It’s 4:45 a.m. when the alarm goes off. Groggy and disoriented, I momentarily wonder where I am and what I’m doing here. It takes a few seconds for my mind to clear and to remember. Of course! It’s the month of May and the Point Pelee Birding Festival has just begun. I’m in a motel room in Leamington about to get ready to head down to “the point”. It wasn’t that long ago that I viewed bird enthusiasts as a strange breed but, here I am. I’ve turned into one of them.
The morning routine never varies – wake up early, dress in layers, grab breakfast and head out to the Point Pelee Visitors’ Centre in time to catch the first shuttle. It departs for the point at 6:00 a.m. After a seven-minute drive, eager birders are dropped off.
I sometimes wonder what I’m doing arriving at the point shortly after 6:00 a.m. with my camera. It’ll take the better part of an hour to get decent shooting light. So I have to forget about photography for the moment and enjoy the atmosphere of just being here at the southernmost point of mainland Canada. A crowd of other bird enthusiasts surround me, binoculars at the ready, as birds fly in from Pelee Island like shooting stars. Early morning, just after sunrise is the best time to experience the incredible symphony of early morning bird song.
And then there is the spectacular sunrise as the sun seems to emerge from the depths of Lake Erie. A light cloud cover filters the red and orange light. It paints the water and sand on the beach turning the flocks of cormorants, gulls, and mergansers into silhouettes.
It may not be possible to photograph songbirds in this light, but offshore, opportunities abound. As the light increases, the water begins to turn blue. Horned Grebes become the stars of the show.
Point Pelee is just a short stopover on the way to their breeding lakes in the far north. Horned Grebes were added to Ontario’s Species at Risk List in 2009, threatened by permanent loss of wetlands. As the light increases, it becomes easier to get a detailed look at their colourful plumage.
Next, it’s the Black-bellied Plovers that make an entrance. They fly gracefully in unison in a co-ordinated pattern swooping to the right, then to the left with each turn taking them closer and closer to the very tip of the peninsula. These birds are long-distant migrants spending their summer breeding season in the Arctic tundra of Canada and Alaska.
By 8:00 a.m. it’s time to start exploring other parts of the park. The next morning, I do it all over again.
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