Dorion - This Place is for the Birds!

The Dorion Birding Festival is the best way to discover the dizzying diversity of birds.

A Birder's Paradise on the North Shore of Superior

The north shore of Lake Superior is one of the most scenic stretches of shoreline in Canada. Rugged beauty abounds in rocky bays, towering headlands, dense green forests and clear blue water for as far as your eyes can see.  But there’s much more to this area than just raw beauty, and all it takes is a closer look to reveal one of the area’s best kept secrets – the place is for the birds! 

 
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Birders sit on the Lake Superior shoreline at Hurkett Cove near Dorion, Ontario. 
 

During spring and summer, the north shore is magnet for birds because of two factors:  

1. Weary migrants stop here to rest and refuel after making the long flight over Lake Superior or around the shoreline as part of their journey from south to north. 

2. Location, location, location! The area is prime real estate to build a nest and feast on the rich seasonal hatches of insects that the boreal forest is famous for. 

Superior Birding at the Dorion Birding Festival

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The Dorion Birding Festivalheld in late May, celebrates the avian awesomeness of spring migration on the north shore. To be completely honest, I’d never even heard of Dorion before attending the festival in 2013. It’s a tiny community nestled between Thunder Bay and Nipigon. Although it’s a small town, they put on a festival that rivals some of the best birding festivals I’ve been to around North America. 

Best Birding Guides

First off, they get the best birding guides, period. The festival is a who’s who of the top birders from the north shore with the likes of Dr. Nick Escott, Greg Stroud, Brian Ratcliff and more. If you’re a birder, you know those names. 

 
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Greg Stoud from Parks Canada speaking during a social event at the Dorion Public School.

Great Volunteers 

Secondly, the festival is extremely well orchestrated. The volunteer team who coordinates the festival, many of whom are local retirees, could easily be professional event planners. Everything went off flawlessly and no small detail was overlooked. Buses efficiently transported participants to the great birding sites, where small guided groups broke off in search of birds - the perfect recipe for a high-quality birding experience!

Amazing Hospitality

Thirdly, the hospitality at the festival is nothing short of amazing. This felt more like a gathering of family and friends than a bunch of strange birders convening on the town. The community support in contributing door prizes was remarkable. Every single participant (there were a couple hundred) won something special. Community groups cooked delicious meals for the participants in the local school (decorated with drawings of birds by the students) and the local church. I could envision moving to Dorion someday to have these folks as my neighbours! 

Lots of Birds

Lastly, let’s not forget the birds!  The total tally for the festival weekend  was a whopping 121 species which includes a mix of migrants passing through and breeding birds that call the area home for a few months before heading back south. Highlights were brightly coloured wood warblers like Black-throated Blue and Blackburnian Warblers, a plethora of waterfowl on the lake, shorebirds feeding on sand flats and small flocks of Whimbrel flying low over the water. 

Number of Top Birding Locations 

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The field outings visited top birding locations such as Hurkett Cove Conservation Area, the Nipigon Marina, Nipigon River Trail and Ouimet Canyon. A great view of nesting Peregrine Falcons at the majestic Ouimet Canyon was a top highlight for many participants.

While it’s easy to be seduced by the scenery of the north shore, it’s just as worth going there for the birds themselves! The Dorion Birding Festival is the best way to discover the dizzying diversity of birds found on Lake Superior’s north shore during spring. Dorion is only a short drive east of Thunder Bay with convenient air connections to the great outdoors in Northwest Ontario. For more information about the festival, visit: www.dorionbirdfest.ca.

About Ethan Meleg

Ethan is a freelance photographer and writer from the Georgian Bay area who specializes in photos  and stories on outdoor recreation, landscapes, ecosystems, birds and wildlife. He has been published by National Geographic, Canadian Geographic, Forbes, Ontario Tourism, Lonely Planet, Popular Photography and many more. Ethan is a popular keynote speaker, workshop leader and magazine columnist. 

Growing up near world-famous birding hotspot Point Pelee National Park, Ethan often skipped school to watch songbirds during migration. Before becoming a pro photographer, Ethan had developed a career as a nature guide and communications specialist in national parks.

His greatest passion in life is exploring the natural world through his camera, whether on exciting trips or in his own backyard.

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