Saturday, March 11, 2023

Weekend in Algonquin Provincial Park

 Mon pays, ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver."

Gilles Vigneault

     It seems at times as though COVID has been with us forever, and events that took place before it descended on us like a malevolent troll had of necessity been suspended.
     We were little short of ecstatic, therefore, when we were able to resume our annual tradition of a weekend in Algonquin Provincial Park. The organization of it went seamlessly, the accommodation was secured and enthusiastic participants signed up for the trip.

04 March, 2023

Leader: David M. Gascoigne

Participants: Miriam Bauman, Andrew Cudmore, Caroline Cudmore, Sam Cudmore, Lisa Den Besten, Victoria Ho, Tracey Rayner, Selwyn Tomkun, Melanie Turenne, Andrew Wesolowski, Lorraine Wesolowski, Judy Wyatt
Sam, Mel, Caroline, Tracey, Lorraine, Andrew, David, Judy, Victoria, Selwyn, Andrew, Lisa

     The day before we left the worst storm of the winter hit southern Ontario and it was a tough start. I shovelled my driveway and sidewalk twice the night before, and again the next morning before leaving. Judy, brave warrior that she is, gave me a hand to finish off when she arrived, and Miriam pitched in too. The total snowfall was around 30cm.
     Here is a shot Andrew Wesolowski took from his apartment to give you an idea of the conditions.

     The first part of our journey was a little tricky, but once we got onto Highway 400 and proceeded north from Toronto, it was not bad at all.
     We all met up at the Visitor Centre for lunch. It was really quite remarkable that we arrived within about twenty minutes of each other, three contingents from the Kitchener-Waterloo area, and one from Ottawa.

Dining Room at the Visitor Centre - Photo: Andrew Wesolowski

     The view from the Visitor Centre balcony was classic Algonquin. It was not for nothing that Canada's legendary Group of Seven spent so much time here.

     Lunch finished, washroom breaks taken, and with everyone raring to go, we headed out to the Spruce Bog, travelling the classic landscape of the Canadian Shield.

Photo: Andrew Wesolowski

      There had been reports of Boreal Chickadee (Poecile hudsonicus), an extreme rarity and a park specialty. Our hopes were high!

     As might be expected, however, we were first greeted by Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), its common and more widespread cousin.

     The snow was crisp and white - and deep.

     Caroline wasted no time in stretching out her hand with seed.

     Success was not long in coming.

     Lisa was quick to give it a try too.

     As we proceeded along, Sam, with a matter-of-fact tone to his voice, said as he looked at a chickadee, "It's a Boreal!" Excited birders crowded around, giddy with excitement, and Andrew got a picture.

     Lisa had said that the mere glimpse of this bird would make her whole weekend so in short order she had cemented her contentment.
     On a very cold day with strong wind, the Spruce Bog Trail can be a real challenge, but in balmy, sunny weather it is beautiful beyond belief.

     Mostly we had strong sunlight and the temperature around minus two to zero, and it was glorious. It reinforced the wonderful privilege of living in the north.
     Not to be outdone, Selwyn tried his hand at feeding the birds, arm outstretched in anticipation.

     Victoria is right behind, camera cocked and ready, poised to capture the moment.
     When we left the Spruce Bog Trail we set off for the Opeongo Road, where the promise of Canada Jays (Perisoreus canadensis) is always a lure.
     It looks as though Sam has strategically positioned himself between his mom and dad.

     I remember in times past when Canada Jay would appear upon the mere sound of a sandwich being unwrapped. They are quick to take advantage of humans and not for nothing did they earn the colloquial name of Camp Robber.

     It is a simply adorable bird; there is no other word for it.
     Andrew Cudmore was also able to get a terrific shot of a Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens).

     American Marten (Martes americana) is quite common in Algonquin Provincial Park, but is often secretive. Every so often, however, an individual will discover that contact with humans can yield a steady source of food, and it becomes less wary. Martens are notoriously omnivorous so they will accept pretty much anything humans leave for them, including bird seed and cat food; even a muffin or two.

     It is an exceptionally beautiful creature, and this one seemed to be in peak condition.

     It was the source of a good deal of admiration from all who saw it.

     Sam got down to its level to get his best shot.

