Monday, March 2, 2015

Team Hawksauce in Canada - Day 3: Algonquin Provincial Park - Jan. 10, 2015

     Our 3rd day in Canada was devoted to exploring Algonquin Provincial Park, and then making our way back to Niagara Falls for our final night. We originally were going to use an entire day to thoroughly explore Algonquin, but due to some last minute obligations we ended up cutting the trip a day short. Next time we do this trip we are definitely going to take a full day in this area and maybe even two days to fully enjoy everything this boreal habitat has to offer.
     Waking up pre-dawn, we packed the vehicle and once again woke up the poor innkeeper to inquire about where we should leave our key. We then headed off for the Algonquin Provincial Park Visitor's Center. This drive from Huntsville to the visitor's center was supposed to take 45 minutes, but with snow packed roads it ended up taking 1.5 hours. We arrived at our destination at 9am, which was when the center officially opened. Our first order of business was to purchase a day pass to the park which would allow us unlimited access to all the trails. While waiting to purchase the pass I learned from another visitor who had also driven through the heavy snow the night before that the total amount of snow dropped by that system was 2.5 feet!

We made it! (Photo credit: L. Errickson)

The road through Algonquin Provincial Park - the tan coloration is from sand which is put down for traction.

     Before hitting the trails we quickly checked the bird feeders that are set up behind the center and saw our first Red-breasted Nuthatch of the trip! There were also many Hairy Woodpeckers, a hoard of Black-capped Chickadees, Blue Jays, and a handful of White-breasted Nuthatches. The Red Squirrels were also very active at the feeders in their usual high-energy fashion. We noticed that these squirrels had actually dug tunnels into the snow around the feeding area that they would dive into if danger was sensed. A few squirrels were even stashing food somewhere in their intricate tunnel system.
Red Squirrel being cute!

View from Algonquin Provincial Park Visitor's Center 

One of the many Black-capped Chickadees
     We had heard that the Spruce Bog Boardwalk trail would be our best bet for seeing many of our target species, so we headed there for a short hike (1.5 km) through the spruce bog habitat in shin deep, powdery snow. As soon as we arrived in the parking lot we heard one of our target species - Boreal Chickadee - calling from the treetops!!! It took us a few minutes to see the little buggers, but we finally saw a few of them bouncing around the trees with their Black-capped Chickadee cousins. The rest of our hike was fairly quiet with mostly nuthatches and chickadees hanging around looking for handouts (they will come sit on you if you have sunflower seeds), and Hairy Woodpeckers hammering away on trees. We did manage to hear the call of a Black-backed Woodpecker, but did not see it. Even though the sun was bright and it was nearly cloudless, it seemed to snow the entire time we were in the park. 

Libby walking down the boardwalk in Spruce Bog

Spruce Bog

     Next on our agenda was to drive down Opeongo Road, but we first zipped back to the visitor's center to check the feeders and were rewarded with great views of two Common Redpolls! We also added Downy Woodpecker to our Algonquin list.  Getting back on track, we headed down the snowpacked Opeongo Road looking for a few more target species. The hoards of Black-capped Chickadees surrounded our vehicle looking for handouts anytime we stopped for an extended period. In fact, we got to the end of the road without seeing anything but chickadees and nuthatches. Thinking that we had dipped on almost all our target species, and running out of time, we turned around and headed back to the main road. Suddenly, I saw a few birds sitting in the middle of the road, and came to a stop to get my binoculars on them....from this point things happened so fast! All of a sudden we had Gray Jays landing on us looking for food, and Pine Grosbeaks moving around in the vegetation and landing in the road! Two life birds within seconds that we thought we had dipped on! Whew!

Gray Jay
Gray Jay

Gray Jay 

     By the time we were finished with our birding adventures we were famished and headed back to the Visitor's Center to see what they had to offer in their cafe. To my surprise, even in the winter months, they had an entire gluten-free menu available, which even included dessert! Of course, the beef patty that was put on my cheeseburger had obviously been frozen for awhile longer then normally recommended, but other than the texture being a little dry, the taste was fine, and it was exciting to actually be able to eat the bun because it was gluten free! Kudos to Algonquin Provincial Park for offering such a diverse menu even in the dead of winter. 
    We reluctantly left Algonquin at around 1:30 pm. On the way out of the park I spotted a Black-backed Woodpecker flying over the road! I was unable to stop quickly on the snowpacked roads, but did a u-turn when it was safe to do so and went back to the approximate place where I saw it.  We pulled off the side of the road and went wading in the hip deep snow in an attempt to relocate the bird since Libby hadn't seen it, but luck was not on our side.
     The trip back to Niagara Falls was fairly easy, but took a little longer than I had anticipated. The road conditions were snowpacked until somewhere between Opilla and Barrie, ON where they magically transitioned into clear, dry roads. We ended up rolling into Niagara Falls around 7:45pm and checked into the Comfort Inn Fallsview. The room was clean, and we were lucky enough to get a room with a balcony, but the fact that they charge for parking in their own lot was ridiculous. Our sink also didn't drain well and the wi-fi didn't work on any of our devices. It did work on Libby's laptop, but was very slow and kept disconnecting itself. As someone who likes to catch up on eBirding and emails before bed each night, this wi-fi situation was just unacceptable. 

Our room

Sometimes you just have to go out on the balcony in January to see how cold it is up here. 
Stay tuned for my last post on our trip to Canada where we explore the Niagara River before heading home.

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