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ONTARIO (Essex County)(SE)

Lat:41o59´00´´S/82o30´10´´W 1564ha (1,113 ha of marsh and 1,564ha of forest) flat, 175msl 

Ramsar site 

May (09.05.96-18.05.96)


Birding Site Guide

This is a 10km peninsula jutting S into Lake Erie (Great Lakes) at the southern extreme of mainland Canada. Migration is best in spring when many thousands of birds of 360+ species can be found, including provincial and national rarities. 

To Reach Point Pelee it is best to go via Toronto then on to Leamington, accommodation can be found at Leamington and it is then only a few km to the national park, following the signs (though you may still need to ask directions). We stayed at a guesthouse on the outskirts of Leamington and drove into the park daily. 

At the entrance you will need to buy an entry ticket, then it is possible to either drive (extra for vehicle) or walk in. Walking is fine as there is a visitor centre selling refreshments further in. There is also a tractor pulled train from the centre (halfway along the peninsula) to the point. Be warned if you drive in and park where you should not, the park authorities have the power to issue parking tickets and will do so quickly. Pelee Island can be reached by boat from Leamington. 

We were lucky with the weather as the evening we arrived there was a huge hail and thunderstorm which grounded thousands of migrants overnight and when we arrived at the park gates next day every bush and tree was teeming with birds. Just around the gates in 2 hours in an area the size of an average garden we had 5 species of thrush in the same bush, 19 species of warblers, 4 species of woodpeckers, flycatchers and vireos and 3 species of wrens, both orioles and much else besides! 

From the Cat-tail cafe and visitor centre there are many trails, pick up a map there and from here it is possible to get then train to the point, though we often walked and birded. Here it is advisable to check the regularly updated ‘latest sighting’ board and it is possible to take the train to the point and bird the vast open lake for ducks The site regularly supports over 10,000 of the individuals in populations of Common Merganser (Goosander) and 50,000 Red-breasted Merganser and gulls. As well as the trails there is also the option to walk along the beaches. 

Anything can and does turn up, some days can be amazing for raptor passage, with such oddities as Mississippi Kite appearing. Gulls have included Black-headed Gull, rare on this side of the pond. The warblers especially can be simply overwhelming in numbers. Then you always have to keep your ears open for the cry of “Kirtland’s Warbler” or some other equally sought after species. Only one or 2 Kirtland’s are usually found each spring. Be aware the park gets extremely busy (400,000 visitors a year in such a tiny area), especially on spring weekends, not just with birders but families on days out, and it can be difficult to find a quiet area to bird, if that is what you are after. 

Away from Pelee there is Hillman’s Marsh, Harrow Sewage Works and Kopegaren Woods within easy reach by car and can offer some different species. Hillman’s Marsh and Harrow Sewage Works produced most of the waders on our list as well as Bald Eagle at the former. Rhonda is a couple of hours from Pelee but also worth doing for Pileated Woodpecker, Ruffed Grouse and Wood Duck, however we only heard the ‘pecker and never saw the grouse, but there were other birds new for us such as Golden-crowned Kinglet, White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadee, Pine Siskin, Blackpoll Warbler and Eastern Bluebird. Later we added Lesser Yellowlegs and Belted Kingfisher. 

Other sites which can be visited on day trips from Pelee area that we included to a lesser degree were Saint Claire which has a large reedbed, but we only saw Yellow-headed Blackbird and Mute Swan. At Tremblay we saw Redheads at last and some Lesser Scaup. 

Closer to Toronto we briefly birded Port Rowan and Long Point. We saw little at the first place but at Long Point we added Canvasback, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Mourning Warbler and a lot of other species we had already seen at Pelee. 

Anyone who can add more details on the places in these accounts please email BSG (don’t forget your name) and full site write ups can then be done for all these areas. 

Species seen 



In all 360+ species of bird have so far been recorded. Nationally rare bird species include Prothonotary Warbler, King Rail, Sedge Wren, Least Bittern, American Bittern, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk, Loggerhead Shrike and Eastern Bluebird. The site also supports the globally threatened bird Piping Plover. At least 100 bird species are known to breed in the park, these include American Black Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Mallard and Wood Duck. In the marsh itself, many species congregate in the shallow ponds, including Double-crested Cormorant, American Coot, and herons and grebes. 

Other Fauna 

There are 42 species of mammal, with the commonest being Muskrat Ondatra zibethicus . Predators include Mink Mustela vison and Raccoon Procyon lotor other mammals include Longtail Weasel Mustela frenata , Meadow Vole Microtus pennsylvanicus , White-footed MousePeromyscus leucopus , Deer Mouse P. maniculatus , Meadow Jumping Mouse Zapus hudsoniusand in winter Eastern Cottontail Sylvilagus floridanus, Coyote Canis latrans and Whitetail DeerOdocoileus virginianus

Some 28 species of reptiles and amphibians have been recorded. Common in the marsh are American Toad Bufo americanus,Green Frog Rana clamitans melanota, Northern Leopard FrogR. pipiens and becoming rarer North American Bullfrog R. catesbeiana . The eastern barrier ridge, as well the marsh area, is a valuable turtle-nesting habitat. Species include Spiny Softshell Turtle Trionyx spiniferus, possibly a rare turtle. Thirty-four fish species, both sport and non-sport, inhabit the marsh. 

Seven fish species, two amphibians, three turtles, one snake and one mammal species occurring at the site are rare, threatened or endangered in Canada. Point Pelee is internationally recognised as a major staging area for migratory monarch butterflies (up to 20,000) and dragonflies. 

Of the 70 species of vascular plants eight are rare, threatened or endangered in Canada, including two nationally rare species, Justicia americana and Hibiscus palustris. The trough section of the Point Pelee marsh holds rare species such as Ipomoea pandurataAgastache sp. and Lactuca floridana

A Directory of Wetlands of International Importance, Ramsar Information sheet 

Author: BSG