Celebrate Our Flying Friends

Check out these festivals in southern Ontario and observe the annual spring bird migration.

When the weather starts turning warmer, the sky fills with certain travellers who fly great distances for their annual trip to Canada. Southern Ontario is a particularly attractive spot for our feathered friends to gather before continuing further north to their summer haunts. There are a number of excellent locations where you can experience the spring migration, including one of the world’s best sites where you can see up to 300 species of birds. Break out the binoculars, pack a picnic and head to these avian festivals to enjoy family-friendly programming, guided hikes, educational workshops, and competitive challenges.

Point Pelee National Park
May 1-20

Festival of Birds
Point Pelee National Park is the best place in Canada to watch migrating birds head north after spending the winter in warmer climates. One of the world’s premiere birding destinations, the park is close to Leamington, Ont., and puts on an annual, two-week festival that attracts binocular-toting visitors from across the globe. Beginners and experts alike will find something of interest in the festival’s wide range of guided hikes and workshops. Want to brush up on your identification skills? Some of the hikes specialize in particular species, including warblers, sparrows, gulls and hawks. In addition, the Visitor Centre offers lunch-hour sessions covering subjects such as basic spotting techniques and birdsong identification.

For more information, go to friendsofpointpelee.com.

Rondeau Provincial Park
May 1-19

Festival of Flight
The hills are alive with the sound of birdsong in Rondeau Provincial Park, near Chatham, Ont., during the migration season in May. Beginner, intermediate and expert birders scan the sky and listen for the chirps of their favourite flyers. The Visitor Centre is open daily from 7 a.m.-5 p.m. during the Festival of Flight and there are two guided bird hikes each day. The hikes cost $10 per person and are one-and-a-half to two-hours long. On May 11th you can join the Big Day Birding Competition and count how many birds you see in 24 hours.

Call the Visitor Centre at 519-674-1768 to register for a hike or for more information go to rondeauprovincialpark.ca.

Hillman Marsh Conservation Area
May 1-20

Shore and Songbird Celebration
This marsh migration stopover near Point Pelee National Park attracts more than 100 species of birds. Highlights are a nesting pair of Bald eagles and if you are lucky you might also see a Yellow-headed Blackbird, Willet, Marbled Godwit, Eurasian Wigeon, Glossy Ibis or Eastern Kingbird. Walk the trail that borders 87 acres of unique shorebird habitat and you’ll see the actively managed mudflats, where birds stop to eat and rest. Often the birds are quite close to shore, making for excellent viewing. There is also a large bird blind where visitors can photograph and study the birds without being seen.
Open every day except Mondays, from 3-5 p.m. Ontario Field Ornithologists will be at the Shorebird Viewing Shelter to help identify these amazing creatures. Fee is $6 per vehicle.

For more information, go to essexregionconservation.ca.

Pelee Island Heritage Centre
May 10-12

Springsong Celebration
Started 17 years ago as a fundraiser for the Pelee Island Heritage Centre, this celebration of birds and books is supported by the Pelee Island Bird Observatory and author Margaret Atwood. There is a “bird race” where participants compete for the coveted Botham Cup – teams have 24 hours to spot as many of the 311 species of birds that visit Pelee Island as possible. Atwood annually introduces award-winning authors at the traditionally sold-out Springsong Banquet and also presents the Rubber Chicken Award to the winners of the Botham Cup. This year the banquet guest of honour is Steve Burrows, an award-winning Canadian mystery writer, journalist, and past recipient of a “Nature Writer of the Year” award from BBC Wildlife.

For more information, go to peleeislandmuseum.ca.

Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory
May 11-20

Spring Birding Festival
Located in the southeast corner of Prince Edward County on Long Point, the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory celebrates migration with an annual festival that kicks off on May 11th, World Migratory Bird Day. Guided walks, workshops, banding demonstrations, and a photography contest are few of the highlights. Some of the birds seen during the migration include Cedar Waxwings, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Bluebirds, Yellow-breasted Chats and Pileated Woodpeckers.

For more information, go to peptbo.ca.

May 24-27 & May 30-June 2

MacGregor Point Provincial Park
Taking its name from the migration corridor along the Bruce Peninsula, the “Huron Fringe” festival takes place in MacGregor Point Provincial Park, a little north of Kincardine, Ont. The rugged Lake Huron coastline is where birders, naturalists and photographers have unique opportunities to discover nature.  At the end of the migration period, birds are on their nests, migrants are everywhere, insects abound and wildflowers are beginning to bloom. Guided hikes concentrate not only on birds but wildflowers, butterflies and insects, plus there are workshops on bird identification and nature photography.  Special events include a banquet with a guest speaker and night hikes.

For more information e-mail  huronfringebirdfest@gmail.com, call 519-375-1889 or go to friendsofmacgregor.org.

Warblers and Whimbrels Weekend
Presqu’ile Park
May 25-26

Held on the May Long Weekend, this event celebrates the spring migration of smaller birds, such as warblers, and shorebirds such as the Whimbrel, that annually stop at Presqu’ile Park on their way north.  A peninsula sticking out into the lake, Presqu’ile Park is near Brighton, Ont., and has varied habitats making it a migration hot spot.  The Warblers and Whimbrels Weekend is aimed at novices or those who would just like to know a bit more about birds. Three naturalist-led bird walks take place both days and volunteer naturalists will be in the lighthouse area in the morning to point out species.  A bird-banding demonstration allows you to see some of your feathered friends much closer than you could get usually. There’s a migration-oriented slide show in the campground on the Saturday night and fundraising BBQ lunch at the Lighthouse Interpretive Centre each day.

For more information, contact david.bree@ontario.ca or go to friendsofpresquile.on.ca

Spring Bird Festival
Tommy Thompson Park
May 11

Discover Tommy Thompson Park on Toronto’s Leslie Street Spit and learn about migration and the importance of bird conservation. A variety of activities celebrating World Migratory Bird Day are offered to people of all ages and all birding abilities. These include walks, bird banding, talks, children’s games and exploration. On walks, participants learn about the basics of birding, including proper binocular use, species identification techniques and birding ethics. Visitors can also go to Tommy Thompson Park Bird Research Station to see a bird banding demonstration. Rubber boots are recommended as the ground will be quite wet. Note that not all activities are suitable for young children.

For more information, go to tommythompsonpark.ca.

Toronto Bird Celebration

There are more than 30 free bird-related events happening in Toronto between May 11 and 25 to honour the 50 million birds returning to the city. Events and activities are mostly free and open to all, however, some may require pre-registration. 

For more information, go to torontobirdcelebration.ca.

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