a few Golden-crowned Kinglets and the odd Yellow-rumped Warbler.
I decided to head back to the car and try my luck up near the Visitor Centre. I was thinking about walking down Redbud trail and then Shuster Trail before heading home. My plans were quickly changed as I walked up to the Visitor Centre.
A medium-sized grey bird flew up in front of me. It must have been down low near the small pond in front the centre. With my bare eyes I noticed an intriguing wing pattern in flight. I knew right then I had to get on the bird. Lucky for me, it landed up in a bare tree close by just posing for me. I noticed the white eye-ring and I gasped a little. I knew I had a Townsend’s Solitaire. A rare visitor from the west. A life bird for me and a self-found one at that!
Townsend’s Solitaires are thrushes normally found in mountainous forests in the west but occasionally venture down to lower elevations and may even wander to the east. Lucky for me, it wandered pretty far east and ended up at Point Pelee! According to reports, this appears to be approximately the 12th record for the Pelee area of this species but don’t quote me on that yet. Please feel free to correct me in the comments if you know otherwise!
After identifying the bird, I knew I had to get the word out. To my horror, when I looked down at my cell phone, I had no service. For some reason, the area around the VC is a vortex for coverage for me. I walked around a bit keeping my phone high and the bird in sight. I was eventually able to get some service. Just enough to make a couple quick phone calls to start spreading the word. I happened to turn in the right direction and got better service and was able to post the bird to Ontbirds and Wepbirds.com.
Click a pic to view full-size.
It was great to share a life bird with a lot of other birders that afternoon. It went from a solitary start to the day at the tip, to a fantastic experience with a Townsend’s Solitaire giving eye-melting views.
Not only was this a life bird for me and many others that afternoon, it was a new species for the Windsor-Essex-Pelee Birds Depths of Winter list. Check it out over at Wepbirds.com and get involved!