Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Top 10 SATISFYING Birding Locations in Ontario

A little fun on the blog.... Presenting, the top 10 satisfying locations for birders in Ontario! (Just for fun.. I swear..)

10. Pelee Island

Seclusion like no other, and with birding potential oozing out of the reclaimed land (and into very large canals)... The big issue with Pelee Island is getting there. The ferry is a disaster (at best), and you'll be hard pressed to find a decent place to stay. Sure, you can camp. Sure, you could find a B&B and stay fairly comfortably. Or even rent a cottage! But the hassle is 10x that of the mainland, and exactly why this place is an under-birded gem. Don't forget - there is something for naturalists of all sorts (plants, bugs, mammals, herps etc)If you DO get there, you're in for a spectacular time. 

9. Whitby

Gets the nod as (perhaps) the best metropolitan area on the lower Great Lakes for year-round birding (the "live here" potential). You have a bit of everything, big water, small water, marshes, woods, hawkwatches, shorebirds, warblers... Plus, you're close enough to the highway to reach other "hotspot" destinations anywhere in southern Ontario (just plan your drive through Toronto!)

8. Marathon

Lake Superior may be the "last frontier" of great birding locations in the province. At least, ones where you won't be eaten by Polar Bears... Marathon has a nice mix of habitats and accessibility, and is in an excellent location along the lakeshore to have massive numbers of birds concentrated along it. Areas near Thunder Bay or Sault Ste. Marie may be affected by various peninsulas or islands that may detract a bit from the local potential. Oh - and don't forget that boreal flair!

7. Ottawa Birding Area

In my list of disappointing birding locations, I picked a few areas that had high appeal to naturalists (schools, jobs etc) - but massive letdowns in terms of birding potential. I think it's only fair to show that our nation's capital has excellent year-round birding at several sites; and is a city large enough where you can actually find a decent job. Admittedly you lose out on some concentration effects observed near the Great Lakes (hawk, warblers etc) - but you can still find these birds without much effort. The Ottawa River provides numerous sites and a variety of habitats that are pretty accessible! 

6. Netitishi Point

Highest marks for the birding potential; very low marks for access. I've chosed Netitishi Point because it's my favourite (and perhaps the most well known) birding location on the James Bay coast in Ontario. No one has ever been birding here in the spring; but the potential is presumably huge. What we know about the fall is a spectacle that may be unrivaled anywhere else in our region. 20,000+ Brant? 1000+ Hudsonian Godwits? 8,000+ Long-tailed Ducks? 500+ Red-throated Loons? 7500+ White-rumped Sandpipers? 6000+Northern Pintail? You get the idea... If vagrants are your thing, well, those are in abundance as well. If you can't get to Netitishi; be sure to check in with the summer shorebird surveys at other locations along James Bay. 

5. Rondeau Birding Area

This may well be your #1 place if you dislike crowds of people. Rondeau is the perfect mix between it's two better known cousins (Pelee and Long Point). It has excellent access to its varied habitats, good infrastructure nearby, and many days of the year it feels like you have the park mostly to yourself. With that said, everything feels a bit watered down compared to the fanfare elsewhere. There are no "big ticket" hotspots quite like the tip of Pelee, tip of Long Point, Hillman Marsh etc. Not really a big deal though if you're out enjoying the birds :) 

4. Van Wagner's Beach, Hamilton

If I may be so bold; this is more of an "advanced" birding destination than the rest of this list... Not everyone is going to get a kick out of a VWB Jaeger watch in October... IF you're keen on it; there isn't really a birding event more exciting than watching a Parasitic Jaeger beat the tar out of a young Ring-billed Gull. It never gets old. The identification is an extreme challenge, you need specific weather (NE!), they require a bit of an effort to find (= more rewarding when you do) and there are several other exciting rarities that occur regularly (other Jaegers, Kittiwakes, Sabines, Gannets etc). Something overlooked is the excellent ducks, shorebirds (few and far between, but I've seen 25+ species here!), raptors and occasional fallouts of passerines. A good day here is hard to match for excitement and satisfaction. 

3. Amherst Island

Owls. Everyone loves owls. Amherst is THEE owl destination. You probably already know this, but it's worth mentioning again. Amherst on a good day could easily be the most satisfying birding anywhere in North America. What many people don't discuss is the hawks, waterbirds, shorebirds, passerines etc that can be found at the same time! Famous for being a semi-reliable location for Boreal Owl (when they're around); I think there is added appeal in a December-January-February visit when all other birding locations are generally slow. 

2. Presqu'ile Provincial Park

The name of the game with Presqu'ile is diversity. Shorebirds, Warblers, Sparrows, Raptors, Ducks, etc etc etc can be good almost any month of the year in any weather. The surrounding area isn't exactly primed as a vacation spot; but it's close to the highway and good enough! I'm surprised more birders don't take advantage of this excellent location. It also has a history getting some of the rarest birds ever seen in Ontario... 

Thee Thick-billed Kingbird

1. Point Pelee Birding Area

There is is! Numbero uno! The Leamington area is a fine vacation destination for birding (cheap motels, cottages, nice hotels, camping - etc) and is within striking distance for most of Ontario's population. Boom! But what about the birding?

May - is THEE best birding anywhere in the world; as far as I'm concerned. Know why?

- Neotropical migrants in May are stunning
- They are highly anticipated after the slowest birding in Jan-Mar
- Late leaf-out allows for great viewing
- Anticipation remains high hoping for a fallout

You can have your epic hawkwatches, shorebird staging areas, gulf coast groundings, ducks etc etc etc - but Neotropical migrants in bare trees in May is THE BEST. Pelee also offers:

Vagrants Year round
Spring Hawkwatching (slow/quality)
Fall Hawkwatching (fast/volume) 
Shorebirding (Spring = reliable, Fall = questionable)
Fun overwintering species
Excellent trails
Variety of habitats (beach, woods, grassland, fields, marsh, lakes, ponds, dry, wet, etc)
Great insects
Some herps/fish/mammals
Decent botany

Not only that, but it's all ACCESSIBLE!

A Pelee speciality! 

Think I've hit the nail on the head here? Any sites you'd add/subtract?


  1. When I read the top 10 disappointing birding locations, I was worried Ottawa would be there. I was surprised to see it higher than both Pelee island and Marathon on this list. Eastern Ontario was certainly well represented here!

  2. I hardly have time to write this as I pack my bags for a fun-filled birding adventure in the naturalists' mecca of... wait... did you say, Whitby??? How about Niagara? Or the Bruce Peninsula, the Pinery, Georgian Bay, or any sewage lagoon in Ontario? You also forgot Oshawa, it's right beside Whitby.

    1. It gets the nod for being good birding AND a metropolitan centre... Not everyone can find a job near the Pinery :)

  3. Surprised Niagara Falls / Fort Erie is not on the list. Scenic vistas, vagrants, variety and abundance of gulls. Not the most satisfying distances for detailed study perhaps?

    1. You nailed it... When I'm at Fort Erie - I stare at all the close birds in Buffalo... Then get tired of distant birds along the river... Great birding yes, but now quite top 10 material once I considered everything (and doesn't get any bonus points on living/work potential)