I stood on the boardwalk in Rondeau Provincial Park beneath Tulip trees, Sassafrass, and Shagbark Hickories. I listened and watched, keeping binoculars at the ready in case I saw any hint of movement along the downed trees or perhaps even a lucky flash of yellow.
A gentle breeze rustled the leaves. Other birders walked wordlessly behind me, only their boots on the boardwalk indicating their presence.
I needed more than the half hour I had left to wait patiently, to catch sight of one of Rondeau Provincial Park’s rare visitors – a prothonotary warbler. Despite many reliable sightings over the course of the previous week, it was not to be my morning and I wandered through the rest of the Tulip Tree Trail delighted by white trillium that had aged pink, intrigued by birders with walkie talkies that called out sightings of wood thrushes at Signpost 6, and astounded by how many different bird calls or songs I could hear but not identify.
Birding in the Ottawa Valley
The extent of my birding experience up until this day on the shores of Lake Erie was a handful of days in the Ottawa Valley at the end of a cold April and a particularly harsh winter. We were fortunate to spot some migrating waterfowl and a few early songbirds. I dutifully checked off each species we sighted, wanting to spend more time listening to their calls and identifying them by sound rather than by sight.
I felt the same way at Rondeau, even though I found myself enchanted by the colours of this batch of migrants: a plump, brilliantly deep blue indigo bunting, a fiery scarlet tanager that spent several minutes showing off for us, and a bordering-on-fluorescent orange Baltimore oriole. Their songs were the puzzles I wanted to solve, the foreign language I wanted to learn. That of course takes time and practice as well as a few good resources that any naturalist worth her salt can direct you towards.
Rondeau Provincial Park’s Festival of Flight
Whether you are like me and are new to birding or have been birding your entire life, mark your calendars for a trip to Rondeau in early to mid-May.
The park celebrates the return of the songbird in style with its annual Festival of Flight. The park has a staff of enthusiastic naturalists and to cope with the sheer volume of visitors, the Friends of Rondeau organization brings in additional naturalists who have a passion for birds to guide hikes and talks.
It also provides coffee, soup, and other goodies for birders who come from as far as the U.K. to catch a glimpse of the warblers as they stop over in the park before they continue their migration north.
Plan to stay longer than a day as weather conditions can impact how active the birds – and the insects they eat – are on a given day.
Be sure to take advantage of the two guided hikes a day. The naturalists are up at the crack of dawn scouting out areas in the park with the most avian activity and keep an eye on it throughout the day based on what visitors see. They have decades of experience, boatloads of excitement, and can quickly point out the Blackburnian warbler flitting through the alders or the call of a Canada warbler that they can hear back in the forest understory but haven’t sighted yet.
Finally grab your favourite bird identification book (or app if you’re digitally-inclined), a pair of good binoculars, and maybe your 400mm camera lens and enjoy exploring the spring migration at Rondeau Provincial Park!
Just the Facts:
Rondeau Provincial Park is about a 3-hour drive from Toronto, 1.5-hours from London and is found on the north shore of Lake Erie.
For camping and other fee information, check out the Ontario Parks’ website here.
The New-to-Me Bird List:
- Scarlet Tanager
- Indigo Bunting
- Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
- Rose-breasted Grosbeak
- Traill’s Flycatcher (unknown whether Willow or Alder)
- Eastern Kingbird
- Magnolia Warbler
- Grey Catbird
- Red-eyed Vireo
- Blackburnian Warbler
- Chestnut-sided Warbler
- Cape May Warbler
- Great Crested Flycatcher
- Black-throated Green Warbler
- Brown-headed Cowbird
- Eastern Wood Pewee
- Warbling Vireo