     Usually, Evening Grosbeak (Hesperiphona vespertina) is quite common at the feeders at the Visitor Centre, but they had not been there earlier, so we returned to try our luck again. Victoria especially was anxious to see them, but we were unable to deliver for her.
     The best we could manage was a Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) on the roof, but she was delighted with that discovery, a lifer for her.

     The moon was rising and it was time to make our way to Spring Lakes Resort, our home for the night.

     Moose (Alces alces) is one of the signature species of Algonquin, but is most frequently seen in the spring when hordes of biting insects drive them from the forest into more open areas where wind helps to disperse their tormentors.
     There is always a possibility to see them at any time of the year, however.

Photo: Andrew Wesolowski

     Caroline, Andrew, Sam and Mel, travelling in the same car, lucked out. Deep among the trees they spotted a female with two calves. The picture is not great, but it was the best Andrew could do given the distance and the number of intervening trees.

      Algonquin Provincial Park is huge, and it is about a forty-five minute drive from the Visitor Centre to Spring Lake Resort.

Photos: Andrew Wesolowski

     In no time at all we had checked into our very comfortable rooms for the night and organized our pot luck dinner in our room. Caroline brought homemade soup, we took cheeses, pâté and crackers, Lisa had a shrimp ring, Lorraine devilled eggs, guacamole, nachos, Victoria a bean salad - and there was much more. We took wine, Caroline and Andrew brought wine and beer. It was a feast!
     As you know, Venus and Jupiter are at their closest conjunction until 2039, and they shone brightly in the night sky, easy to see. Andrew W. memoralized the event for all of us.

     It had been a great day. Time to go to sleep and think about tomorrow!

05 March, 2023

     Judy's contribution is always breakfast in her room. She makes copious quantities of coffee, and she brought three kinds of muffins, including my favourite Morning Glory muffins, of which hers are the best in the universe. Mel in addition brought muffins and a fruit salad. There was lots to eat and even coffee to take away, with many muffins still left for snacking all morning! 
     Everyone was delighted with breakfast, and we owe Judy a special vote of thanks for taking on this chore every time we have made this trip.
     We decided that we would return to the Spruce Bog before going anywhere else to see whether we could get better views and better pictures of Boreal Chickadee. Off we went!

Photo: Andrew Wesolowski

     To no-one's surprise the first bird to greet us was Black-capped Chickadee.

     We did not have to venture far along the trail, however, when we saw at least three Boreal Chickadees and according to some, five.
     This species if far more flighty than Black-capped Chickadee, and settles less frequently, but Miriam managed a couple of decent shots.

     We were well pleased with our success.
     This Hairy Woodpecker (Leuconotopicus villosus) had some form of growth on its feet - fungal perhaps.

     At this point it appeared not to be hampered unduly by this affliction, but I have been unable to determine precisely what the ailment is or what causes it. I was able to find one report from southern Ontario of a bird that presented at a feeder with a similar condition, that was sluggish, and went on to develop small growths around the eyes and ragged feathers. It then disappeared and was not seen again. Ultimately one would assume that this condition would be fatal. If anyone can offer more insight I would love to hear from you. 

     Our gang of happy birders was enchanted with the Boreal Chickadees but derived pleasure too from a Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis).

     Birders are not hard to please.

Photo: Andrew Wesolowski

     All that remained now was to drop back at the Visitor Centre to see whether the Evening Grosbeaks had decided to come and visit with Victoria. 
     The Fates were smiling, the sun was shining, the air was clear - and there they were!

     Victoria was certainly being spoiled!

     Some even gathered at a feeder so that she would not have to peer between branches.

     A Downy Woodpecker had to play second fiddle, I'm afraid.

     Several American Red Squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) had found the feeders and, opportunistic as always, were determined to take advantage of a free lunch.

     The only place we saw American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea) was at the Visitor Centre.

     The ever irrepressible Selwyn could not resist performing an impromtu ballet for the camera mounted on the viewing deck.

Photos: Andrew Wesolowski

     Victoria declined to join in and form a partnership to rival "Dancing with the Stars," much to our dismay!
     Andrew was intent on something.

