Saturday, May 9, 2009

Revisiting Algonquin

It was Sunday April 26, the day after the Algonquin OFO Field Trip. Jean and I had ticked 3/4 Boreal species, 2 were lifers, during the trip. A great day of birding.

Before returning home, we had planned to visit Arrowhead Provincial Park that Sunday but a quick phone call to the park revealed that it was closed and not due to open until May. What were we to do? A decision was made to return to Algonquin. There were some ice formations along Highway 60 that Jean wanted to photograph and there was the Gray Jay that eluded the OFO group the day before.

As was done on Saturday, Jean and I would first stop at kilometre 8. A Hairy Woodpecker was drumming on the utility pole at the entrance of Tea Lake Dam road while we stood below. In the woods, I would get a brief view of a Brown Creeper. We returned to our car and travelled the rest of the road to the picnic area to turn around. We found a conifer tree with huge holes freshly bored in the trunk. Most likely a Pileated Woodpecker but the only other bird we observed was a female Common Merganser downstream from the dam.

Our next stop was the ice formation on a rock wall beside the highway. We parked at the Tea Lake Campground entrance and climbed a slope to capture an image of the wall of ice from the roadside.

In the small amount of brush on the slope we observed 5 Chipping Sparrows, #104 for the year list.

We then stopped at the Mizzy Lake Trail parking lot with no plans to hike the trail. It's an 11 kilometre long trail and the information guide suggests 6 hours is required to complete the loop. We have hiked Mizzy Lake in the past but this day we would simply survey the trees surrounding the parking lot and end up seeing 3 Northern Flicker, Chipping Sparrow, Black-capped Chickadee and Yellow-rumped Warbler.

A quick visit to the Visitor Centre produced no new birds, in fact there was little activity at the feeders. After lunch at Costello Creek, we travelled further east to look for the woodpecker observed the day before. We would find the Black-backed Woodpecker but he was excavating on a utility pole 2 kilometres west of the pole he was at on Saturday.

We would turn around stopping at the Spruce Bog Boardwalk. We hiked in a light rain, observing only 1 Red-breasted Nuthatch before crossing Sunday Creek Bog.

Looking west from the Spruce Bog Boardwalk.

In the background is the Black Spruce forest where we observed our lifer Spruce Grouse.

On Sunday Creek we viewed a lone male Common Merganser before entering the Black Spruce forest east of the bog in search of the elusive Gray Jay. As previously mentioned, they are difficult to spot at this time of year. We walked along the boardwalk surrounded by Black Spruce and nearing the end of the bog where the trail becomes a dirt path, I spotted some movement. It was a bird and I thought it was possibly a Blue Jay. Jean and I remained still but I could not find the bird again. Shortly after that brief glimpse, a dark gray bird with a white collar and forehead flew towards Jean and I. This was the species we missed on Saturday. A Gray Jay, lifer #257. It was looking for some handouts but unfortunately we had none. We were able to get some great views of the Gray Jay as it moved from spruce to spruce.

Gray Jays are an interesting bird. Using their memory, they visit food caches during the winter months. On the field trip Ron Tozer informed us that a park naturalist discovered why Gray Jays prefer Black Spruce. The tree has antimicrobial properties. When mealworms were placed on the bark of various species of tree they were found to be free of bacteria when placed on bark of the Black Spruce. Consistent below freezing temperatures are also required in order to keep their stash of food from perishing. Algonquin Provincial Park is on the southern edge of the Gray Jay's range and climate change (winter thaws) has pushed the species further north.

Even if I was not dressed appropriately for the weather, I would have ignored the light rain that was falling. This was one cool bird! I found another use for my cycling rain coat. It's handy and can be easily rolled up when not needed. The only difference, it's considerably easier to put on and take off while birding than it is while cycling. After a few minutes the Gray Jay would disappear to tend to it's young, not to be seen again.

We returned to the Visitor Centre to enter our observation on the wildlife board in the lobby. A quick scan of the feeders again did not produce anything new. It was time to leave the park and head back to St. Catharines. Outside of the centre we had a short chat with the park naturalist Justin, who led last year's guided walk at the Old Airfield. Before exiting the park Jean and I would add one more species to the year list. 2 Broad-winged Hawks (#106) were soaring above Highway 60. The last animal we would see however was the moose seen the day before. Same spot, same time of day.

Spending the last weekend of April in Algonquin was very productive. A total of 4 lifers were observed, Boreal Chickadee was added to the provincial list, and a total of 16 species were added to the year list. 2009 is looking to be a good year. Observing all 4 Boreal species should assist in the quest to surpass the 187 species observed in Ontario last year. Warblers are next or should I say now.

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