Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Canada Trip part 4, 25-28 August

25 August

Waking up at the unremarkable time of 08:00, the 10 of us gradually entered the land of the living for the next hour. Mum, Dad, dave, katie and pretty much else saw a Ruby-throated Hummingbird before we left the motel forever. I didn't, but I was happy to claw back with a Broad-winged Hawk flying over, literally seconds before we drove off. That Mr Beadle was the one who ID'd it is an unimportant matter!

Today, we were heading into the oldest, and one of the most beautiful of all Canada's provincial parks, Algonquin PP. We were only in a tiny area of this huge expanse of wilderness, but it was absolutely beautiful. We arrived just as the leaves were starting to change from the emerald hues of summer into the rusty tones of fall. The species we were hoping to see were Gray Jay, (a smaller, cuter and greyer version of Blue Jays) and Boreal Chickadees (really very similar to Black-capped Chickadee but this is the furthest south you get them). Did we see either? No, sadly, but I saw some great birds anyway.

First stop was Lake Openogo, where Dave assured us he had seen them every single time he had visited. He however forgot to mention that Gray Jays are a figment of the imagination of Canadians and Canadian Residents! I saw one small-looking Jay, but since nobody else saw it, and it was a fairly bad view, it goes in the one-that-got-away box. However, there were enough birds to keep me entertained anyway. two Eastern Kingbirds were lifers, as was a Bay-breasted warbler, while there were plenty of Cedar waxwings, a Broad-winged Hawk circled overhead and a Great Blue Heron was on the swampy river mire we walked alongside. None of the moose we had hoped for though.

We then had a look at the visitor centre, where I saw Grey Wolf, Moose, Black Bear, Least Flycatcher, Myrtle Warbler, Beaver, Black and White Warbler, Gray Jay, Raven and Golden Eagle. However, even my conscience was a bit uneasy with counting stuffed animals in displays.

The next walk we took was around a spruce-bog trail. The only noteworthy bird I saw was a Yellowthroat, but thanks to half an hour of patiently checking chickadees, Dad and Dave came to this conclusion. Telling a Boreal from a Black-capped flitting through the treetops, never giving good views whatsoever, is beyond them. They were both sure Boreal Chickadees were among the flock they were looking at, but were unable to confirm it. In the five minutes it took for me to lose interest, I did hear one odd-sounding Chickadee too, but never saw it through Binoculars, except when it flew off through the wood.

Followjng this disheartening experience, Dad, Katie, Dad and I went along one final trail, through coniferous woodland, looking for the Boreal Chickadees and Gray Jays. It took us half an hour to see a Black-capped Chickadee!

However, once we saw one, we saw plenty. Sadly, there was no storybook ending, Boreal Chickadees and Gray Jays stayed well out of sight, ut there was quite a wide variety of birds in this tit flock. I saw Brown creeper, Golden and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, American Redstart and Bay-breasted, Magnolia, Nashville, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated green, Yellow-rumped, Chestnut-sided and Black and White warblers, plus I missed a Wilson's Warbler. That was six lifers in one tit flock!

I was rather happy as we travelled to our home for the next three nights. Katie's parents cottage, on the shore of Lake Portage, about 150km west of Algonquin. We arrived in the evening, so we couldn't enjoy the scenery too much, but a few of us went for a midnight swim, in the surprisingly warm lake. And Dave showed us a frog called Gerald...

This particular little guy was a Grey-tree Frog, and he lived by Dave's moth trap, growing morbidly obese on an easy food-supply. I've seen frogs in some unusual places before (including a dog's water bowl and a shower in Australia!) but Gerald may take the biscuit. Don't give it too him, he's fat enough already.

By the end of the day I had seen eight lifers, (the others being Eastern Kingbird and Bay-breasted warbler), and my total for the trip was about 82 species and 62 lifers.

26 August
I woke at 08:30 that morning, but it felt a lot earlier, mainly because everyone else was still asleep. It was also the first time i saw much of the scenery round here. It was absolutely gorgeous. The lake was
deep blue, and seemed to stretch out into the heavens of the cloudless sky. The trees had leaves in all sorts of colours; crimson, amber, scarlet, and shades of green I can't even name. And it was all dappled by the early morning sunshine, like throwing a rainbow into a kaleidascope.

It was all stunning, but on this first day I saw no lifers. However, Pileated Woodpecker was great to actually see, rather than hear. As I was standing in  clearing, one of these enormous birds flew right over my head, givng great but brief views.Other birds included two Brown Creepers, three Black and White warblers, an Eastern Phoebe and a Northern Flicker. Two or more Ruby-throated Hummers were seen at their feeders all day long, and for the first time ever I heard the beautiful, mournful calls of Common Loons. The fluty warblings of Red-eyed Vireos weren't bad either.