Photo: Andrew Wesolowski

     There is a case to be made that Canada Jay is more emblematic of Algonquin Provincial Park than any other species, and I never fail to remember the seminal (and pioneering) studies of this species conducted by Dan Strickland.

     It is an intimate act of communion with nature to feed one.

     The day was glorious and one was glad to be keeping company with Canada Jays.

     One is always enough, but two is always better.

     Our final stop before leaving for home was the Logging Museum.

     It was right around lunchtime and we all shared the copious quantities of food left over from the previous night.

     A Hairy Woodpecker came to pay a visit and we were happy to note that its feet were unencumbered by disease.

     White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) is less common in the north than Red-breasted Nuthatch so it was delightful to see this individual.

     Appropriately, a couple of Canada Jays flew in to bid us goodbye.

     What a fitting end to a wonderful weekend.   
David M. Gascoigne,
David M. Gascoigne,

I'm a life long birder. My interests are birds, nature, reading, books, outdoors, travel, food and wine.


  1. Les photos dans la neige ont un petit quelque chose de plus, ça rend tout tellement joli. Je vois encore beaucoup d'oiseaux mais pas que, de belles découvertes!
    Bonne soirée

  2. ...I haven't been to Algonquin in about 60 years, thanks for taking me along to see the sights again.

    1. Time for a return visit, Tom. Feel free to join us next year.

  3. What a wonderful and rewarding weekend you had. The scenery is beautiful, as are the birds. My fave photos are the night ones, stars, planets and the moon all look so good. Thanks for sharing the photos of your exciting weekend! Hugs, Valerie xxxx

  4. Beautiful photos! I have two favorite birds today, David. The Hairy Woodpecker is so cute, and The Canadian Jay is very pretty too.
    Hugs and kisses, Marit

  5. Esas fotografías de grupo, me hace pensar en la compenetración de sus componentes.
    Muy imágenes de la naturaleza y de paisajes nevados.

  6. Hello David,
    This park looks awesome, I would love to see the Boreal Chickadee. The Evening Grosbeaks are beautiful birds and I love the pretty Canada Jays. The cold beautiful scenery looks great in photos. Looks like a great outing, with good food and great bird watching friends. Have a great day!

  7. What a great weekend for you all! Feeding any birds from your hand has to be such a joy. :)

  8. You certainly do get around, and we are the lucky ones who also get to share your journeys, your discoveries, with you via your blog and wonderful photos. Thanks for let us come along with you. Take good care. :)

  9. Algonquin Provincial Park looks absolutely wonderful, David. I'm so pleased that you have been able to resume your annual visit.

    For me, the stand-out birds were the Boreal Chickadee and the Canada Jay, with the Evening Grosbeaks not far behind.

    A delightful account - thank you.

    Best wishes to you both - - - - Richard

    1. The Boreal Chickadee was the real prize, Richard. It was a lifer for everyone but me.

  10. What a fabulous trip and you saw so much. When I walk with someone, I'm afraid I won't see as much and they might be disappointed...but of course that doesn't happen. I love the Marten...what a precious critter! So happy you enjoyed a nice trip.

  11. Great birds, great mammals, great people. It doesn't get any better.

  12. Hari OM
    What an exceptional outing!!! One is tempted to say, magical. The snow might have been an absolute nusiance, but actually, photographically at least, provided a wonderful backdrop to all those delightful birds.

    Re the woodpecker's foot, David; here in the UK we have quite a lot of problems with Avipoxvirus, which manifests mostly as bulbous lesions on legs and around the eyes (although other spots too) and gives the symptoms you described for the Ontario reported bird... it most certainly can be fatal. You could have spotted early onset of the disease, sadly. YAM xx

    1. Thanks for this, YAM. I will follow this lead and see if I can get more information. The snow was an essential part of the whole experience. We wouldn't want it any other way.

  13. This was our first winter birding trip at the Algonquin Park--So enjoyable to be with the wonderful group and to see, for the first time, the friendly Gray Jay, the Boreal chickadee and the colorful Evening Grosbeak ! The photos are fantastic; reliving the trip !

    1. I am sure the birds are still talking about the Waltz King of the Woods, Selwyn!

  14. Thanks David. I really enjoy going along on these trips with you.
    I loved seeing the Marten, it looks a bit like a cross between a cat and a rat!

