Monday, February 20, 2017

Winter Birding at Algonquin Park (v3)

Pine Marten
This past weekend, I had a unique opportunity to join two other birders (Kit M & Sean J) on a trip to Algonquin Park. This was my second trip to the park --- my first trip was a few years ago during a mid summer trip to Ottawa [link].

Red Crossbill

There are a few locations and seasons that birders in Ontario are obligated to take part in. For example: Early May at Point Pelee and area, June at Carden Alvar and of course, Winter Finch and boreal species at Algonquin during the winter season.

What made this weekend particularly interesting was that the weather was 8-10 degrees celsius. I didn’t wear gloves all weekend, occasionally a hat and at times, my jacket was unzipped because I was too hot!

Another motivation for this trip was to try and get myself past the 399 life list mark! Last year, I had only gotten two life birds: Gyrfalcon & Harlequin Duck. I am happy to report that indeed, I joined the 400 club with 4-5 life list additions!
I'm really "lichen" this branch! :-p

Most Ontario birders are familiar with the famous Winter Finch Forecast. This winter's forecast, published last fall, indicated that it was going to be a below-average conifer cone crop at Algonquin and thus, a below average occurrence of winter finch species. Even with this report - it seemed like there were some interesting things being seen in the park thanks to other recent blog reports and the weekly Algonquin reports by Ron Tozer. I can only imagine how good it would be in years with bumper coniferous seed crops!

I have a quick summary of some of the places we visited within the park, along with some birding highlights.

Mew Lake Campground

The draw here was American Marten or Pine Marten, a mammal species that is related to Minks, Fischers and Wolverines (Mustelids). Local birder Steve Pike informed me of this location as a hotspot to see this species. I had never seen this species before, so when it finally appeared, I was photographing it thinking … Wow, this animal is really cute. It almost looks like a cross between a cute kitten, a minx and a teddy bear!
Gray Jay

Spruce Bog Boardwalk

Spruce Bog Boarwalk is a great location to visit, but a little bit of a tourist trap. It's a beautiful habitat with some interesting trails that are a little more quiet once you venture a ways from the parking lot. A giant suet feeder, along with lots of visitor supplied bird seed attracts birds that are trying to survive the tough Algonquin winters. Some highlights here included: Gray Jays (lifer! #400!!!), Boreal Chickadees, Hairy Woodpeckers, Spruce Grouse (Life bird!), White winged Crossbills, Red breasted Nuthatches, Pine Grosbeak (Life bird!). One path that we walked was through a Spruce forest and it was breathtakingly beautiful. The fresh crisp air, bright blue sky, sunshine, smell of wood burning nearby made for a great feeling of being in nature. Lichen and mosses graced the bark and branches of every tree which added an extra helping of beauty. At one point, there were several blue jays mobbing something nearby and Sean noted that a Pine Marten (not an owl) was the object of their scorn and discontent. Another highlight at Spruce Bog was meeting Lev Frid who is a talented birder and naturalist at Algonquin.

Boreal Chickadee

Pine Grosbeak ...My lens fogged up a little when I saw this. Melted snow had made my lens foggy :-(  

Spruce Grouse

Cell phone zoom range for the grouse ~17mm

Opiongo Road

We walked this area both days, and on the second day, we had noted some new species. At one point, Lev and Amanda has pointed out a Ruffed Grouse along the side of the road (Lifer!). Having just seen a pair of Spruce Grouse, I was amazed to see a second species within the span of an hour. We walked 1-2 KM north up Opiongo road in search of Black backed Woodpecker but came up short. We did get to see more Gray Jays, small flocks of White Winged Crossbills, Chickadees and Red & White breasted nuthatches. Kit noted another Ruffed Grouse feeding high in a Birch tree, eating birch catkins. Kit was in good spirits during this trip as he had 10+ life birds.

Ruffed Grouse

White winged Crossbills

Highway 60 Corridor

Red Crossbills were pretty easily seen along the highway. Small flocks of Pine Siskens and American Goldfinches were seen as well. I noted that at sunrise (around 7:15) and for the remaining hour or two, they were seen perching at the tops of evergreens along the highway. I had the impression that after 12:00 noon, it's a little bit harder to find these birds.

Pine Siskens

Red Crossbills

Visitor Center

The visitor center hosted hundreds of Evening Grosbeaks, as well as many American Goldfinches and a single Common Redpoll! Blue Jays and Ravens were also abundant. One or two American Crows were heard on Sunday.

Evening Grosbeaks

West Highlands Trail
This trail was our last horrah for our park visit. This trail was quieter than we were expecting, but stunningly beautiful as well. Black Capped Chickadees and perhaps a small flock of crossbills were heard. Our target bird for this trail was Black backed Woodpecker but we were unable to find one. 


Huntsville was home base for this trip, and we made an attempt to find the local flock of Bohemian Waxwings but had no luck. Our consolation for our efforts was a small flock of Pine Grosbeaks! Amazingly - even though we had seen Pine Grosbeaks for a second time, all of them were female (yellow) or perhaps juvenile males. 


Driving 7 or so hours in each direction for 1.5 days of birding is a little painful for me. But, one doesn't get too many opportunities to really go out and do something that is as crazy as this. At this point in my life, its almost reckless to take two days off to indulge in a winter boreal birding binge. The stars just seemed to line up for this trip - a few local birders wanting to go, the weather being incredible, obtaining my wife's blessing to go. I'm glad that I went and I was fortunate to bird with Kit, Sean an Lev a little and see some great birds.

Interesting Birding Fact:
  • The Red Crossbill is so dependent upon conifer seeds it even feeds them to its young. Consequently, it can breed any time it finds a sufficiently large cone crop, even in the depths of winter. Source:

Good Birding!


Ebird Checklists: [Coming Soon]

Lifer Summary:

"Type 1 Appalachian" Red Crossbill
400-Gray Jay
401-Pine Grosbeak
402-Spruce Grouse
403-Ruffed Grouse


  1. I know you're a birder, but great pictures of the Pine Maten! And congrats on the 400.

  2. Sounds like a great trip Dwayne. Congratulations on the lifers. This post came out at a great time. I was considering possibly trying to get up to the park this winter and your post makes it sound very appealing.

  3. Furry, thanks for the comments and congratulatory wishes! 400 species is huge benchmark! -DM



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...