Last year we decided to take a late winter break in Algonquin Provincial Park and enjoyed it so much we decided to make it an annual event.Thus, for the second time, most of the members of The Tuesday Rambles with David group, namely Franc and Carol, Jim and Francine, Judy, and Miriam and I prepared for a couple of days of birding in the near north. This year we were joined by my daughter, Caroline, and son-in-law, Andrew, who journeyed from Ottawa and met us in the park.
Last year we arranged with Spring Lake Resort in Dwight, ON to open up four rooms for us ahead of their normal opening date of 1 May, and this year they kindly obliged us with five rooms. It is an ideal spot for us to stay, about sixteen kilometres from the west gate of the park. Irene Pobojewski, our congenial host, permitted us last year and again this year, to swing by in the morning to plug in a crock pot of chili which was Francine's contribution to the dinner we would all enjoy together in one of the rooms that evening.
Having taken care of this chore, we headed for the Spruce Bog Trail where Caroline and Andrew awaited us in the parking area. It was cold, minus 11.5°C, with a bit of a wind, but in the shelter of the dense stand of spruce the effect of the wind was mitigated. This is the best spot in the park for Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis), a species that will sometimes walk right up to you, but at other times can be frustratingly difficult to find. We had no luck today.
|Carol, Caroline, Francine, Miriam, Judy, Jim|
As we moved across the exposed area of the bog, a classic northern peat bog by the way, the wind made its presence felt, and we were happy when we finally returned to the car to go down to the Visitor Centre to have lunch and check the feeders there.
We had seen both Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) and Two-barred (White-winged) Crossbill (Loxia leucoptera) feeding on minerals and grit at the side of the highway, but at the visitor centre we had much better views; with the male Two-barred Crossbill being the star of the show. Many Pine Siskins (Spinus pinus) were still present and a lingering cohort of about twenty Evening Grosbeaks (Hesperiphona vespertina) took advantage of the feeders.
|Two-barred Crossbill (male)|
|Purple Finch - male|
|Purple Finch - female|
After lunch we went back out on the deck where it was quite a bit warmer than it had been earlier and I ran into my old friend, Rayfield Pye, and it was great to do a little catching up. It was incredible to look back on the time we have known each other, and birded together and manned hawk watches - almost thirty-five years! Where does time go?
Northern Raven (Corvus corax) has expanded its range south in recent years, but it is still one of the signature birds of the park, a wily opportunist that survives the worst of winter's challenges.
After lunch we went down the Opeongo Road, one of the very best locations to see Grey Jay (Perisoreus canadensis) and we were not disappointed. This was the species Caroline had looked forward to seeing most of all and they put on a show for her.
Following the encounter with the Grey Jays we moved on to the Logging Museum where we spotted a Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus almost right away and even though it played hide-and-seek with us a little we finally managed to get some fairly decent shots.
Miriam decided this was a great spot for a group photograph.
|Franc, Jim, Carol, Francine, Caroline, Andrew, David, Judy|
It was already late afternoon and we decided to head back to the motel. The Logging Museum is almost at the east gate of the park and from the east gate to the west gate is 57 km and we had a further 16 km beyond there to get to Spring Lake Resort. This is a big park, and the Highway 60 corridor cuts through the narrow part of it in the south.
We checked in with Irene and paid our bills, then all assembled in Jim and Francine's room where the wine flowed and the food was plentiful. This really is a perfect way to end the day, much better than having to drive and find a restaurant. And the variety of food we all brought was fabulous.
Following a good night's sleep we went to Judy's room where she made copious quantities of coffee for everyone, and even filled our thermoses for later in the day, and provided her homemade Morning Glory muffins, bran muffins and Caroline contributed a fresh fruit salad for a great breakfast. Birding on a full belly is always better than feeling hungry!
Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus), one of the two three-toed species in the park, is always high on the list of the special birds, but it is not an easy target to locate. We had checked the locations for recent sightings and tried our luck at the Tea Lake area, but we came up empty. The other area where a bird had been seen was the Mizzy Lake parking lot. Here we hit the jackpot. We parked and stationed ourselves at different spots around the perimeter of the parking area, and within about ten minutes Franc called with great glee, "I have it!"
We all saw the bird, but it then flew back and we lost sight of it. Again we all fanned out and checked different sections of the stand of dead trees where we had first seen it. Finally, Jim called us all over and the woodpecker was there in front of him feeding on a downed log.
We watched it for at least fifteen minutes and even when it flew farther back it was still visible for us.
This is only the second time that I have had this kind of protracted session with this species. It was very special indeed.
Following this excitement we went to the Visitor Centre where we had lunch from the ample leftovers from dinner the previous night and checked out the feeders again, but the activity was relatively subdued as more and more birds are moving off into their breeding territories. We decided to head home from there and bade farewell to each other, well satisfied with our weekend. We needed to go into Whitney for gas, but everyone else left to get on their way.
We had an uneventful drive home happy in the knowledge that we will do it all again next year. Francine already has me on notice that she wants a Boreal Chickadee (Poecile hudsonicus)!
All species: Ruffed Grouse, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Black-backed Woodpecker, Grey Jay, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Raven, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, Red-winged Blackbird, Purple Finch, Red Crossbill, Two-barred Crossbill, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, Evening Grosbeak. Total: 18