  15. hello David
    I see you are traveling a lot at the moment.. and I also notice that there are always names that have been on your excursions before. A fan club remains loyal to you and as much joy as the pictures say, I can only conclude that it was a very good time. Thank you for showing me
    Greetings Frank

  16. Congrats on such beautiful report of the Algonquin Provincial Park. It is a nice place to visit! And great pictures also taken by Andrew Wesolowski. I enjoyed his picture of that wooden building. I also like that picture of the wooden bridge completely covered with snow (you took it). It is easy to see the friendly atmosphere of your group of friends.

    You already published pictures of the red squirrel in one of your previous article. It is a beautiful creature typical of the American continent. Marvelous picture of the woman who feeds the bird. Nice expression of the white-breasted nuthatch.

    Thank you for the info about the group of Canadian landscape painters.
    Have a nice Sunday!

  17. Wow have left me breathless with the birds...well fed I am with all the great food, and a bit tipsy with the wine & excitement of the beauty of it all!!

    Thank you for taking me along on this wonderful excursion

  18. I've always loved the view from the visitor's centre, but it's been over ten years since I was last in the Highway 60 corridor. Before Covid for the east side. The Spruce Bog Trail is a welcome sight. Hiked it a number of times but only once in winter. And that lodge is one I know well. My parents lived on Spring Lake Road itself for several years.

  19. I've never seen a boreal chickadee or Canada Jay. How exciting. They are both very handsome birds. Nor have I seen a marten either. Even though your weather didn't start off very hopeful, it did clear out and it looks like you had a super winter trip. You even saw a moose. Our moose in NH have been having a hard time with the last few mild winters and getting covered in ticks. I would guess this more normal winter might help them this year. I haven't seen a moose for a couple of years, but we do have some in town. In fact once we even had a huge bull walk through our yard. (or at least once the we know of). My bird excitement was 2 bald eagles soaring on a walk the other day. Yesterday we did a wonderful NH and also some of Canada tradition and helped my daughter's in-laws with their maple syrup making. It was fun. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. hugs-Erika

  20. The trip looks most enjoyable! What an amazing array of critters and so well photographed!

  21. La nieve también contribuyo con guapas imágenes . Una entrada muy completa en la naturaleza con gran selección de aves y animales, que poco les importa a ellos la nieve,están en su hábitat.
    Estupendos recuerdos tenéis todos de estas reuniones.Gracias David por compartir lo que mucho de nosotros no veremos.
    Buen domingo.
    Un abrazo.

    1. Hola Laura: Snow is a critical ingedient to a weekend of this nature. Un abrazo.

  22. I may not be world's biggest fans of walks in the snow but this one -- well, I could be a convert on this one. What a beautiful spot to visit -- so many birds and even if you didn't see a one, the walks are fantastic. It looks like the accommodations were lovely too. Rick usually just stays in his tent! Love the variety including the marten, which looks like he was definitely guarding his turf. Hats off to you all!

    1. Algonquin Provincial Park is one of my favourite spots in the whol world.

  23. How wonderful to go birding with a group.
    You really took beautiful pictures.
    Also so nice that the birds eat out of your hand, that does not happen here, it is much too busy with people here, The Netherlands is too densely populated I think and there is something to be found everywhere for the birds, they are fed here lined.
    Greetings Irma

  24. A delightful excursion in a place of extraordinary exuberance. Everything turns out fantastic when the right ingredients are put together: an excellent company, a wonderful place, excellent weather and the observation of those birds that were the challenge of the excursion. Congratulations David and a big hug friend from the Basque country.

  25. I’ve never seen a Canada Jay. That would be a real treat. The marten was a treat to see as well. Thank you for sharing these beautiful photos and this adventure.

  26. David, what a pretty bird Canada Jay! Unfortunately I don't know where this area and nature park is. I see your is a great leader and a group is happy with you.

  27. It's a great stay again. I don't know if I prefer winter or summer in your country David. Everything is still very beautiful.
    We have this leg disease in Europe. It is a scabies. It takes the legs and the beak. Birds are very prone to it in winter when there is a lot of humidity and especially at the feeders. It is also very contagious. The disease develops very slowly and is lethal. On the last days the birds suffer and die but after months. The most unfortunate are the Common Chaffinch and the European Greenfinches.
    I am glad that this year there were none. Last year it was a hecatomb.
    Big kisses David

    Translated with (free version)

    1. From both a weather perspective and from a birding perspective, Nathalie, summer is the worst season in Canada. It is too hot, humid and the birds are busy raising young.

