Thu. Feb 29th, 2024

Today’s post comes from our North West Regional Planning Ecologist, Bill Greaves.

Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park is often visited for its impressive geological feature, but it is also one of the best places for bird watching in the Thunder Bay area.

What could you see in the Ouimet Canyon?

Ouimet Canyon

Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park has a variety of upland and lowland habitats and is therefore home to a wide diversity of birds. Upon entering the park, there is an upland stand of Trembling Aspen and White Birch on the west side of the road. On the east side is an open water and cattail swamp known as Gulch Slough. A parking area at the end of this road, just before the west turn, is a good place to park and return south along the edge of the road.

black and white warblerBlack and white warbler (Mniotilta varia). Photo: Susan Fagan.

There are opportunities here to see a variety of species, including; American Bittern, Great-billed Grebe, Sora, Lesser Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Philadelphia Vireo, Wilson’s Godwit, and Belted Kingfisher in western wetland habitats.

On the opposite side of the road, in the upland habitat, common birds include the winter wren, golden-crowned and ruby-crowned vireo, red-eyed and blue-headed vireo, yellow-bellied sapsucker, hermit and Swainson’s thrush and the veery.

The highlight of your visit will be witnessing the Ouimet Canyon from the viewing platforms.

ouimet canyonPhoto: Ed Cámaras.

The canyon is deep, wide and immense.

Visitors enjoy stunning panoramic views of a 150m wide gorge and sheer cliffs that drop 100 meters to the canyon floor.

The top of this feature can be accessed via a trail and boardwalk that connects two viewing platforms with spectacular views of the canyon.

Falcons

hawkPeregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus). Photo: Jeff Robinson.

The canyon also provides nesting habitat, year after year, for peregrine falcons. Have your ears ready to hear their loud squawks. A pair of binoculars or a good scope can be used to scan the rock ledges on either side of the canyon for a roosting hawk. Birds rarely disappoint visitors, as long as you spend time waiting for them to appear.

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Warblers

Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler (Setophaga coronata).  Photo: Susan Fagan.Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler (Setophaga coronata). Photo: Susan Fagan.

If you’re a birder interested in warblers (and who isn’t?), this location is ideal for: Ovenbird, Black and White Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow Warbler , Chestnut-rumped Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler (Spider), Canadian Warbler and Black-throated Green Warbler.

owls

owlsBarred Owl (Strix varia) and Little Owl. Photos: Norma Maurice.

Perhaps most exciting here is a pair of barred owls, which can often be seen at the parking spot. This pair and their young have entertained many visitors during the Dorion Canyon Country Birding Festival.

The Northwest Mountains and Boreal Forest

Another unique part of Thunder Bay and the surrounding area are the giant cliffs and canyons, including the Nor’wester Mountains. The mountains in the area typically have flat tops, protected by hard igneous rock known as “diabase,” which formed from ancient volcanoes approximately 1.1 billion years ago. The cliffs were formed by wind and water erosion of the sides, which undermined the integrity of the hard rocks at the top. Continuing into the park, you will drive to the top of one of these hills as you make your way towards the facilities and trail system that lead to the viewing platforms.

During the trip, watch as the habitat changes to drier, conifer-rich mixed forests. In the parking area, the forest is approaching 100 years old, which is a mature boreal forest for this region. Jack pine and black spruce are the dominant species, white birch and aspen are the minority. It is here that birdwatchers are most likely to spot some of the older growing specialists, such as the gray jay, brown nuthatch and nesting dark-eyed juncos.

Northern Parula Northern Parula (Setophaga Americana). Photo: Jeff Robinson.

It also increases the opportunity to observe some of the mature species of the boreal forest. Keep your ears open for the Tennessee Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Northern Warbler, and Blackburnian Warbler.

Also noticeable along the trail at the bridge crossing is a considerable amount of white pine. It was here in 2015 that three guides during the Dorion Canyon Birding Festival believed they were hearing a pine warbler, rare in the region, singing from the tops of the white pine. However, without visual confirmation, this observation remains unconfirmed.

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So why do Ouimet Canyon and the Thunder Bay area offer so many unique birding opportunities?

1. The area is located at the transition between the Great Lakes-Saint Lawrence and the boreal forests.

This habitat transition offers the opportunity to observe bird species with affinities in both southern and northern Ontario.

2. It is located next to Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes.

Lake Superior significantly influences bird movement and migration patterns through the area. Many bird species cannot fly across the large body of water (over 190 km in between) and are instead forced to travel around the lake during migration.

Other species will cross the lake at strategic locations where the travel distance is shorter, such as from the tip of Sibley Peninsula in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, then to Isle Royale National Park in Michigan, and then to the southern shore of the Lake. Superior. .

The lake itself attracts a variety of waterfowl, both summer residents and migratory waterfowl/shorebirds that travel north to Hudson Bay or to the high Arctic.

3. The area is situated between several North American migration routes.

Thunder Bay is located at the northern end of the Mississippi Flyway, but is also located between the Central and Atlantic Flyways.

What this means for birding is that although bird species such as Canada geese and snow geese do not migrate in large numbers like those seen in the centers of the Atlantic or central flyways, the opportunity for rare species end up in the Thunder Bay area since the east or west is quite high. Some examples of these strange occurrences in recent years have included a sulfur-bellied flycatcher (a Central American species), the Lewis’s woodpecker (found west of the Great Plains), Anna’s hummingbird (which resides in the Pacific coast in summer) and multiple white-winged doves. (summer resident of the southwestern United States).

When to visit the Ouimet Canyon?

The best time to bird watch in the park is from approximately May 20 to June 15. At this time, you will be able to pick up breeding and migrant summer residents in the area.

The Orange-crowned Warbler and Black Warbler definitely fly around in late May, as well as in August and September. But whenever the park is open, there’s a great opportunity to see some unique geological formations along with a great bird-watching excursion.

If you are interested in visiting, I have provided a sample checklist below, created with eBird.

bird watching checklist

Happy birding!