Today was our day for birding Point Pelee. All the advice was, that at this time of the year, you have to be in the queue at the main gate for opening time – 5.00am. It’s then a 8k drive to the Visitors Centre, which has limited parking, and a wait to catch the shuttle bus to The Tip – the most southerly mainland point in Canada, a thin finger of land pointing south into Lake Erie and a magnet for migrating birds. We got up at four and had joined the queue just as they started admitting vehicles into the park. We parked up at the the VC, got our kit together and were on the first bus to The Tip. So far the plan was working. It’s only about a 300m stroll then for what we hoped would be the start of our Point Pelee birding experience – a few shore birds at the very end then a methodical check of the bushes back to the Centre and the ‘birders breakfast’. Thirty people max were in front of us as we ambled down to the start… then all hell broke loose! An excited lady pointed to the bushes and said ‘there’s a Ptarmigan in there’! Now, as we all know, Ptarmigan are a high mountain species with cryptic white plumage to disguise them against the snow. The nearest breeding birds must be hundreds of miles north of Pelee. Assuming it was a problem of ‘lost in translation’ we went to take a look. To our utter combined amazement there indeed was a Ptarmigan, pecking about on the beach. The first ever recorded at Pelee and the start of a birding stampede. As news spread more bus loads of anxious birders began to arrive – the first maintaining a fast walk, those that followed forced to break out into a trot, the ones who couldn’t get on the bus adopting an ‘Iron Man’ running style down to The Tip. Absolutely bonkers! Meanwhile the bird which, was becoming increasingly anxious at the growing number of admirers, took a walk down The Tip to escape the crowds and later flew into cover. We left it alone and started what we’d come to do in the first place – check the bushes for Spring migrants and have breakfast. The rest of the day was ‘rinse and repeat’ – checking various areas along the Point with breaks in between. We did find some great birds but nothing which could compare to our first bird of the day – the Point Pelee Ptarmigan!
The story as it unfolded. First discovery at dawn in the modest cover at The Tip