It seems so long ago when I booked my vacation weeks for 2011 and at that time, I really had no idea what my plans were for the week of December 5. As the week approached and the ticks kept on coming, I reckoned a return to Algonquin for another chance at the Boreal species we missed in April would be worthwhile. While enjoying a Muskoka-brewed ale in Huntsville, the plan for our first day in Algonquin Provincial Park was set.
Our target Boreal species were reported the previous week and it was possible all three could be found in one location. Spruce Grouse, Black-backed Woodpecker and Boreal Chickadee had been observed along the Old Railway east of Arowhon Road.
Travelling east from the West Gate, we stopped at kilometre 8 and searched the Tea Lake Dam picnic area. When dump trucks were not passing by on the logging road across the creek, it was fairly quiet while walking along the gravel road towards the picnic area. Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches were moving quickly through the conifers and a Downy Woodpecker, working away on some dead wood, was a first of many that had me envisioning a Black-backed Woodpecker addition to the year list.
To reach the Old Railway, you leave Highway 60 and travel along Arowhon Road for a few kilometres. On the OFO Algonquin trip, we usually park at the chain gate (east of Arowhon Rd) and walk along the abandoned railway until we reach the Mizzy Lake Trail and Wolf Howl Pond. Due to the snow, I did not trust that the turn around would be successful so I selected a parking spot that had us walking approximately 200 metres to reach the chain gate. We found a dozen Pine Siskins, but after spending an hour in the area, we did not spot any Boreal Chickadees.
At the Visitor Centre, staff were decorating a Christmas Tree and though it was a weekday, we were allowed to enter and view the feeders. Evening Grosbeaks had been stopping at the feeders on a regular basis and we were lucky enough to observe one female during our time at the Visitor Centre. The Evening Grosbeak (another species missed during our April visit) was #215 for the year.
Our last stop for the day was at the Spruce Bog Trail. Another chance at ticking Boreal Chickadee and Spruce Grouse. At the register box, we left the trail and walked through the Black Spruce forest to search for grouse. Once we walked away from the parking area, there was no bird activity what-so-ever.
It was eerily quiet.
Before starting our second day in the provincial park, we did some birding in Muskoka and added Black-capped Chickadee and White-breasted Nuthatch to the county list. It's still a short list.
Jean and I had a late breakfast Friday morning and we did not make our first stop until we reached the Visitor Centre. This time there was a large flock (over 3 dozen) of Evening Grosbeaks at the feeders.
We stood in the cold and wind hoping for a Crossbill or Bohemian fly-by that never did materialize.
We moved on to Opeongo Road. It was untouched and we were the first to lay tracks. The Gray Jays, reluctant to land in a hand filled with crushed peanut butter granola bars, preferred to take their spoils from the ground.
While admiring the Whiskey Jacks, a park plow passed by and cleared a path the rest of the way to the Opeongo Access Point.
Lake Opeongo was still open and behind a family of 4 otters, we spotted a late Common Loon.
We arrived at the Logging Museum and as I moved towards the garbage and recycling receptacles to throw away an empty chip bag and pop can, 4 Gray Jays swooped in and without hesitation, took pieces of granola bar from Jean's hand.
We walked along the Logging Museum Trail and again it was quiet. All we found was one Blue Jay and the tapping, come on it's going to be a Black-backed....nah...it's a female Downy.
Our last attempt at a reported sighting was at kilometre 41. On November 26, several Red Crossbills were photographed feeding on dead wood (a source of ash and calcium) by Ringneck Pond. Though the odds were not in my favour, I could not let the chance of a lifer pass us by. The dead trees were easily spotted, but the lifer crossbill will have to wait for another day.
Evening Grosbeak ended up being the only addition to our lists over the two days of exploring my favourite provincial park. The Nipissing County list now stands at 79 species. Since we're ahead of our goal for the year, I'll be OK with missing the 3 Boreal species just this once. There, I said it.
For 2012, I'm setting my sights on 225+ species. If Jean and I have any chance of succeeding, the trend for finding Spruce Grouse on the Algonquin OFO trip had best return.