Thursday 28 October 2021

Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty...

Man, I love birding in Algonquin Park.

This past week, I kept religiously checking the weather on my days off, and it was looking like the conditions would be adequately horrible. As such, I made plans with Jeff Skevington to do some birding in Algonquin Park on Lake Opeongo and Lake Travers. It turned out that the weather wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting, but the birding sure fell into the "unexpected" category! 

I met Jeff early Tuesday morning to start birding at the Old Airfield. Nothing spectacular was seen, although we did have two Common Goldeneye fly over, a new park bird for me, and weirdly the only ones we saw on our travels. A fair number of Snow Buntings as well, new arrivals. There was also a selection of some lingering birds, such as Rusty Blackbird, Swamp Sparrow, and a Double-crested Cormorant.

After making a quick loop of the Spruce Bog Boardwalk (nothing of note), we went to the Opeongo docks, where we loaded up Jeff's motorboat, and set out on the water. The lake was a bit rough, but nothing we couldn't handle.

It wasn't too long until we saw our first good bird of the trip, a Red-throated Loon flying by. This is quite the rarity in Algonquin Park, with only a handful of records. 

We continued to make our way up the lake, keeping an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. There really wasn't all that much going on, although we remained vigilant. A large (for Algonquin) concentration of gulls on the rocks near the weather station gave us hope for something unusual, but alas, nadda.

Herring Gull

As we reached the North Arm of the lake, we did spy something interesting though. On the water some some Ring-billed Gulls there was a slightly smaller, darker mantled (backed) gull. After some choice words, we reached the conclusion that we were looking at the first Algonquin Park record of Black-legged Kittiwake! (!!!!!!!!!) The title of the post makes sense now, right?

The bird was not in the typical juvenile plumage that is often seen in Ontario, but looked rather adult like in its second cycle (I think, don't really have many gull resources at my disposal in Algonquin lol) plumage. As such, not only is this Atlantic Coast gull mind boggling for Algonquin, but this sighting is fairly significant for the province because of its appearance. 

The bird left at one point, and we thought that in typical Algonquin fashion, it had bailed, but to our surprise, it came back! It hung around for some time, often flying within a few feet overhead, and in the end, it was us that left it! 

As I mentioned above, this is a species of the Atlantic Coast. It is pretty much annual in Ontario, but of course, not in this plumage. It is worth noting that this bird was observed during a period of northeast wind. Perhaps it is associated with the large "invasion" of Razorbills, another bird of the Atlantic, along the Ottawa River that has occurred just a couple of weeks prior. My view of the Razorbill I saw in Ottawa earlier in the month was rather poor, but this made up for it! 

A pretty spectacular bird. It was a lifer for me actually—funny that I got it in the least likely of places!

We motored around the lake for a bit longer. Of course we couldn't top that sighting, but we did come across a Peregrine Falcon, a second Red-throated Loon, as well as a very late Bonaparte's Gull. 

Red-throated Loon

We got off the lake mid-afternoon, did some more birding, and then made the drive to the east side of the park, to Lake Travers. We ended up arriving to the access point around 9 PM, and paddled into our site in the dark. 

The next morning, we didn't have to go far. Right from the campsite, we saw such things as Long-tailed Duck, White-winged Scoter, and Lapland Longspur. Plenty of Red-breasted Mergansers as well. Snow Buntings were constantly flying about.

We hit the lake, and before long has found such goodies as Northern Pintail (rare in the park), both scaup, a large flock of Ring-necked Ducks, and a personal highlight of the day, Bohemian Waxwings feeding on Ilex, the first in the park this fall. 

We set up on a sand spit at the north end of the lake, and watched the skies, hoping for raptors. I should mention that before we even got out of the canoe, a Rough-legged Hawk flew over! It was not too long before we got our first of two Golden Eagles. Other things were moving too, and we tallied 13 Red-tailed Hawks and an additional Rough-legged, as well as a migrant Bald Eagle. All in all, a pretty good movement in Algonquin standards! eBird checklist

Not too much more to add, other than seeing a Northern Shrike on the drive out along Barron Canyon Road were a tornado had caused some severe damage. It is a slam dunk every time on the east side!

It was nothing short of an epic 48 hours. I tallied 10 new park birds, and had a great time in great company. Not once did I ever even feel sad about not getting to see that Groove-billed Ani...I think we put that bird to shame anyways. If you put the work in, it pays off. 


  1. Awesome post, Quinten! Congratulations on your amazing "finds"! Glad that you had a great time with Jeff!