On Family Day I accompanied Jon Ruddy’s Eastern Ontario Birding trip to Algonquin Park to look for winter finches and other Boreal specialties. As predicted in Ron Pittaway’s Winter Finch Forecast back in September, the winter of 2019-2020 was not an irruption year; most finch species stayed up north in the Boreal Forest given the abundance of mountain-ash berries, spruce cones and birch seed crops there. This meant that while berry-eaters such as Pine Grosbeak and Bohemian Waxwings remained on their breeding territories in the far north, Pine Siskins, Evening Grosbeaks, and both crossbill species were widespread across central Ontario – including the traditional winter finch hotspot, Algonquin Park. Continue reading →
On December 18th I accompanied Jon Ruddy’s Eastern Ontario Birding trip to Algonquin Park. This was an early Christmas present to myself as it’s one of my favourite parks in Ontario and I don’t get to go that often – it’s been almost two full years since the last time I’ve been. As usual, the goal was to find winter finches and Algonquin specialties such as Spruce Grouse, Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadees and Canada Jays (formerly known as Gray Jays); we were excited when Jon told us just a few days earlier three Spruce Grouse had been photographed right in the parking lot of the Spruce Bog Boardwalk.
The drive down was pleasant; notable birds seen along the way included an American Kestrel perching on a wire near the town of Douglas and a juvenile Bald Eagle soaring above the car just past Barry’s Bay. When we got to the park and paid for our permits, the East Gate was quiet; we heard only a single chickadee calling in the trees.
It’s been a while since I’ve been to Algonquin Park – over three and a half years! – and after having a camping trip with Dad last summer and a birding trip with Deb this winter both fall through, I wasn’t sure when I’d get to visit that beautiful park again. When Jon Ruddy announced an excursion to Algonquin this month, I jumped on the chance to go. The birding there this winter has been excellent, with not only the usual Boreal specialties being found on most visits (including Gray Jay, Evening Grosbeak, Boreal Chickadee, and Spruce Grouse), but also most of the winter finches as well. In addition, the park naturalists had put out a road-killed moose carcass in the valley below the Visitor Center, and foxes were being seen feeding on it. Pine Martens have also been observed at the suet feeders and Mew Lake garbage bins in the park on occasion.
Stony Swamp is one of my favourite spots to go birding – not only is it close to home, but there are multiple trails to choose from, with plenty of interesting habitats. While Stony Swamp is dominated by mixed deciduous/coniferous forest, there are a few streams, beaver ponds, alvars and marshes which provide habitat for a good mix of birds. As it was supposed to start raining around 9:00 this morning, I wasn’t sure how long I’d be able to stay out birding today. However, the bright sun and reasonable temperature (only -2°C when I left at 7:30) made me long for a walk in the woods. I decided to go to Sarsaparilla Trail first to check on the pond, and then to the Beaver Trail to look for additional woodland birds. I figured that would keep me occupied until the rain began.
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!
A successful birding outing depends on two things: knowing where to go, and luck – the kind of luck that comes from being in the right place at the right time. The last time I went birding with Deb, we went to the right places but missed just about every bird we were looking for. There is nothing more discouraging when birding, particularly in the winter when there aren’t many birds around to begin with and there are no butterflies, dragonflies or reptiles to make the outings more interesting. Too many outings like these and it becomes tempting to put away the binoculars until spring.
Fortunately, Deb and I had the complete opposite experience on Sunday. It was bitterly cold when we met at 8:00; it was a good thing I didn’t check the temperature before I left home, otherwise the -19°C temperature might have tempted me to stay at home in bed!
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 →