Saturday, May 5, 2012

Pelee 2012, and, beware birding hubris

Oh, spring migration. My favourite, bar none, time of year. I mean, I love fall, and I'm a winter fan, and I can even find things to like about the sticky summer days, but spring, with its warblers and its butterflies... there is nothing like it.

I haven't been out as much in this area as I'd perhaps like, but wonder of wonders, we made it to Pelee. It was quite different for us this year; we normally go and go hard for three to five days, with multiple stops at Hillman Marsh, a night at Wheatley Provincial Park, a day or a day and a bit at Pelee, and then two or three days in Rondeau. This year we hit Hillman on our way down, stayed at a little cottage just outside Point Pelee National Park, birded the park for a day and a half and then made our way back home. We have a small appendage, you see, who to her credit does very, very well with hours in a carrier or a stroller outside while her parents see as many birds as they can -- but even her best is somewhat less than my preferred seven to ten hours of hiking and birdwatching.

So it meant that we were a lot more circumspect. We all went home for a nap in the afternoon. We kept moving, as smallfry does not like to be kept standing still. We were careful about taking her where there were lots of other people, so as not to disturb them -- she's not a noisy or fussy baby, but she does like to talk. Sometimes talking is actually yelling. fishy was wonderful, allowing me to take off and get serious while he walked circles around the Tip.

Sleep deprivation takes its toll, too. I'm known to be a bit quick off the mark with my identifications sometimes; I can be a bit overconfident. This admission does not come easily. It's embarrassing. Let's call this next part therapy, because I made two really bad mistakes this time around -- the first one IDing a calling bird as a Olive-Sided Flycatcher (which I know I am not good with, call-wise, despite the fact that its call is very distinct) when it was really a White-Eyed Vireo -- a nice sighting, to be sure, but definitely not an Olive-Sided Flycatcher. Here, though, I knew something was wrong with my ID, so I spent the time hanging around until I finally saw the little blighter. The second was worse, and it pains me to admit this one. We saw a Red-Headed Woodpecker -- first one reported on the Woodland Trail in the sightings book, so I was excited. Too excited, because I identified it, in the sightings book, as male.

Even though I know, I really honestly do know, one does not identify Red-Headed Woodpeckers as male or female by sight, because it is not possible to do so. fishy kindly told me, once I'd realized what I'd done, that we did watch it for a while and it didn't lay any eggs, so it definitely could have been male.


Anyway, now that's out of my system. Lesson learned: especially when going on less than six hours of good solid sleep, be careful. And do not write anything down where other people can see it.

Overall we were lucky. We came home about thirty species lighter than last year, missing some odd things like chickadees (really) and Red-Eyed Vireos, and we just barely got a Brown Thrasher. But we hit a couple of waves of small migrants down at the Tip, and both of us came away with lifers -- for fishy, American Pipit, and for both of us, Eared Grebe. Each of us got excellent looks at those species, too. Other notables, especially given that we were also in the park about two weeks earlier than we normally are: Blue-Winged Warblers, a Willet (at Hillman), and a metric tonne of Nashville Warblers, to go along with the metric tonne of Yellow-Rumps. Thanks to our timing, we also managed to see a lot more Gadwalls and Shovelers at Hillman than we ever have before, and an enormous flock (relative to the single individuals we usually see) of Rusty Blackbirds on the Woodland Trail.

It was a success, if a different sort of success we're used to. Next year we'll go just the two of us again; it will be years before smallfry is ready for a Pelee experience she will actually remember. I'm already looking forward to next year. I am going to bird until it's too dark to see, or until my feet fall off, or until I get serious warbler-neck. And then I'll get up at 8am the next morning and do it again.