Point Pelee National Park

After a very hectic few days working on an urgent client project my wife and I decided to take a short break and head off to Point Pelee National Park. Our original intent was to capture images of migrating birds as Point Pelee is a major stopping point in the migration route of many species of birds and butterflies.

Unfortunately our timing could not have been worse. While the end of September is usually prime birding season the unusually warm September in Southern Ontario seems to have held up the bird migration by a couple of weeks. As a result we were too late for the butterflies, and too early for the birds. Since we had never visited Point Pelee National Park we took advantage of our visit to capture a few landscape images and visit other sites in the general area. The only ‘flying’ things close enough to capture were some dragonflies.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6, 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-560
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6, 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-560

We stayed at an outstanding B&B called Wenzler’s Landing in Wheatley Ontario, and I’d highly recommend it if you are visiting this part of Ontario. Deb is a great hostess and the rooms at the B&B are squeaky clean and very nicely appointed. The breakfasts were excellent, and the grounds are well maintained and great for morning walks.

Deb had told us there were some egrets and a few juvenile bald eagles in the area so we decided to take a more scenic route to Point Pelee and went past Hillman Marsh (image below) with the hope of spotting the eagles.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 10mm, efov 27mm, f/3.5, 1/1600, ISO-160
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 10mm, efov 27mm, f/3.5, 1/1600, ISO-160

Lady Luck was not riding with us so we continued on to Point Pelee National Park. After paying our admission, we went to the Visitor Centre, parked the car, then took the free shuttle down to the drop-off area near the point.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 10mm, efov 27mm, f/4, 1/100, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 10mm, efov 27mm, f/4, 1/100, ISO-400

At the drop off point you can walk along the eastern beach, which depending on the weather and the amount of surf can be a bit tricky. A safer and easier route is the pathway that runs down the centre of the narrow peninsula (pictured above).

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 30mm, efov 81mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 30mm, efov 81mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-320

Once we reached the end of the point there wasn’t much to see other than flocks of gulls and the odd tern that appeared to be floating, wings outstretched, in the strong winds. Looking northward from the point did afford some opportunities for images of the waves rolling in against the shore.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 10m, efov 27mm, f/4, 1/640, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 10m, efov 27mm, f/4, 1/640, ISO-400

There is a good trail on the western side of the peninsula that can be taken when walking back to the shuttle area. There’s not much of a beach on this side of the peninsula and the trees and under-brush tend to obscure views of the lake.

We did see a few small flocks of blue jays but they were up too high and directly overhead so they did not present any decent opportunities to capture any usable images. We also saw groups of kestrels circling high overhead, but again they were too far up and only presented belly-shot opportunities which I don’t find particularly attractive.

Since the warm weather broke over the past couple of days I would image that the populations of migrating birds at Point Pelee has increased significantly the past day or two. Before leaving the national park we decided to do the marsh boardwalk circuit.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5.6, +0.3, 1/500, ISO-160

There is an observation tower at the start of the boardwalk which provides great views of the expansive marsh area from the various deck areas.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 12mm, efov 31mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 12mm, efov 31mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160

Once at the top of the observation tower you’ll have plenty of opportunities for some wide angle shots.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 10mm, efov 27mm, f/4.5, 1/640, ISO-160
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 10mm, efov 27mm, f/4.5, 1/640, ISO-160

The boardwalk is about a mile long (1.6km) and much of it floats on the marsh.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 10mm, efov 27mm, f/4.5, 1/640, ISO-160
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 10mm, efov 27mm, f/4.5, 1/640, ISO-160

There are sitting and viewing areas all the way along the boardwalk. If you happen to be there when there are actually birds at the park you’ll no doubt have plenty of opportunities for bird photography. Other than a few cormorants and ducks flying way off in the distance we didn’t see even one bird during our marsh walk.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 24mm, efov 63mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 24mm, efov 63mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160

Being an eternal optimist I had my Nikon 1 V2 set up with my Nikon 1 CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 with settings ready to capture birds-in-flight. Unfortunately it stayed in my bag for our tour of the boardwalk and I used my wife’s V2 with the 10-30mm non-PD kit lens to capture the images in this article. Some of the settings may look a bit odd as I wasn’t really paying that much attention to what I was doing as my focus was more on watching for flying birds.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5.6, 1/640, ISO-160
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5.6, 1/640, ISO-160

Some areas of the marsh along the boardwalk do have some open water which would be ideal to capture birds wading, taking off, or landing.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5.6, 1/640, ISO-160
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5.6, 1/640, ISO-160

There are some nice, straight lengths of walkway which can make for some interesting images.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 23m, efov 61mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 23m, efov 61mm, f/5.6, + 0.3, 1/500, ISO-160

At other times there is virtually no open water adjacent to the boardwalk and the various grasses and reeds can reach over 6 feet (about 2m) in height.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 10mm, efov 27mm, f/6.3, 1/400, ISO-160
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 10mm, efov 27mm, f/6.3, 1/400, ISO-160

The boardwalk basically makes a giant loop and ends up back at the observation tower. If you are there in the afternoon you can get some images with some partial shade. Otherwise you’ll be shooting in wide open conditions, potentially with harsh, direct sunlight.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 19mm, efov 51mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-160
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD zoom, 19mm, efov 51mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-160

The limited dynamic range of my Nikon 1 V2 was challenged during quite a bit of our Point Pelee National Park visit.

To try to salvage the images I worked with RAW files and often took highlights down to between -10 and -20 in Opticspro 10 as well as taking the black to -5 or -10. When I brought a DNG file into CS6 there was a lot more work to do with highlight, shadow, black, white, ┬ácontrast and exposure sliders to get as much of the image back as I could. For some images I had to go into the ‘levels’ adjustment with CS6 as well. Finally, I used the polarizing function in Color Efex Pro 4 to try to bring back some colour and interest in the skies as best I could. Through all of this I cursed myself more than once for not paying more attention to what I was doing when I was capturing these images…I likely could have saved myself a lot of work in post.

For folks hoping to get some images of migrating birds in the spring, the Point Pelee area is usually at its peak during the first two weeks of May. We discovered that Wenzler’s Landing was almost booked up solid for that period next year and we were fortunate to book a couple of nights for next May.

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Article and all images Copyright Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication of any kind, or adaptation is allowed without written consent.

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