Birding in Algonquin Park (Ontario Part 2)

The rest of the time I spent in Ontario was spent in and around Algonquin Park. This is an amazing park which is great for winter finches and boreal specialties (especially the “big four” which are black-backed woodpecker, spruce grouse, boreal chickadee, and gray jay). This was my second time to the park and I was hoping to find the species I had missed last time (namely spruce grouse, black-backed woodpecker, red crossbill, and evening grosbeak).

The first full day we spent in the park saw us running back and forth to our hotel and back into due to confusion with a reservation which I will not get into here. Since the park is massive, this burned a good deal of our time. However, we did get some good birding in at the Spruce Bog Boardwalk and Opeongo Road as well as the feeders at the visitor center.

The first spot we tried was spruce bog. This is a great spot for boreal birds and a spot we had a lot of luck with last trip. We arrived at the parking lot and walked out down to trail towards a suet feeder which usually has some good birds (and is one of the better places for boreal chickadee). Red-breasted nuthatches and chickadees are the commoner species at the suet with the ever-adorable red squirrel representing the mammals.

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Red Squirrel Looking Adorable

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Black-capped Chickadee

The chickadees and gray jays in the park are extremely friendly, so friendly in fact that they will eat out of your hand. Therefore, it is always recommended that you carry around a bag of birdseed while at Algonquin.

Having no luck with the boreal chickadee, I decided to walk back along the trails which wind away for a few hundred yards opposite the suet feeder. Spruce grouse are sometimes seen along these trails so I was keeping an extra eye out for them as I walked. I soon reached the point where the trail ends at Spruce Bog itself and turned around to head back. However, before I could leave, I heard the sound of a white-winged crossbill flying over. I looked hard but couldn’t see it and the sound soon died away into the distance. I hadn’t gone 100 yards back however, when I heard another bird I was hoping to see, a boreal chickadee calling from the spruces near the trail. Again, as with the crossbill, I looked but failed to locate the bird as it remained hidden within the deep stands of spruce.

After returning to the main trail I decided to walk the way around the loop to look for spruce grouse. None of these elusive grouse were found but upon returning to the parking lot, we did come across two gray jays.

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Gray Jay

After enjoying these beautiful jays, we decided to head up the road to the Visitor Center to see what was visiting the feeders.

We pulled into this wonderful example of a visitor center and walked back to the deck which overlooks a valley with a bog at the bottom. Whenever a deer, wolf, moose, or any other animal is found as roadkill in the park, it is put in the bottom of this valley for scavengers to eat. This is a great opportunity for people to see wolves and other animals without leaving the visitor center. However, when we were there nothing had been killed so the valley was mostly empty. The feeders however, held large numbers of birds (as well as plenty of red squirrels). The most obvious birds at the feeders were probably the evening grosbeaks. It was interesting seeing them here as last year we had had no evening grosbeaks but plenty of pine grosbeaks. This year however, there were no pine grosbeaks and plenty of evening grosbeaks. This is what is so interesting about birding in the north in winter, what is around changes so much from year to year as to keep things interesting.

Also at the feeders were large numbers of purple finches as well as blue jays.

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Purple Finch

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Evening Grosbeak

After enjoying the feeder birds, we decided to go to Opeongo Rd. to try for some more boreal specialties. We didn’t get anything particularly exciting but it was a lovely drive anyway.

The next morning we headed out to go back to Spruce Bog. We didn’t have all that much time left in the park so we were hoping that we would get lucky and get some good birds today. We arrived at the trailhead and walked down towards the suet feeder. It was a lot quieter birder wise than yesterday with only a single photographer there. As we approached they told us that they had a spruce grouse in one of the nearby trees. We started to try to get on the bird but it turned out there was no need to for just then it flew across the trail and landed in a spruce just above where we were standing. For the next fifteen minutes or so the grouse gave us fantastic looks as it flew from tree to tree and even once landed on the ground within 15 feet of us and started to display!

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Spruce Grouse

After that encounter, we heard reports of black-backed woodpecker and red crossbill along the roadside at the other side of the park. Both of these would have been life birds for me so we decided to drive back across the park and try to find them. Not surprisingly, we didn’t find either species. That evening as we were preparing to head back to our hotel, we noticed that we were very short on gas. The nearest gas station was in the town of Whitby on the eastern side of the park. Our hotel was on the west side of the park but we weren’t sure we had enough gas to get us that far. So, we went to Whitby. This turned out to be a bad decision however, for, when we got there, we realized that the gas station was closed. By this point, we certainly didn’t have enough gas to get us back to our hotel. So we went to the Ontario Police Station and used their extra few gallons that they keep there for just such a situation. This story does have an upside however which occurred as we started to drive back towards our hotel.

We were about halfway across the park when we noticed a large animal crossing the road. We could just make it out in our headlights as it disappeared off the road to see that it was a canid. We immediately pulled over and shone the flashlight we had handy off into the bog along the roadside. Sure enough, about 100 ft off the road we could see eyeshine looking back at us. What we weren’t sure of however, was whether it was a wolf or a coyote so we got out of the car to check the footprints it had left in the snow. Upon seeing them, we could confirm that it was a wolf!! This was a life mammal for me and a species that I have always really wanted to see! As we drove off, we saw another pair of tracks proving that there had actually been two wolves and not just one like we thought.

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Wolf Track

The next morning we went out again towards the far side of the park. This would be our last morning in the park as we then had to head back towards Pennsylvania that afternoon.

The first highlight of the day was three or so red crossbills that were feeding along the road with a flock of purple finches and American goldfinches.

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Red Crossbills

After that we went once again to Spruce Bog to try one last time for boreal chickadee. We didn’t have any chickadees but we did end up having a very distant white-winged crossbill. After that, we decided to try the visitor center for a final time. There were less birds around than usual but we were able to see a single pine siskin, a bird which there have been very few reports of in the park this winter.

We then said goodbye to Algonquin Park and to Canada and headed back home.

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