LEAMINGTON — New street banners were being strung up Monday, and decorative birdhouses were going into planters and behind storefront windows — party time is rapidly approaching for one of the critical points along a key North American bird migration route.
This will be a good spring for birdwatching, say observers. A late winter means a late start to trees budding and plants blooming, so that means easier spotting for birders who flock to one of the continent’s richest bird-spotting centres.
Point Pelee National Park is ground zero for the Festival of Birds, which runs from May 1 to 18 and attracts tens of thousands of bird lovers from around the world. Of 55 American wood warbler species, observers at Point Pelee have logged 42, of which 36 are annual regulars.
Parks superintendent Karen Linauskas said most birders who spend a few days in May locally can expect to see 100 species. “It’s such a great variety for such a small space,” she said.
For local tourism and business officials, the visiting bird enthusiasts might be spending a little too much time on the bush trails and wetland pathways and not enough time immersing themselves in the area’s other offerings.
“We might not be doing a good job getting them out of the park and experiencing our area,” said Lynnette Bain of Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island. What’s needed locally, she said, is a “changing of the culture” in which businesses can’t simply expect visitors to find their own way to their doorsteps.
To help share ideas, learn more about what makes birders tick and about how to engage them, TWEPI — with partners including Parks Canada, ERCA, the chamber of commerce and the local municipality — has designed a marketing strategy geared towards “improving service, creating a welcoming atmosphere and highlighting local dining, retail, attraction and entertainment options.” About 85 people from bed and breakfasts, wineries and other businesses will be immersing themselves into the new birding plan at a workshop Tuesday at Point Pelee’s visitor’s centre.
Linauskas said the gates open at 5 a.m. from May 1 to 18, with the birders at the Point to watch the feathered arrivals at dawn, “and then they make their way north through the park.”
The bird festival seasons attracts about 2,000 visitors to Point Pelee on an average day, with the busiest days drawing more than 3,000 guests. Linauskas said some of the special hikes already have reservations from birders from every state in the U.S.
For the early-bird enthusiasts, the bird-watching season has already started. Linauskas said a rare Henslow’s sparrow was spotted last week. “Every year, rare species are spotted”