Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024
Misery Bay Forest Birds

Today’s post comes from natural heritage marketing and education specialist, Dave Sproule.

A trip to Misery Bay Provincial Park on charming Manitoulin Island is always a pleasure. Going during spring migration is doubly so.

The Big Island (Manitoulin is the largest freshwater island in the world) is an ideal location for migratory birds heading north during the summer.

Songbird with white base and brown and black stripes, perched on a cedar branchsong sparrow

It is located in the northern part of Lake Huron and, together with the Bruce Peninsula, separates Georgian Bay from the main part of the lake. It is a natural migration route for birds crossing the Great Lakes and is an important feeding stop for tired birds.

Manitoulin Important Bird Area (IBA)

On the way from the mainland to Misery Bay, which is located on the southwest coast of Manitoulin, Highway 540 crosses a causeway that divides Wolsey Bay from the North Channel of Lake Huron.

Map of Manitoulin Island with red outline marking IBAManitoulin Island IBA (Important Bird and Biodiversity Area)

This is a great place to stop (there’s a handy picnic area at the south end of the causeway). A large part of the north coast of Manitoulin Island, including Wolsey Bay, is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA).

Sightings, sightings and more sightings at the IBA!

In early May, a group of 500 goldeneye ducks were spotted there, along with dozens of buffoon ducks, common mergansers and redbreasters (two species of serrated-billed fishing ducks), some of the first common loons this spring, and several horned grebes with their striking crimson red plumage and eyes.

A flock of 30 tree swallows performed acrobatics on the bridge while catching the first insect hatches.

Water bird with bright white belly and black upper feathers.  Head mostly rear with a bright white spot on the back of the head. The Little Bufflehead Duck nests in old woodpecker holes, especially those made by Northern Flicker

The area usually has several nesting ospreys, conveniently located next to the lake, as they are birds of prey that catch fish. A great egret has even been seen in the area in recent years.

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Two ospreys perched on a large nest with something that could be a fish insideOsprey parents with freshly caught fish in their large stick nest

The causeway also acts as a funnel for forest birds, and the trees hum with the activity of warblers hunting for insects.

In the park

Misery Bay Provincial Park itself contains a variety of habitats, from the open waters of Lake Huron and Misery Bay to open limestone bedrock plains called alvar and dense mixed forests dotted with temporary (vernal) pools in spring.

Bird watcher in blue jacket and black hat with telescopic sight on a tripod, looking towards a swamp on a gray dayBird watching at the head of the bay.

The park, classified as a provincial nature reserve for its exceptional natural heritage values, contains the largest wetland in Manitoulin, which is considered to be of provincial significance.

Home to a globally rare alvar habitat

Alvar, the other key habitat the park protects, is a globally rare habitat. Misery Bay alvar habitat includes:

  • wooded alvar — looks like a thin forest where the trees have found cracks in the limestone large enough to support them
  • open grassland alvar – looks like a grass field
  • Bedrock Plain — Here the plants live in the crevices and have to work to survive the spring floods, the summer heat and the bitter cold of each winter.

Two people walking along a bed of rock and sand on a day with a blue sky with a coniferous forest on the left and water on the rightThe Alvar Coastal Trail follows the coastline of Misery Bay

For Misery Bay Visitors

People walking along a boardwalk towards a coniferous forest on a blue sky day

The park does not have a camping area because nature reserves are generally sufficiently developed to allow some appreciation of their natural heritage values.

Misery Bay Provincial Park has a small nature center and about 15 km of trails for hiking and bird watching.

The park operates with the help of the amazing volunteers from Friends of Misery Bay, a group of dedicated nature lovers.

Birds to watch out for in Misery Bay

From the visitor center to the shore of Lake Huron and the well-located “Friends Gazebo” (a good place to rest, have a snack, and watch birds), the trail crosses patches of open alvar (limestone pavement) that appear in the forest.

Species highlighted here include:

  • hermit thrush
  • Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Golden crowned kinglet
  • Canada jay
  • Woodpecker

You will also have the opportunity to see and hear several beautiful species of warblers:

  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • black and white warbler
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler
  • Blackburn’s Warbler
  • Nashville Warbler
  • yellow warbler
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Small yellow, white and black bird on branch in springMagnolia Warbler

You may also see grouse and, depending on the time of day, great horned owls and northern saw-whet owls may be heard.

Grey-green spotted flog clinging to a small branch The gray tree frog’s call closely resembles that of a bird.

This area also has other calls that sometimes confuse people waiting for birds. One such masker is the gray tree frog, whose song is often mistaken for that of a bird.

Waterfowl, shorebirds and wading birds.

From Friends Gazebo, north and south along the Coastal Alvar Trail, which hugs the protected east shore of Misery Bay, there is an extensive marsh community with plenty of insect life and bird activity.

Three shorebirds (white with gray tops and black collar) in an area with sparse vegetationSemipalmated plovers cross some of the sparsely vegetated alvares along the coast of Misery Bay

During open water seasons, migrants visit this area to rest and feed, and more than 20 species of shorebirds (such as the semipalmated plover, shown above) are regularly seen. Eleven Great Horned Grebes were also seen here in early May, as well as several pairs of beautiful pintail ducks and common and hooded mergansers.

Approximately 12 waterfowl traveling along a sandy beach to the blue waters of the bay.  Conifers in the background. A family of common mergansers rest on the beach at Misery Bay

Visiting shorebirds and waders also include:

  • sora
  • sandhill cranes
  • Greater yellowlegs
  • Lesser yellowlegs
  • great blue heron

Two large brown waders in a swamp with conifers and blue sky in the backgroundSandhill cranes nest in the provincially significant Misery Bay wetland, the largest on Manitoulin Island

And the sightings continue…

A bald eagle, northern harrier and merlin have made up the raptor contingent at Misery Bay. During the breeding season there are usually three species of seagulls, a tern and several species of ducks that make the bay their home.

The elegant Northern Pintail Duck. Photo: Yvette Bree
Palm Warbler, one of the many visitors who sing sweetly in the park.

Numerous “edge” species use the edge of the forest where it meets the open water of Alvaror, while other birds prefer the interior of the park’s deep forest.

Early visitors so far have included:

  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Palm Warbler
  • song sparrow
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Golden crowned kinglet
  • brown thresher
  • Eastern Phoebe

Hot Misery Bay Birding Tip

Eastern kings are known to hunt insects from perches in the alvar.

Yellow flowers emerging from small green stems that grow in rocky, mossy soil.  A monarch butterfly perches on one of the flowers. A migrating monarch butterfly takes a sip from a Manitoulin Gold (also known as Lakeside Daisy) flower

This is also a great place to spot a variety of butterflies in season that take advantage of the park’s many flowering plants, such as the rare Manitoulin Gold (also known as Lakeside Daisy) and the beautiful fringed gentian.

Single yellow flower with orange center, with vegetation in the background. The rare lakeside daisy is abundant in Misery Bay and is known as Manitoulin Gold on the island.

Wherever you choose to go this spring to see birds in flight, happy “moving”!

(That’s birdwatching for enthusiasts)