Monday, May 2, 2016

Point Pelee Festival of Birds 2016

The Best Place for Bird Watching in Ontario

We have just over 2 days until we leave for our 4th year of traveling to Point Pelee National Park for the spring songbird migration. Point Pelee is recognized as a world-class birding destination that brings hundreds of species to the parks grounds as one of the best locations in inland North America to observe the northward migration of songbirds. Used as a stop-over or migration route for many species, the diversity of warblers is a site to see.

Thr best place for bird watching in Ontario
A colorful Blackburnian warbler perched in a tree during the Festival of Birds at Point Pelee

Observing and Photographing the Birds: Etiquette

It is important to remember as a birder or someone interested in visiting the park that protecting the landscape and species is essential. It is requested by the park to avoid flash photography, the use of recordings to attract birds, and cornering birds. It is also essential to use designated trails and footpaths to limit the stress on these tiny, exhausted migrants.

Where to Stay when visiting Point Pelee

Planning our trip starts in February of each year, when we book our accommodations at Sturgeon Woods Campground located in Leamington,  only 1 kilometer from Point Pelee National Park. We have stayed at this camp ground since we have been coming to the festival of birds and have had two different camping experiences.

The first 2 years, we borrowed my aunt’s trunk and camper combination which was such a convenient option. We could take the whole trunk into the park, have lunch inside the camper and go over our checklists for the morning.

Camping near Point Pelee National Park
Our truck and camper at Sturgeon Woods Campground

Renting a Cabin near Point Pelee

Last year was our first year trying something different and renting one of the cabins on site. It was a great alternative to the camper which was no long available for us to borrow. A great little set up, equipped with electricity, a mini fridge, two bunk beds and a desk. Just outside, there was a picnic table and fire pit.

Renting a Cabin near Point Pelee for Bird Migration
Our cozy cabin we rented at the campsite

Camping near Point Pelee during the Festival of Birds
Enjoying a night by the fire before a day of more bird watching!

How many birds can you see at Point Pelee?

Once we make our way into the park, we purchase the birding parking pass that they have available for this time of year. It grants you access to the park for 3 days and cost $50.00.

Our mornings start early, waking up at around 5am to make it into the park to catch the first tram down to the tip. This is a chance to see any of the new migrants that have traveled over night or to have a chance to see some of the late arrivals we missed the night before. Neither one of us can really handle the excitement of what is to come for the day, when that golden light of the morning breaks the horizon and lights up the east side of the beach. We join the others for an early morning photo session.

Last year we saw over 130 different species of birds in just 3 days!  This includes some incredible species including a Mourning warbler, Hooded warbler, and Blackpoll warbler!

Watching the annual bird migration in Southern Ontario

Bird Watching at the Southern Tip of Ontario

We usually hit the tip a couple times a day, while hitting some of the other trails in between. The great part is there is a giant map of the park in the visitor’s center where they mark recent sightings, so if you’d like to better your chances of seeing a particular species, you could try scoping that out. Last year, we visited a path twice (Tilden Trial) to try and catch a glimpse of the Hooded Warbler that was spotted in the area.  After trying a different trail, we were with a group of people who gave us a description of where they had just seen him and we headed in that direction on the Woodland Trail in behind the visitors center. After some searching with some other eager birders we got our first glimpse of this beautiful warbler.

Hooded warbler bird at Point Pelee
The stunning male Hooded warbler makes an appearance

Enjoying our stay Sturgeon Woods Campgrounds

After a long, 12-15 hour day, we retire back to our site to make dinner, clear off our cards, charge batteries and go through and process our photos on our laptop.  This is quite the process considering we both fill 32GB memory cards in one day. There is nothing like knowing you had a really good photo session, only to have this confirmed when you find a razor sharp image of a bird. The hardest part is not staying up too late in order to do it all over the next day.

Processing Bird Photography Images in Photoshop
Looking at our bird photography pictures in the camper before bed

Stepping up our Bird Photography Game

This year we are adding a new element to our trip. We have purchased a GoPro and are going to try and get some vlogging going or our YouTube Channel to share about our trip. We bought a Gorillapod to go with it and hope to get some great birding footage!

Some of the Best Bird Photography Opportunities in Canada

As a photographer who is into birding, there isn’t really a better time of year. You see so many magnificent species and have the best photo opportunities. Last year, we shot a red-breasted grosbeak that was practically an arm’s length away; we had to back up with our cameras in order to get him to focus. He stayed long enough for us to get a ton of shots.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak through a telescope camera lens
Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

The same happened a few years back with Scarlet Tanager that seem to be following us around the park.

Scarlet Tanagers are common at Point Pelee National Park
Male Scarlet Tanager looks at the photographer

This photo of a Black-throated green warbler was our first shot of the trip last year, taken first thing in the morning at the tip.

Annual bird migration at the festival of birds
Black-throated green warbler in the early morning sun

Typical Weather in Early May at Point Pelee

The weather, as during most trips, can be a bit of a tossup. Last year the weather was sunny, and hot for the majority of the trip, whereas our first year we nearly froze in the camper; sleeping in sweats with blankets pulled up over our faces. So it is best to be prepared for the all types of weather.

As I finishing writing this I just got off the phone with a good friend from a little town called Dresden, not a far drive from our birding destination. We will spend the night catching up and talking about all the birds we hope to see, whether our host cares to hear about it or not (she often tells her class about how nerdy her friends are). We will leave first thing in the morning in order to get there as early as possible and start our spring migration for this year!

Keep an eye out as we will be very active on Twitter and Instagram, posting our favorite shots each day!

Stay tuned on our blog and YouTube channel as we will be posting about our trip upon our return.


  1. So many colourful and cute birds, you really have spoilt us! I would love to see a black throated green warbler.

    1. Thank you!! Yes, that is an incredibly beautiful bird - and we get very excited every time we see one!

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