Saturday 30 July 2016

Canada - Algonquin 31st May & 1st June

I meant to do this post a lot sooner after I got back but busy life takes its toll on blogging. Anyway, Mark L and I spent our final couple of days of our holiday in Algonquin National Park; a relative wilderness area three hours north of Toronto. It's a really special area with lovely boreal scenery and just a couple of roads traversing an otherwise vast area of forest and spruce bog. Also, importantly, it holds a lot of breeding species with some tricky to find elsewhere - main targets here are usually Black-backed Woodpecker, Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadee and Grey (Gray?) Jay. Click here for a decent birding map that we used for our visit.

The Mizzy Lake Trail was where we focused our efforts; firstly driving along the Arowhon Road where we quickly saw our first target - Boreal Chickadee - while singing Ovenbirds, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Red-breasted Nuthatches were to become familiar sights and sounds.
Red-breasted Nuthatch Algonquin, Ontario 31st May 2016
The plan for our first day was to just walk, walk and walk until we felt we'd had enough and/or the birding activity died down. Thankfully it didn't get amazingly warm as we walked along the trail to Wolf Howl Pond, West Rose Lake and 'Flycatcher Bog' for several km. The mosquitoes were present here, though never a real annoyance. The birds started flowing within just a couple of hundred metres of leaving the car, with this female Spruce Grouse staying pretty chilled by the path as we admired her: -
female Spruce Grouse Algonquin, Ontario 31st May 2016
Swainson's Thrushes, White-throated Sparrows and Ovenbirds continued to sing/skulk from the undergrowth while Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets were seen with some regularity.
Ovenbird Algonquin, Ontario 31st May 2016
One of the things that was most frustrating were the singing Nearctic wood-warblers - for colourful birds when singing they remained pretty static so they were pretty tricky to locate as they had a tendency to throw their tunes a bit. Blackburnian and Yellow-rumped were the most numerous, while Canada, Magnolia, Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue and Black-and-white Warblers were also seen (and heard) along the walk.
Myrtle Warbler Algonquin, Ontario 31st May 2016
On the open water, a handful of Hooded Mergansers were noted along with a couple of Great Blue Herons. Another couple of Boreal Chickadees were located too, in small flocks with their commoner Black-capped cousin: -
Boreal Chickadee Algonquin, Ontario 31st May 2016
Up until this trip, for one reason or another, Grey Jay was a species I'd missed out on - always visiting periperal sites and/or at the wrong time of the year. So when a fluttery group of birds came to investigate us along a remote path, I was all for giving them a bit of attention. What is it though with yanks, jays and rings - these guys were 'banded' as were the Florida Scrub Jays (understandably) and the Mexican Jays I saw in Texas.

Grey Jays Algonquin, Ontario 31st May 2016
A load of Cedar Waxwings buzzed about in the trees and Red-eyed Vireos were common, and I found a cracking male Spruce Grouse munching away in a trackside spruce; Alder Flycatchers were present in a couple of the boggy areas and a single Least Flycatcher was located too. In these swampy areas, Swamp and Lincoln's Sparrows were seen along with a fair few Common Yellowthroats - all good stuff! However, by mid afternoon (having been out since dawn) we felt as though we'd exhausted the place despite having failed to locate Black-backed Woodpecker. And so we headed east within the National Park boundary to the Lake of Two Rivers area and the adjacent abandoned airstrip; the gen promised so much (including Black-backed Woodpecker) but delivered so little - a nice Pileated Woodpecker, a few Chipping Sparrows and Yellow and Chestnut-sided Warblers being the highlights.

As it got towards dusk, we had another failed Eastern Whip-poor-will and American Woodcock attempt. For some reason too, I declined rapidly and spent the rest of the night either sleeping or feeling distinctly ill. And as the next day dawned, I was slow to rise still feeling grim - though Mark L was great by getting me going but realising he was going to have to do everything! Though I started off by finding this big boy on the Mizzy Lake trail - a nice Moose (the first of three): -
Moose Algonquin, Ontario 1st June 2016
Having retraced our steps along the Mizzy Lake trail, we got to West Rose Lake and in the bare trees by the lakeside there was our final Algonquin target - a nice female Black-backed Woodpecker! It showed well for half an hour or so before becoming more distant, and was thankfully nice and easy given how grim I was feeling.
Black-backed Woodpecker Algonquin, Ontario 1st June 2016
With time ticking on before the need to go back to Toronto for our flight home, we had a quick walk around the Spruce Bog trail (at the east end of the park) where things were quiet, except for a Moose and this cracking male Chestnut-sided Warbler: -
Chestnut-sided Warbler Algonquin, Ontario 1st June 2016
And so that was that, another successful US trip with decent company and plenty of birds. Highlights for me being displaying Upland Sandpipers, singing Kirtland's Warblers and Bobolinks galore, Henslow's and Le Conte's Sparrows, lekking Sharp-tailed Grouse plus obliging Spruce Grouse and Grey Jays in Algonquin. Not bad for 5 days of birding!

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