Ontario – An ‘unfashionable’ birding destination by Malcolm Palmer

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Having had family connections in the Toronto area during much of my life, I have had cause to spend a bit of time there, and have tried to go at migration times when possible.

I can thoroughly recommend Ontario as a birding destination, especially for the North American novice – a great place to start getting to know the birds ‘across the pond’ in a relatively cheap, safe, friendly environment.

But it is important to get your timing right. Winter tends to hang around until way into late April – I’ve been snowed upon in May! But then, early in that month, the flood of migrants starts to pour through, and the place to be, beyond any doubt, is Point Pelee. This promontory sticks out southwards into Lake Erie, and is at roughly the latitude of Barcelona. The reserve is superbly managed, and as you drive in (it opens at first light!) and pay your fee, they give you a map and a bag in which to put your litter. Information awaits you at the Reserve Centre, with a log of sightings, etc., and always people to help you. The number and variety of migrants is only rivalled by the number of birders!

Canada is, above all, very foreign. (in natural history terms, that is) On my first day there, for example, a French Canadian guy put me onto a Henslow’s Sparrow, a local rarity:-

‘Where?’ I asked.

‘In that shagbark hickory.’

‘What’s one of those?’

‘The tree next to the red pine, the one with the poison ivy.’ – See what I mean?

Back eastwards along the shore of the lake, you come to another great reserve, Long Point, where I helped with the ringing. (banding, they call it)

I also did some of that on the Toronto islands, where Mugg’s Island has a big Ring-billed Gull colony, and again, the migrants stream through.

Further north, you can go through the lovely Muskoka region to the vast Algonquin National Park, which has Moose, Bears and Wolves, and the birds have an arctic flavour, with Evening Grosbeaks, Grey Jay and Boreal Chickadee.

If you’ve never been birding over the pond, Ontario is a great place to start.