Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Winter Weekend in Algonquin Provincial Park

Well, all blogs at this point are way long over-due...but hey, my thesis is officially submitted! So, while I wait for a defence date, let's try and catch up on the last few months.

Snowshoeing Algonquin Park

During the weekend of March 11th, I took a break from thesis edits, work, and well a computer screen in general, and heading over to Algonquin Provincial Park for some winter birding with some of my labmates from Trent University.  Throughout the winter I’ve been seeing so many posts from friends and on Ontario Birds Facebook Page about the great species that can be found here during the winter time.  We also wanted to visit the Wildlife Research Station and see if we could watch some of the Gray Jay work that was being done. With the winter we have been having, mind you, I didn’t expect it to be -25 most of the time we were there!  While we didn’t see many of the species we were hoping to (Great Gray Owl, Spruce Grouse, and an illusive Boreal Chickadee), we were able to get in some great species.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Bundled up
Saturday we started out by visiting the Visitors Centre where there were a number of Evening Grosbeaks present!  I have been used to seeing a flock os 19 or so at our bird feeder in Parry Sound, but seeing a flock of 50 was an amazing sight (and sound!).  During one of our stops at the VC, we spotted my first ever Red Crossbill (male and female) feeding on the road.

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeaks at VC Feeder

Red Crossbill

We then visited both the Opeongo Road and Spruce Bog trail to see if we could spot some Boreal Chickadees, Black-backed Woodpecker, or Spruce Grouse.  Unfortunately, we weren't lucky and saw none of them!  While we didn't see any of these species, we did spend quite a bit of time having fun feeding chickadees and even a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Ariel and a Chickadee

Bev Vs. Chickadee staring contest

The main purpose of this trip was to tag along with some fellow friends from the University of Guelph who are there studying Gray Jays.  It is a little embarrassing for me to admit that I had never seen a Gray Jay (except for one about 1km away), so this was especially exciting for me!

Field site panorama
It was an incredibly cold day when we hiked out to search for Gray Jays.  We went to a variety of sites throughout Algonquin Part and were able to find one pair (plus a young from last year).  They met us quite a distance away from their nesting area and followed us all the way along.  We then spent just a little bit of time trying to determine where their nesting this year so that the researchers will be able to go back and measure the reproductive success of the nest this year! Much of the research being done here at the park focuses on hypotheses as to why the Gray Jay population has been declining in the park.  Studies on quantity and quality of food caches with relation to climate change and reproductive success are just some of the questions being asked.  To read more about the research, check out the links at the bottom of this page.

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FINALLY a close encounter!
Maybe the Gray Jays are over there?
I had only been to Algonquin Park once before this in the summer. Winter was like a whole different world here, and since we were not interior camping this time it was great to be able to explore some of the day trails.  While I don't have a "favourite" per say, they were all wonderful for their own unique reason.  The Spruce Bog Trail was an amazing way to get up close and personal with some feeding birds, especially with the suet feeder being there.  The Big Pines trail, an old logged area of the park, was absolutely stunning in the winter.  Old moose prints could be seen throughout the trail and towering pine trees were giants amongst what could be considered the "regrowth" of old logging.

Big Pines

Suet feeder at Spruce Bog

Group photo at Spruce Bog Trail!
Our last stop of the day was back to Opeongo Trail where in previous days there was a report of a Great Gray Owl.  While we didn't see that, we did spot a flock of White-winged Crossbills and a few more Gray Jays who were quite eager to grab some peanuts.

Hiking down and around Opeongo Road
Gray Jay with colour bands for ID

To read more in depth about the research being conducted on Gray Jays at Algonquin Park, visit the Norris lab:  http://norrislab.ca/current-study-systems/gray-jays-in-algonquin-park/

Calling all Gray Jays
Follow the Gray Jay researchers on twitter at: https://twitter.com/koleyfree

You can also follow all the research going on at the Wildlife Research Station at Algonquin Park by following them on twitter: https://twitter.com/AlgonquinWRS

Moon rising on Spruce Bog Trail