Monday 13 February 2017

Birding Below Zero (Algonquin Park)

To see winter birding at its best, you have to visit Algonquin Park…that is, if you don’t mind the cold.

Algonquin is well-known in the birding world to be one of the best and most accessible places in Ontario to regularly find winter finches and other “Northern Specialties”.  I made a list of targets for the weekend:
1.       Gray Jay
2.       Evening Grosbeak
3.       White-winged Crossbill
4.       Red Crossbill
5.       Pine Grosbeak
6.       Common Redpoll
Well, I’m glad to say that I saw all of them…which is the first time in quite a while where all the birds I was hoping to see were all observed.

The weekend started off at the West Gate with Red Crossbill, White-winged Crossbill, Common Redpoll, and the first of many Blue Jays.  A couple of Crossbills, probably Red, were noted along the highway, but other than that it was pretty quiet.

The fun began when we reached the Visitor Centre.

Well over a hundred Evening Grosbeaks dominated the feeders, along with dozens of American Goldfinches and Blue Jays. Many of them perched just mere meters away from us, and their calls filled the air.

The Wild Turkey that’s been hanging around also allowed its presence to be known.

Spruce Bog Boardwalk is the one stop shop when it comes to winter birding. While I didn’t see a Spruce Grouse this time around, I did  (finally) see a Gray Jay.

Three more soon followed.

I managed to hand feed two different birds here as well, which was pretty awesome. By the end of the weekend, I had hand fed four different Gray Jays.

There was even one with a radio tracking device (which is one of the ones I fed...see above).

The Boreal Chickadee seems to be getting bolder, as the first time I noticed it, the bird was taking a peanut from my hand!  It soon took a nut from my mother as well.

Opeongo Road was next, where there were numerous “friendly” birds. I use “friendly” lightly as there were about a dozen chickadees swarming me and a battle between a chickadee and a nuthatch over who gets to perch on my head.

A Black-backed Woodpecker flew overhead, but I fell over in the 3+ feet of snow as I attempted to see where it landed and get a photo.

There was a pair of Gray Jays as well.  I must say, they make the weirdest sounds!


The next day was a much better day in regards to winter finches.  We started right off with a pair of Red Crossbills, then a bit further down a whole group of mixed crossbills (White-winged and Red).
White-winged Crossbills

Red Crossbill

Both Crossbills

A large number of Pine Siskins were gritting on the road.

Sadly, I counted nine fatalities, which will be the topic of a post coming soon.

The rocks along the highway had some pretty neat ice formations on them.

It truly is a different place here in the wintertime.

We passed  a Ruffed Grouse on the way to the Logging Museum, but it flew away before any photos. We passed it later, but it pulled the same trick.

At the Logging Museum, we hand fed dozens of Chickadees and I got one Gray Jay.

The Visitor Centre was not as active as the previous day, but still quite a few birds. A Pileated Woodpecker flew by as well.

A Red Squirrel too.

Here's a picture to give you an idea of how deep the snow was...nothing like SW Ontario!

Last stop of the trip…Spruce Bog. Quite a few Black-capped Chickadees and the Boreal Chickadee was back as well. Nuthatches, Blue Jays, and Hairy Woodpeckers were common.
Boreal Chickadee

I was freezing my butt off so I decided to head back to the car, ready to accept that I had missed a Pine Grosbeak.

 But I didn’t get too far.

A fellow birder told me he and his wife had just found a PINE GROSBEAK!!!

The bird sat high in a tree for the longest time.

You can only truly appreciate this incredible bird’s beauty when it’s at eye level, so imagine my delight when it flew down to the trail map about 15 feet away from me!

By the time I finished taking photos, my fingers were so cold I couldn’t bend them, but it was worth it.
We were done with the park, and it was time to head back to London (Bonus Knowledge: as I write this I’m on Highway 11 with at least three hours still to go). I’m sure we’ll be driving through the gates of Algonquin Provincial Park again soon!


My life list now stands at 249…..what will be my 250th species!?!?!


  1. Looks like a decent finch winter up there!

    1. It seems like it is. Of course, this is nothing compared to the really good years, but it sure is a treat for us southern Ontario birders. It would be nice if some of those birds ended up down here!

  2. Those are some great sightings and photos! I've wanted to make a winter trip to Algonquin sometime and your post makes it look really appealing. It would be nice to get some lifer winter finches.

    1. I had a great time up there, and I'd definitely recommend going if you have the time. Of course, just be aware that it can get quite cold and the weather can change without warning...we were almost snowed into the Spruce Bog Boardwalk after being there for just an hour and a half!

  3. Wow Quinten, awesome shots! I love that wintry scene of the road