Friday, 24 February 2017

A Not-So-Seasonal Day in Algonquin

Yesterday afternoon was spent up north in Algonquin Park.  It was a trip that I had been interested in for a long time after reading several different blog posts on the winter species being seen up there. 

I arrived at the West Gate of Algonquin Park by early afternoon and after picking up a park permit, headed down toward the other end of the park to start the day at some of the best birding locations.  Not far along the highway, I spotted a small flock of birds feeding at the roadside.  After pulling over and several photos later, I had seen my first flock of Red Crossbills of the trip.

From there it was on to the Visitor Centre. 

All that remains of the moose carcase which at one time hosted a wide variety of species.

 My main target here was Evening Grosbeak.  They visited the home feeders at least once that I can remember many years ago, but I didn't have the same interest in birds and nature back then that I do now.  I was hoping for some good views of this species.  At the feeders, I quickly picked out several grosbeaks.  The large numbers that had been seen at the feeders didn't show up, but I was happy with the few that I saw.

Large flocks of goldfinches along with familiar faces from the feeders back home were also observed.  A pileated woodpecker was also heard somewhere out in the trees.

Many red squirrels were taking advantage of the birdseed buffet, a species I only rarely see at home.

The spruce bog boardwalk was the next location of interest for me and so that is where we went.  Arriving in the parking lot, we were immediately swamped by friendly black-capped chickadees and nuthatches.

Although great to see such close views of these familiar birds, I was hoping to see some more Algonquin specialties at some point along the trail. 

There was plenty of snow still around despite the 7 degree temperatures.

Partway along the trail, I heard what sounded suspiciously like a boreal chickadee.  Unfortunately it didn't come out into the open.  We reached the end of the trail and I decided to walk back over to the feeders in the hopes of one last chance at something new.  Arriving at the feeder, I immediately spotted a boreal chickadee just up ahead.  Unfortunately it didn't want to sit still long enough for a photo.  The cause of its nervousness became apparent as I watched a pine marten creeping through the branches and sending the birds into a fluster.  I turned my attention to the marten and got some great views.

Another photographer was there also snapping shots of the marten.  We got talking and I discovered he had travelled up from the Rondeau area.  To my surprise I found out it was fellow blogger Rondeau Ric.  It was great to finally put a face to the name.  Ric had obtained some excellent shots of the boreal chickadees before the marten showed up.

Ric suggested checking out Opiongo road for a chance at gray jays and Mew Lake Campground for close views of more pine martens.  Unfortunately both locations turned up empty for what I was looking for, but the afternoon had provided other great sightings so it was not a big lose. 

By this time it was getting late in the day and so rather than push for home the same day, the night was spent in Huntsville.

The drive home started with periods of heavy rain, but as we neared home, things cleared up.  I made a brief stop at the Nith River in Wellesley and picked up my first Common  Mergansers of the year. 


I had some free time upon arriving home and so I decided to revisit familiar territory and take a hike over the farm.  What a contrast from Algonquin.  Practically no snow left here and Common Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird and Tundra Swan were around earlier than I ever remember seeing them.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Preparing for a New Season: Duck Box Cleanout

Mid to late winter marks a time that I look forward to every year, checking in and cleaning out various nest boxes over the farm.  I remember making the rounds to check the boxes with my dad and the excitement of what we might find inside.  It's been two years since he passed away, but it brings back happy memories to make the rounds every year. We have nine nest boxes located on multiple ponds and creeks on the property and this is the best time of year to check when the ice is solid enough to access them. 

Last weekend, I loaded my supplies onto the tractor and set off to start the cleanout.  I set up the ladder at the first box, climbed up and carefully opened the side.  I wasn't quite high enough to see right inside, so I raised the camera and took a couple pictures.   I was extremely surprised to see what I had found.

Although not an unusual occurrence in nest boxes, it has been many years since I have found an eastern screech owl in a box and this was the best view I have ever had of one.  It appeared to have been in residence for a while based on the pellets in the box.  Anyway, I didn't bother it and carefully closed the box back up, planning to come back and clean out later.  Based on what little I saw inside the box, it appears that there was indeed a successful duck nest last year based on shell fragments.

Not all boxes show the evidence of a successful season, and abandoned nests do occur.

The final box was also quite interesting.  It was an abandoned nest, but I found some different looking eggs in there along with the wood duck eggs.
Wood duck egg on left and hooded merganser on right.

After consulting my nest box guide, it appears they are the eggs of a hooded merganser.  Back in the summer of 2015 we had a successful batch of mergansers raised on that pond and I was fortunate enough to watch the hen with her seven ducklings swim over the pond.  I didn't see them last year, but apparently they had visited. 

The fun thing about cleaning out nest boxes is that you don't know what you might discover.