Birders flock to see spring migration

Fort St. Joseph National Historic Site

By Jordan Winter

On May 13, 2023, Parks Canada worked with The Kensington Conservancy to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day at Fort St. Joseph National Historic Site. New and experienced birders gathered at the migratory bird sanctuary to share their knowledge and passion for birdwatching during this special spring migration access event.

Conveniently situated on the southernmost tip of St. Joseph Island, Fort St. Joseph is a home or rest stop for over 200 species of birds throughout the year. Its location between the St. Mary’s River and Lake Huron makes it the perfect place for birds to cross from mainland Michigan into Ontario, or to stop for food and a rest after a long flight over the lake. With forests, wetlands, and a a rocky shoreline, Fort St. Joseph has many habitats to suit a diverse array of species. So much so that in 1951, it was designated as a Migratory Bird Sanctuary for its wetland habitats and importance to migratory waterfowl.

Bird populations in North America have plummeted in the past several decades, with numbers having dropped by 30% since 1970. This staggering figure stretches across all families and biomes. Birds are often an indicator of habitat health and resources where they reside. To understand the long-term patterns of bird movements and populations, researchers often rely on “citizen scientists” to gather data on bird occurrences. The World Migratory Bird Day, also known as the Global Big Day, is a marathon effort to record bird populations across the world. This data is essential for modeling populations and informing conservation efforts.

“Early-birders” entered the Fort at 6am, hoping to catch the last activity of nocturnal species such as barred owls and listen to the dawn chorus of songbirds at daybreak. Kensington Conservancy volunteers set up spotting scopes at the top of the hill amidst the ruins to give visitors a chance to spot waterfowl.  While many guests were seasoned birders hoping to see as many species as possible throughout the day, others rented binoculars to try birdwatching for the very first time.

Highlights for the day included a barred owl and green heron in the morning, the bright and high-pitched cape-may warbler, songful blue-headed vireo in the afternoon, and overhead flyovers by an osprey and an American white pelican. While normally found in the Atlantic and Central flyways, the American white pelican will sometimes cross through the Great Lakes to reach central and western breeding grounds. In total, 103 bird species were recorded at Fort St. Joseph that day.

Nearly 50 visitors came to explore the four walking trails, watch and listen to the many bird species, and engage with staff from Fort St. Joseph and The Kensington Conservancy. New and experienced birdwatchers gathered to embrace the good weather, explore the bird sanctuary habitats, and observe the many wonderful species using St. Joseph Island.


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