  28. A wonderful weekend with your fellow birders. Beautiful photos as always and I liked seeing the Marten, I haven't seen one before. Thanks for sharing, David.

  29. Que bien lo pasáis, me encantaría estar en el grupo, yo habría llevado vino y tortilla española ( de patatas y cebolla ) jaja. Abrazos para todo el grupo.

  30. Ah, se me olvido, los pájaros todos son preciosos.

  31. What a beautiful weekend!!...I love those birds eating seeds....great pictures!......Abrazotes, Marcela

  32. Great critter pictures! I feel a little disappointed that I have not seen an American marten yet you see one in Canada.

  33. Looks like that you guys had lots of fun even though it's freezing cold out there. Beautiful animal shots, David. It's amazing that the little cutie eating from Lisa's hand.

  34. What a happy team of birds lovers. Glad you all had a rewarding weekend. Beautiful shots of birds and animals and snowy landscapes.

  35. I enjoyed this post SO much David....the Canada Jay is a beautiful bird, I have never seen one! And so happy that the Evening Grosbeaks made an appearance! I have been wanting to visit Algonquin Park for years, I was planning a 3 week camping trip there a decade ago but life got in the way. I would still love to visit! Btw, please continue to join in on our art date, your photography is art! ☺

  36. so many beautiful birds. thank you for sharing because you would not find me out in that snow!

  37. Thanks for the map of Ontario, which I know so little about. I love those pics of the moon and Venus and Jupiter. Very beautiful. Sounds like a very nice time for everybody.

  38. Aunque lo pero ha pasado y ya hay bastantes remedios para compartir esa nueva enfermedad, hay que seguir tomando precauciones y más si se hace viajes en grupo.
    Muy buenas las imágenes que he visto en tu reportaje.

  39. Hi David, Stopping by Travels with Birds today has been a real pleasure. This post is going to send me to do some research … I’m wondering if any of the birding groups, like Cornell Labs, give awards for excellent birding posts. If so, I’ll nominate this post. So many neat photos. Interesting commentary too. Looks like you had a great trip. Thanks for sharing it with us. And thank you for the thoughtful and kind comment you left for me on my blog. Take care and have a great week ahead! John

  40. What a lovely time you all must of had, seeing some birds and being able to feed them out of hand, wonderful. All that snow, hard to imagine being in it. I think it's wonderful that you ventured out and about doing something you love, all of you in such weather. Well done and may you all continue to do it.

  41. David, I loved that walk in Algonquin Park, with fresh snow and enjoying feeding the little birds. See the chickadees, woodpeckers and grosbeaks, how wonderful!
    Many kisses.

  42. Hello David, OH how I would have wanted to be on a trip like this and see all these fantastic birds and animals. What great weather with all that snow. Enjoying such beauty with frieds is fantastic.
    Warm regards,

  43. What a great trip for you and your group, David, and you had so many sightings as well. I have heard of but never seen most of these and also the marten, despite living in NH we have never seen a moose, not even at a distance, deer only. The snow did look deep and I wondered if any in your group used snowshoes as none were noticed. Today, we are in the midst of a fierce winter nor'easter.

    1. We did not use snowshoes, Beatrice, although in a couple of spots we could have used them.

  44. WOW fantastic trip !
    Greetings, Maria

  45. That weekend was wonderful and rewarding with all those bird sightings - and the moose on top of that. We always got very excited when we saw moose, and we saw many during our trips to Maine, Alaska and Yellowstone. The Canada Jay is very cute and I love that its nickname is camp robber.

  46. Hi David - rather slow off the mark - but it does look to be an amazing place to visit ... especially as it's near enough on your doorstep. You certainly made a great outing for yourselves and your friends and family - gorgeous to see the photos and have the captions for them. Thank you - wonderful ... cheers Hilary

  47. Looks like a glorious weekend! Quite a contrast to the post I just finished about your Cuba trip!


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We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.