27 August
A better day around the cabin. The sunlight went through my window, directly into my face, at about 06:30. I took this as a sign from the gods to get outside! Most birds were seen in the morning, including
  • Common Loons, they were heard calling throughout the day, with an adult and chick coming to within about 50 metres to check us out. We also saw a separate juvenile on its own.
  • a Spotted Sandpiper. This lifer was on the lakeshore, and at oen point gave very close views on the dock by the cabin.
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, coming back to the feeders all day long. There were atleast three of them but probably more.
  • two each of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Northern Flicker.
  • the distinctive, onamatopaeic song of an Eastern Wood-pewee.
  • Three Red-eyed Vireos, sounding like Song Thrushes.
  • Three Red-breasted Nuthatches, two of which were doing their quite brilliant call.
  • Two Hermit Thrushes calling to each other, their rich, thick calls bouncing through the woods.
  • Tons of Cedar waxwings, literally everywhere you went.
  • two Scarlet Tanagers, another lifer. They were both in their greeny-yellow autumn plumes though, so not the prettiest bird I saw!
  • Finally, a mixed warbler/chickadee flock, which included three Tenessee Warbler (lifer), four Nashville Warbler, one gorgeous Blackburnian Warbler, five Black and White Warbler, one Wilson's Warbler(lifer) and one Northern Waterthrush(lifer). I also got a brief view of a potential lifer. If it was a Veery or Hermit Thrush it wasn't, if it was a Swainson's Thrush it was. Still, it was only a few days before I did see all three of these thrushes...
On a boat ride out over Lake Portage, we also saw a Caspian Tern, a Loon and a Red-shouldered Hawk. 

By the end of the day, I had seen five lifers, taking my total to about 67. I had also chased after a Loon, in a kayak, with James B balancing on the back beam. And I had wandered through the forest barefoot, trying to see a Hermit Thrush and causing my feet untold pain.

28 Aug
A fairly quiet day. We left the cabin at about midday, me having racked up a close in adult Common Loon, a Northern Flicker, a Hairy Woodpecker, a Red-shouldered Hawk, loads of Cedar Waxwing, a Black and White Warbler, three Red-eyed Vireos and an icterid that initially looked like a Brewer's Blackbird. Closer inspection revealed it to be just a Red-wing. I saw all this without a huge amount of effort. We had a lot of fun staying at the cabin for four and a bit days, and I'd like to thank Katie's parents for allowing us all to stay, and Katie, Dave, James, John, Patrick, Michael and Elden for all making us welcome up their and insuring we had a fantastic time. Annoyingly I committe a cardinal sin, I left my camera out of battery. And my charger back in Toronto. As a result, a lot of the photos I could have taken, I didn't. But here is one of the scenery, from my mum's holiay snaps, just to show you how beautiful it was up here. I plan to add more photos once I've finished writing the whole thing up.

the view out across Lake Portage (copyright Carole Henderson)
 But, before I forget, ther was one final highlight before we left the cabin. But before I tell that story, it is important to understand there was a Games Room here...

In a separate Cabin on the property, was a room with a Dartboard, Pool Table, Ping-pong, Table Football, Air Hockey and Pinball. We wound down many happy hours in their during the night, and when it was too hot to be outside. Before we left, Dad and I went in for one last game.

Now what I am about to say may surprise, shock or scintillate you. There was a frickin' HUMMINGNIRD flying around above the pool table!

Now Dave, being Dave, had brought some butterfly nets along. So, with the help of James, we found them, got the best one and went back to the pool room.

Now, I have seen many things in my time. But a Hummingbird being swished up in a butterfly net was one of the more surprising! As my dad groped around in the depths of the net, trying to extract the poor bird, it made a squeaky, helpless, heart-throbbing call. It almost wrenched at your insides with grief.  But fairly quickly, Dad had caught the bird, and held it in the ringers grip in his hand. He then placed it in he palm of my hands, where it sat for a few seconds, before taking off with a supersonic whir of its tiny little wings. I have heard all the stories of them flying over the Gulf of Mexico, but, until you have seen one in your own hand, you have no idea just how miracuous that idea seems.

Before long, we were off on the road, for the 200km drive back to Toronto. I saw two Red-tailed Hawks and countless Turkey Vultures along the way, with a Nighthawk seen as we approached Toronto. I also saw my only lifer of the day, my 88th, in the suburbs of Toronto. A species I never ticked in britain, despite it being seen first in March, and still being in Devon now. a House Finch.

We now had just five days left in Canada. The following day (Aug 29) we left Toronto again, heading down to Long Point. We stayed here until Sep 2, when we went back to Toronto, staying with Dave, katie and James again overnight, and leaving the continent the following evening. That is where the next post on this Canada trip will go, but despite it now being three weeks since I arrived in England, I doubt that post will be my last on an awesome trip!

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