Ontario ~ Algonquin Park & Point Pelee (Part 1)

From Arizona I made my way directly to Toronto, promptly ‘freezing’ my bare skin as soon as I got off the plane in my t-shirt and shorts. Ok, I didn’t freeze, as the temperature was about 15 degrees, but there was a chilly wind and I was somewhat uncomfortable. On May 6, my next group, sent over from the U.K, courtesy of Limosa Holidays, arrived at Pearson International Airport and we were on the road by noon. This group of 4, plus me, is a bit smaller than some of the other groups I have had and will have this year. I don’t mind a small group at all, actually. We drove 3 hours roughly, from Toronto to Dwight, a tiny town on the western side of Algonquin Park. Few birds were noted along the drive, other than Common Raven, American Crow, Common Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird and the usual Rock Pigeon and European Starling. One fellow, John, spotted an American Kestrel and we all saw an Osprey hovering over a channel of water. The only mammal we spotted from the van was a single Woodchuck. Since the ‘Brits’ internal clocks were all wonky and by the time we arrived, it was 8 PM U.K time, we promptly went for dinner and they headed for an early night.

May 7 – We met at 6 AM outside the Blue Spruce Inn, situated along the shores of Oxtongue Lake, and spent an hour and a half strolling along the quiet road in search of birds. For the first half hour I speculated the birds were still sleeping as we didn’t see too much. A ‘Yellow-shafted’ Northern Flicker appeared, as did a few Black-capped Chickadees and a pair of Song Sparrows. I then spotted a Merlin perched atop a fir tree, which may have had something to do with the overall hush of the passerines. As soon as the Merlin was off, things picked up. We had lovely views of ‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped Warblers, a male Black-throated Green Warbler and an eye level Pine Warbler. A male Black-and-white Warbler hitched along the tree trunks, nuthatch style, and just then, a female Red-breasted Nuthatch arrived as well. A Brown Creeper was seen very well hitching up the side of a birch, while a male Hairy Woodpecker swooped in to a suet feeder. Blue Jays proved frustratingly hard to see this morning, but could be heard all around. A Brown Thrasher sang from the woods, but never did appear, though we had great looks at an adult White-throated Sparrow. On Oxtongue Lake, a pair of Hooded Mergansers were a real treat to watch, and to my surprise a pair of Beavers sat out in the open on a little island not far from shore. Good start!

After breakfast we headed for one of my favorite places in Algonquin, the Mizzy Lake Trail. We walked about 1 km along the trail to Wolf Howl Pond, seeing several fantastic birds along the way, the best of which, for me, was the female Spruce Grouse pictured below!

Female Spruce Grouse, Algonquin Pk, Ontario. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

Farther along the trail we encountered a Ruffed Grouse that was strutting his stuff, but he didn’t stick around long enough for photos to be taken. At least three Pileated Woodpeckers entertained us for a long period of time as they chased one another through the pines, and a quartet of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers did the same. Out on the water, Ring-necked Duck, American Black Duck, Mallard and Wood Duck were noted and at one particular pond we counted at least 30 Painted Turtles. Both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned kinglets put on very nice shows for us, especially the Golden-crowned, which, as your can see, was particularly stunning.

Male Golden-crowned Kinglet, Algonquin Park, Ont. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

The rest of the day was not quite as exciting as the morning had been. We had lunch at the visitors center and some of the group spotted an Osprey and a Northern Harrier from the viewing platform. As we made our way back to Dwight, we saw our first Moose, a cow, feeding voraciously in a water-filled roadside ditch. Several Broad-winged Hawks were noted overhead as we passed the West Gate of the park. A fantastic first day of birding indeed….but it wasn’t over yet.

After dinner we walked a short 5 minutes over the the display ‘patch’ of an American Woodcock. As we approached the clearing I could hear the bird twittering in the sky above. These twittering sounds are made by wind rushing through feathers rather than vocally. As soon as the bird settled on the ground it began giving a nasal ‘peent’ call, repeatedly and soon we had him in the spotlight, through the scope! What a great way to finish the day.

May 8 -At sunrise we did some more birding along the shore of Oxtongue Lake, which was quite good today. Warblers had obviously arrived overnight, and although not everybody saw all of the species, we did get Cape May, Bay-breasted, Magnolia, Pine, Yellow-rumped, Blackburnian, Nashville, Black-and-white and Black-throated Green warblers along the road. Also new for us was a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, an Eastern Phoebe and a White-crowned Sparrow.

After breakfast we continued our explorations of Algonquin Park, strolling along the trail at the Western Uplands. Here, a female Purple Finch gathered nest material while a male with a ‘mohawk’ watched from above.

Purple Finch, Algonquin Park, Ont. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

A Palm Warbler put in a rather brief appearance along the Oxtongue River here, while a Northern Waterthrush slowly crept along the shore in amongst a tangle of willow. A Ruffed Grouse drummed on a log long enough for just one tour participant to see the ritual through the scope. We then tried to find the bird again, but it had thoroughly managed to disappear.

Along the Spruce Bog Boardwalk, in the heat of the day, birding was a bit quiet. We paused to photograph a lovely Least Chipmunk that was hungrily packing his cheek pouches full of food.

Least Chipmunk
Least Chipmunk, Algonquin Park, Ont. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

We finished our day off along Opeongo Lake Road where the weather swiftly deteriorated, with rain falling steadily by the time we left. I was quite happy though, since two of the tour participants had asked if there was any chance they could see and hear Common Loons, or Great Northern Divers as they call them. We had 2 pairs of breeding plumage loons on Opeongo Lk, one pair giving a haunting call to one another. Also a highlight, a pair of Northern Harriers sailed by, the male passing right by the van window! Two Belted Kingfishers chased along the shore of the lake, calling as they went along. As we drove back to our motel, I guestimated we’d see 3 Moose in the rainy weather. Nobody else wanted to hazard a guess, but we saw 2.  We leave Algonquin tomorrow, which is always hard because it is so quiet and peaceful up here. Not to worry; the busy migrants traps await our arrival, as well as the arrival of many feathered transients.

Chris Charlesworth


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