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Birding Presqu’ile and Gull Island: Shorebird Paradise

Birding Presqu’ile Provincial Park in September is fantastic for shorebirds. It’s an excellent spot to get in a great #shorebirdworkout. I spent 2 days birding the park last week and saw 12 shorebird species, including 2 lifers (Baird’s Sandpiper and American Golden-Plover). The absolute highlight of the trip was wading out to Gull Island off Owen Point where I saw a Marbled Godwit, Yellow-headed Blackbird and had amazing views of American Golden-Plovers.

Here are the stories from the trip with photographs and tips for if you want to visit the park yourself!

Gull Island

Let’s jump right into the most fun aspect of the trip: walking through waist-deep water to get to Gull Island. Last week I tweeted about heading to Presqu’ile and a friend immediately responded “go to Gull island!” I had never heard of this spot, but I knew right away I would have to get there.

The Walk

The easiest way to explain the walk to Gull Island is to show you this map. I recommend clicking on satellite view for the full effect.

You walk out to Owen Point and then walk for 15 minutes through knee to waist deep water to get to the island. After nearly losing my camera overboard in a canoe earlier this summer, I came to Presqu’ile prepared with 3 drybags and grippy water shoes. I actually found the walk pretty easy – the water is crystal clear and I never felt unstable. Here’s a video clip of me on the walk:

What To Expect

This small treeless island is a combination of rugged beauty and raw nature. People aren’t allowed on the island from March-early September because thousands of Gulls and Terns breed here. The island is littered with Cormorant, Gull and fish carcasses and, yes, there is the occasional whiff of bird feces. But, then you look up and see a group of American Golden-Plovers flying past over the sparkling crystal clear water and your faith in the beauty of the place is restored.

The Rarities

There were reports of Marbled Godwit, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Whimbrel and Yellow-headed Blackbirds on Gull Island.  I saw two of the the four:

Marbled Godwit

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Backlit and distant, but what a great bird to see in Ontario!

American Golden-Plovers

Another highlight and lifer for me was seeing five American Golden-Plovers on one of the island’s rocky shorelines.

Other shorebirds

I also saw Least Sandpipers, Sanderlings, Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlin and a Pectoral Sandpiper. At any given time, there were mixed flock groups of shorebirds flying past. It was truly an exciting place to bird!

Birding Presqu’ile’s Beaches

With high water levels, Owen point was devoid of shorebirds. The beaches, though, were teeming with bird life. Highlights were a Baird’s Sandpiper (lifer) and many White-rumped Sandpipers in among the Semi-palms and Sanderlings. We also saw two Peregrine Falcons zipping down the beach on the attack.

Shorebird ID Skills Update

I’m on a quest this year to crack shorebird ID. It’s been a challenge because Ottawa has high water levels and it’s difficult to find any species to identify. I visited PEI at the end of August and really began to practice the skills I’ve been studying all summer. At Presqu’ile things really started to click when I faced my first mixed groups of peeps. It was also a fantastic place to learn Black-bellied versus American Golden-Plover ID.

Have I cracked shorebird ID? Not 100%, but my skills have dramatically improved over the season. I’ll be writing a post next month detailing the steps I took to better my skills. I’ll also be putting up a shorebird ID quiz. Stay tuned!

Birding Presqu’ile: Practical Information

I stayed at the Brighton Inn (less than a 10 minute drive to the entrance). On the second day of the trip, I joined a group from Eastern Ontario Birding. Having an expert there to identify difficult shorebirds is invaluable!

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Birding Presqu’ile and Gull Island: Shorebird Paradise


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