Monday, 28 January 2013

Wildlife Club trip to Algonquin

Even though I graduated last spring from the University of Guelph, I have a lot of friends still in the campus Wildlife Club and I've participated in numerous trips/parties/meetings with the club this year. The latest adventure was a trek to a very cold and moderately snowy Algonquin Provincial Park this past weekend.

Due to a speaking engagement the night before I wasn't able to get to the 'Gonc until mid morning, but even with the relatively short trip, there were some epic times!

Within a few hours of arriving, I had already seen just about all the Algonquin specialties that were around. A walk down Opeongo Road resulted in sightings of several Gray Jays by the parking area. Todd Hagedorn and I ventured down the snowy road on foot and heard several Boreal Chickadees. We could hear a Black-backed Woodpecker tapping quietly off to the side, and a brief investigation resulted in Todd getting his first looks at a female Black-backed Woodpecker. For a lot of birders in North America, this species along with the more widespread American Three-toed Woodpecker is near the top of the "most wanted" bird list. We are fortunate to be able to see them regularly in the boreal forest in central and northern Ontario.

From here we checked the visitor centre feeders. As usual they were very busy, and it was fun having great looks at Pine Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, and a single male White-winged Crossbill. The best looks I have ever had of this species! Also of note here was a female "rostrata" Common Redpoll, the subspecies that breeds in Greenland.

Pine Grosbeak (January 25, 2012)

The next stop was the Spruce Bog Boardwalk. Along with Todd, Brett Fried, Erika Hentsch, Athena Gubbe, and Mark Dorriesfield, we walked back deep into the spruce forest off the beaten track. Here we picked up several pairs of grouse tracks, and after following the winding trail (they never seem to like walking in a straight line!) we flushed a grouse that turned out to be a Spruce Grouse. Nice! A bit later we came across a Ruffed Grouse as well, surprising given the habitat that seemed a little too sprucy for Ruffed Grouse.

That evening I had one of the greatest wildlife moments of my life. We had heard of a Great Gray Owl that was being seen at the 48 km mark, so we drove over and were immediately treated to stunning looks at this northern beauty. After several minutes of observation, the owl suddenly left its perch in the tree and flew directly at me. My jaw dropped open as it passed right over my head, no more than 16 inches away! I could hear the sound of the wings as it passed overhead. Wow! This was only my third encounter with the species, and what an encounter it was! A friend of mine was able to get some photos of the experience, and if I can I'll see if I can post them here.

We spent much of the remaining daylight observing the owl hunt from the north side of the road. Watching it in the scope from close range was incredible - you could see every feather in sharp detail, the little bits of rodent flesh around its mustache and on its bill, and those piercing yellow eyes. While several carloads of birders stopped to view it, everyone was respectful and no one left the road side or tried to bait the owl.

Great Gray Owl - Algonquin PP

Unfortunately I am still without a camera so my cell phone shot will have to do. Which reminds me - if anyone reading this knows of where I can get a used Nikon DSLR for a good price (under 200$), please let me know. I just need something to tide me over until when I can afford a new camera in the spring.

The rest of the trip was a lot of fun. There was a lot less birding done, with an increase in the amount of shenanigans that occurred. Highlights definitely included human tobogganing off of a steep hill near Mizzy Lake, but this blog is supposed to be about wildlife, not wild life, so I'll say no more!

I'll close out with this photo I took at Ragged Falls, along the HWY 60 corridor in Haliburton County. It was another great trip with like-minded individuals and I can't wait for the next adventure!

Ragged Falls, Haiburton Co.


  1. Sounds like a great trip. Sarah & I are heading up there in a couple of weeks, so hopefully we have some of the same luck!

  2. Henry's has a few used nikon body's on their webpage for $199. I've had good luck in the past with their used stuff.

  3. this was an amazing trip! nice pics too :)