A month ago, over President’s Day weekend, my dad and I went up towards Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario to try to see some of the boreal birds that are up there. For a reason not known to me, my school gives four days off for President’s Day instead of the usual three so we had plenty of time to drive up and get in some good birding.
A Google Maps Image of Algonquin Provincial Park
Thursday night we departed and drove as far north as St. Catherine’s, Ontario where we stayed the night. The next day, despite being technically a day of travel, I had planned to stop at a few places around Toronto to try to pick up some rarities in the area.
We woke up very early on Friday so that we could get in all the birding we had planned and still make it to the park before nightfall. The first thing we did before heading out was to go and buy some donuts from the Tim Horton’s across the street from our hotel. If you’ve never been to Tim Horton’s you don’t know what you’re missing, their food is amazing to say the least.
We didn’t stay long at the Tim Horton’s however, as we had to get up to the pier at Port Weller to try to find a king eider that has been there for a very long time. It has been there so long in fact that I saw this bird last year here. We arrived at the pier to find it mostly frozen over, which is pretty typical for the great lakes this year. However, in some slim hope that there was open water at the end, we walked down the trail which leads out towards the lake itself.
It turns out there was open water at the end but it held only the usual long-tailed ducks common mergansers, and white-winged scoters. However, the next place we planned on stopping was another spot for king eider, this time two females.
This next spot was a canal which connects Hamilton Harbor to Lake Ontario. Arriving, we could see that the canal was mostly iced over but the water in the lake close to shore was mostly ice free.
Walking down towards the canal, I stopped to look through a flock of gulls sitting on the water. They flew not long after I started scanning but I was able to pick out an adult glaucous gull.
The first thing I saw as I got to the canal were the numerous white-winged scoters and long-tailed ducks that were swimming very close to shore. This presented many great photo opportunities as these are birds that I rarely get to see close.
There were also many red-breasted mergansers and a few common goldeneye. I could see that there were more waterfowl at the end of the canal so I walked out to see what they were. However, before I got to the end, I saw two large white birds out on the lake. I quickly determined them to be trumpeter swans which have been reintroduced in the area. I then noticed two large brown ducks swimming by where the canal runs into the lake itself. Getting the scope on them, I noticed that they were indeed the eiders I had been looking for.
King Eiders (with a Great Black-backed Gull)
Since I had found the birds I was looking for, I spent the rest of the time there admiring the close looks at the waterfowl.
White-winged Scoter and Red-breasted Merganser
The next place we were going to stop was a stakeout for a varied thrush in Guelph. This was a bird I was very much hoping to see as it would be a life bird for me. The thrush was being seen at Guelph Lake Conservation Area and was apparently eating crabapples at the lake’s dam. We pulled over by the dam and got out to try to find the bird. Our work was made considerably easier however by two photographers who were already there looking the thrush. Moral of the story is that the best way to locate rare birds is to look for large groups of people with large optical equipment. Look in the direction all the scopes and cameras are pointing and you will probably see it.
After about 15 minutes the thrush dropped down over the top of the dam and out of sight. We decided it was time for us to move on too as we had a tight schedule to keep. We had one last stop that we wanted to go to before heading due north for the park. This was a stakeout for a great gray owl.
When we got to the stop however, we found a photographer there trying to bait the owl out of the woods. Not wanting to get caught up in the war between the birders and photographers around baiting and also not particularly wanting to see an owl that was only there because it was baiting, we left the area after only a quick search. While in that time we didn’t see the owl, we did see a flock of about 7 wild turkeys.
We then heading north in the direction of Algonquin Park. More on our time in the park itself will come in another blog post.