Deb and I went to Algonquin Park on Saturday, and we couldn’t have picked a better day to go. We drove west under a bright blue sky, and while it was only -4°C when we left, the warm sunshine quickly heated the day to a balmy 8°C. We started the day with a drive up Opeongo Road which was an adventure in itself – the road was badly plowed with deep ruts, and the rising temperature made the surface slippery. We didn’t see or hear anything until we got to the gate, where we found piles of sunflower seeds left on various snow banks. Several Black-capped Chickadees, American Red Squirrels and Blue Jays were eating their fill; a single Gray Jay was also looking for handouts, and spent most of its time approaching the people coming and going rather than sampling the seeds left in the snow. Three Common Redpolls also flew in, while a single Pine Grosbeak seemed content to pick up grit from the parking lot. Then I heard a Boreal Chickadee calling from the edge of the parking area. His song is a slower, raspier version of the Black-capped Chickadee’s chick-a-dee-dee-dee. Deb managed to find it bouncing among the branches of a spruce tree, a beautiful little bird dressed in rufous and brown.
It is a peaceful place. Because it’s such a small trail, I usually don’t encounter many people there, especially very early in the morning at this time of year when the temperature is hovers around 0°C and there is still frost on the grass. The chickadees eagerly seek me out, often followed by the nuthatches, Blue Jays and squirrels, and I can talk to them without worrying about what anybody thinks.
On Sunday Deb and I drove to Algonquin Provincial Park to enjoy some late winter/early spring birding. It has been a good winter for Boreal finches, with small numbers of Pine Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, Red Crossbills and White-winged Crossbills reported in the park regularly and large numbers of Evening Grosbeaks (particularly at the Visitor Center feeders) and Pine Siskins seen daily. Spruce Grouse, Black-backed Woodpeckers and Boreal Chickadees have also been seen regularly throughout the winter, and the mammal reports intrigued us – moose sightings have been sporadic along Highway 60; a lone wolf was seen crossing the highway in January; a red fox was eating black sunflower seed at the Visitor Centre on January 25th; and Pine Martens have been found regularly at Opeongo Road, the Spruce Bog Boardwalk, and the Mew Lake Campground. With so many species around this winter, we were sure to see something interesting!
The following day Deb and I spent the morning birding along the Ottawa River. There were only two weeks left until Christmas, and we wanted to make the most of our morning as we weren’t sure whether we’d be able to get out together again before the new year. We agreed to meet at 7:30, not realizing just how short the days had become; the sun had barely risen when I left, and a sun pillar was visible in the sky. The sunrise was gorgeous, but by the time I was able to pull over onto the shoulder in a safe place the sun pillar had become nearly invisible. One of the bonuses of winter birding is that the sun is so low in the sky in the morning, atmospheric phenomena such as sun dogs and other ice crystal halos are often visible. Continue reading
Yesterday Deb and I spent the day at Algonquin Park. Although it was supposed to be cold (the high was supposed to be only 8°C), it was also supposed to be sunny. Dawn was breaking over thick, dark, cloudy skies in Ottawa, but by the time we reached Eganville we could see plenty of blue sky ahead. We saw a couple of Great Blue Herons, a flock of Wild Turkeys, four Turkey Vultures, large flocks of blackbirds, a Belted Kingfisher, and a couple of unidentified hawks on our drive; then, by the time we were about half an hour away from the park, several large, misty clouds had swallowed up the sky. In Whitney a light, misty rain began to fall; by the time we reached the park gate we saw – to our horror – snow mixed in with the rain! Continue reading
I took a long weekend in mid-October to spend some time with my family in Cambridge, then spent Monday at home to recover from the five-hour drive. As it was a bright, sunny day, I decided to go to Sarsaparilla Trail and Shirley’s Bay to stretch my legs. Although the sun was beautiful, the winds were strong – especially out on the dyke – and there was no lingering summer warmth in the 10°C temperature.
At Sarsaparilla, the usual gang of chickadees were feeding on seed left on the bench at the trail entrance. A couple of juncos were also foraging on the ground, as was a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow. This was something of a surprise since I don’t recall ever seeing this species here.
The leaves had almost completely turned yellow, giving the woods a warm, golden beauty which utterly charmed me and buoyed my spirits. I found a few White-throated Sparrows in the woods, suggesting that they were migrants rather than the summer residents which breed in the meadow. During migration, these sparrows are found in large numbers in the woods eating seeds dropped on the trail. One sparrow at the edge of the marsh on the north side of the trail, however, kept scolding me with a series of chip notes whose tone reminded me of a Red Squirrel’s vocalizations. This suggests to me that this particular individual was in fact a resident defending its territory. Migrant White-throated Sparrows usually make high-pitched “tseep” notes while they forage, perhaps to maintain contact with each other.