(I wrote this last year but am re-posting it because I just got back from Point Pelee again and cannot say it any better than I did last year.)
I have just returned from a weekend in Point Pelee National Park. I have been going to Point Pelee for the spring migration since my university days when I was introduced to bird watching by a Professor in my Environmental Studies program. My husband and I became an item at Point Pelee and have returned almost every year, on the first weekend in May, for 30 years. It has become a rite of passage; the way that we celebrate spring and mark our anniversary.
Point Pelee is the most southerly point in Canada with a latitude that is south of northern California. This spit of land, which protrudes into Lake Erie, is the landing strip for thousands of exhausted birds that are migrating across Lake Erie. Point Pelee is a funnel for birds migrating from South America, Central America and the United States to central and northern Canada.
When I first came to Point Pelee, it was with very skilled “Birders” who were eager to see as many species as possible. We got up at dawn, raced around the Park and many outlying areas to cover as many different habitats as possible. I am eternally grateful to those friends who taught me how to identify birds, where to look for different types of birds, and to appreciate the less flashy rare birds and skulkers as well as the brightly coloured birds that call from the trees.
Over the years, my birdwatching habits have changed. We no longer bird 12-hour days when we come to Point Pelee. We no longer chase every rare bird on the board. We no longer feel the need to identify every bird we see. And we no longer camp inside the Park. We have made compromises over the years to keep our kids engaged. We stay in a hotel, they get to sleep in for the half the day, they get to bring their computers along, and we go out for dinner at Taco Tony’s each night.
But something else has happened as well. Our appreciation for birdwatching has changed. When I come here now, it is more of a meditative experience. As I walk through the trails, I feel the tension drop out of my body, my mind grows quiet, and I become a stalker, watching for movement in the trees and listening for bird songs. I stop thinking about work and worries. I start to think with my all of my senses engaged. I am processing sights and sounds, markings and colour, bird songs and habitat, body shape and behaviour. I am enjoying the “hunt”; solving a puzzle that requires all of my senses. I am totally present in the moment; hearing the waves and the wind; seeing the sun bounce off the leaves; and rewarded with the joy of seeing these beautiful winged creatures that are passing through on their epic journeys.
This is a magnificent Park. There are trails through Carolinian woods where trees, bushes and vines close in all around you. There are marsh boardwalk that plunge through acres of cattails and grasses. There are sandy beaches with crashing waves and blue sky. There are trails that wind through stands of water surrounding majestic old willow trees. Each of these trails hold their own magic; some are quiet and fragrant; others are windy and refreshing; and some feel old and mystical.
And then there are the birds; small, gem-coloured warblers flitting through the trees; rusty-brown thrushes singing mournfully from deep in the woods; Bald Eagles, Broad-Winged Hawks. and Sand Hill Cranes soaring overhead; Wild Turkeys strutting through the Savannah; Screech Owls in tree hollows; and Red-Winged Blackbirds and Swamp Sparrows hanging off cattails.
I return home from these weekends feeling sated; physically exhausted and spiritually rejuvenated. It is like returning home; to some wild place within.