#1 - Point Pelee, ON May 16-17, 2005
I almost feel bad that Point Pelee, one of the most famous birding locations in America, was my number one birding experience of the year. Where's the fun in that? Why don't I just root for the Yankees? Well I hate the Yankees. But, for a number of reasons, I loved Point Pelee.
Let me set the scene for you. Young man. College senior. Had just recently begun seriously IDing birds and had already been taken by the excitement of it to the point that most all his free time was dedicated to birding (to the chagrin of his girlfriend, friend and grades). While researching good American birding locations, he keeps coming across Point Pelee, a spit of land jutting into Lake Erie that, during migration ('right now!' he tells himself), is overrun by migrating birds exhausted from the non-stop flight across the lake. His eyes light up and his mind tumbles over the possibilities. He must go.
So there I was. It was a mission. I somehow managed to talk Kate into going with me and not only that, but in her
SUV (so we could sleep in it. How could she refuse such a romantic offer?). So one weekend we got into the car, told the roommates we were going camping* and headed west.
[*Funny Story: At this early point in my birding I was reluctant to tell my friends of my new passion because they would consider me, with justification, a dork. So when I set off to Pelee, I said we were camping, and all was well...for a while. The day we left happened to be the same day the State of NY introduced raised toll rates on I-90. While Kate and I were eating lunch at a Burger King reststop less than an hour away from school, we noticed a young reporter interviewing patrons about the toll hikes and writing down their responses. The gears of my keen English major mind began cranking, and I waited for her to come to our table, which she did. She asked us a few questions; our names, where we were on route to, and then I dropped my witticism...to which there were several strained chuckles. Fast forward to Monday morning, back on campus, when my roommate shows me an article on the front page of the Sunday paper. The last paragraph read:
"Nick ___, who was on his way to Ontario for a birdwatching trip, said about the price increases: 'it's only a few cents, but over time it really begins to take its toll.'" "So," said my roommate, "When did you become a dork and start birdwatching?"
Anyway, Kate and I pulled in late to a campground near Point Pelee, had a terrible nights sleep in the back of the car, and made our way to the National Park early the next morning. Not early enough, though, as there were only a couple parking spaces left when we arrived. There were birders, and birds, everywhere. Scopes and binoculars and cameras and people. For some, all this commotion would have detracted from the experience. I've since read things about how Point Pelee is in danger from too much human activity. For an amateur birder like me, however (I was studying warblers in the car like I had a final exam), it was perfect. Thousands of birds were in the trees and everyone was there to help with identification. What's that you say? An orange-crowned warbler? Never heard of it! Thanks for the help!
Birders, I quickly learned, relished being the first to correctly ID a tough bird, and when they did they were sure to let people know about it. You could hear them shouting through the trees. Bay-Breasted! Black-Throated Green! It was the same at the actual Point, a tiny sliver of sand that was covered in shorebirds. One guy was in complete control, leaning back with his arms folding and spotting birds before anyone else. Ruddy Turnstones! Black Tern! All I had to do was sit there and soak it up. (A personal highlight was IDing an orchard oriole and having a herd of scopes and cameras fall in behind me. Great times.)
Kate and I covered the park from end to end. So many birds of so many species in such a small area was amazing. Firsts for me in the woods included: Bay-breasted, orange-crowned, black-throated green, black-throated blue and yellow-rumped warblers, yellow-throated vireo, white-crowned, white-throated, song and tree sparrows, blue-grey gnatcatcher and more. At the point I saw ruddy turnstone, sanderling, dunlin, common and black tern, bonaparte's gull, GBB gull, SemiPalm sandpiper and plover. Later, at the fields outside the park there were american golden and black-bellied plover. Nearby were sandhill crane, white pelican, horned lark and short-billed dowitcher. In all Kate and I tallied over 100 species, over 50 of them new. It was the most exciting two days of birding I've ever had, without question.
It's been a great first year of birding. I've looked for birds every single time I've been outside, whether I was in Maine or Ontario or Delaware or Nevada or Indiana or New York or DC. It will sure as hell be a tough year to top, but I'll love trying.