Algonquin Provincial Park has become a popular place for both Ontarian's and world travellers alike. Most people travel to Algonquin Provincial Park for the vast expanse of waterways and the Canadian experience of canoe tripping, or for the charismatic animals such as bear, moose and wolves. However, there is a multitude of other little gems just waiting to be seen in the form of the parks avifauna. A great place for European birdwatchers hoping to add some North American birds to their life list, while experiencing other natural wonders Ontario has to offer.
interacting with summer breeders such as Blue-headed Vireo or Cape May Warbler which come to the boreal forest to take advantage of the bountiful insect population. Other birds such as the Warbling Vireo are at the northern most parts of their range in the park. It is this collision of biodiversity that make Algonquin Provincial Park an amazing place to bird at anytime of year.
The winter months of January through March can be a wonderful time in Algonquin Park. Although the breeding birds have gone along with the warmer temperatures, the first few months of the year welcome a host of birds that call Algonquin Provincial Park their winter home. The park welcomes what have become to be known as the Winter Finches. Red and White-winged Crossbills, Pine Siskins and Pine Grosbeaks can all be seen in the park during the winter months as they have moved south from colder, northern climates. If cone crops are plentiful these colourful species can be seen in great numbers. The Evening Grosbeak, another of the winter finches will brighten up any landscape with its golden yellow body as they dart around the park. Evening Grosbeak also breed in the park and if you are lucky you may get a glimpse of one in the warmer summer months as well.
Other notable species to be seen in the park during the winter months are the aptly named Boreal Birds. Birds such as Spruce Grouse, Canada Jay, Black-backed Woodpecker and Boreal Chickadee all experience the southern limits of their range in Algonquin Provincial Park. The first few months of the year allow for great viewing as these species, with a highlight on the month of March due to the early breeding nature of these birds. You may find a Spruce Grouse displaying in one of Algonquin's many bogs of the parks east side or a Boreal Chickadee singing from its favourite perch at this time of year. The sounds of both Barred and Northern Saw-whet Owl are also an enjoyable moment for anyone who is willing to spending an hour or two out after sunset as the birds begin there mating calls at the end of this season.
April through June is when the action gets cranked up a notch as spring migrants arrive back in the park. Starting with the water birds, both diving ducks and dabblers begin to return or pass through the park as open water becomes more available. The exact time differs from year to year as winter conditions have a great effect on how much open water is around. Sometimes lakes can be frozen over into late April. This can be a blessing for birdwatchers as it concentrates waterfowl into select locations throughout the park making viewing a number of species in one spot possible. Common water birds include Wood Duck, Mallard, Common and Hooded Merganser as well as Canada Goose. Other notable birds that arrive at this time of year are Great Blue Heron, Sandhill Crane, Common Loon, American Bittern and Pied-billed Grebe.
A highlight, if you know where to look, are the evening displays of both American Woodcock and Wilson's Snipe which begin their aerial shows as soon as they have returned for the spring. This usually takes place in early April with courtship displays lasting until sometime in late May.
The greatest wonders of the spring months are the songbirds. It is the month of May that sees the arrival of the Sparrows, Thrushes and Warblers that create the soundtrack of a spring morning in Algonquin. From the drab coloured Song Sparrow to the more decorated White-throated Sparrow, song certainly brings life to the park. It is a daily occurrence to hear the “Oh Sweet, Canada, Canada, Canada” of the White-throated Sparrow as you are out on a morning paddle or hike in the woods. Another sparrow species that is a specialty of the park are the Dark-eyed Junco, as Algonquin is one of its most southern breeding locations. Its metallic chipping song is a delight to hear from rocky ledges scattered throughout.
Next, the ethereal song of the thrush. Nothing is more enchanting than a foggy morning in early spring with the song of a Wood or Hermit Thrush as you move through this expansive wilderness. As you are unlikely to get a good look at one of these ground dwellers, taking in the morning song is a moment to be remembered as these musical warbles will stick in your memory for a long time, adding to the ambiance.
Finally, the stars of the show. Eastern North America is known in the birding world for one thing above all else, spring warblers. Both the beautiful male colours as well as their variety of songs makes warblers a must see for any visitor to Algonquin Provincial Park. Algonquin hosts a minimum of 20 breeding species of warbler with an addition six that can be seen in the month of May. A walk in the woods of Algonquin are not complete without the “Teacher, Teacher, Teacher” of the Ovenbird with its drab brown and buff markings, or a view of a Magnolia or Canada Warbler singing from a perch in the mornings sun. Other more common warblers that one is likely to see on any bird watching trip into Algonquin Provincial Park include Black-throated Green, Yellow-rumped, Chestnut-sided, Nashville and Blackburnian to name a few.
The summer months bring abundance to Algonquin Provincial Park. With more birds means more opportunities to see something new. As many of the young begin to leave the nest, July and August are great months to slow down while birding and really enjoy the individuals. Whether it is watching a young loon ride on one of its parents backs or an American Robin bringing food to the nest, summer is a time for celebration in the park. Canada Jays are also beginning to teach their young how to find and cache food and this is a time when they are more likely to come right up to you looking for a handout. It is the second half of summer when the parks shorebirds become more visible. Algonquin has a lack of shorebird habitat, however Killdeer are regular throughout the summer months and both Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers can be seen frequently along lake edges in the month of August.
Raptors are another highlight of Algonquin Provincial Park as several species breed in the park. Broad-winged Hawks are one of the more commonly occurring species in the park along Sharp-shinned and Red-tailed. Northern Goshawk is a breeding resident, however its elusive nature keeps many birders from getting a satisfying look at this bird. Turkey Vultures are a common site as they sail the ridge lines of the many large hill ranges in the park, while Bald Eagles are a less common species that one can expect to see with a week spent in the park.
Fall brings with it, fall migration. Unlike spring migration which takes place over three months, fall migration is more drawn out. Beginning in August birds are on the move and an increase in shorebirds is a result in the most northern members of these species moving south. An increase in numbers of songbirds also being as many of the birds that breed in Canada's boreal forest move through Algonquin Provincial Park on their way south. Although songbirds are quieter in the fall a full day in the park in the month of September can yield upwards of 60 species. When the end of September comes, most of Algonquin's breeding birds have left, however it is this time of year that Snow Buntings, American Pipits and Lapland Longspurs show up. Along with these flocking species come Northern Shrikes, a songbird that follows and feeds on these migrating flocks. Into the months of October and November, Algonquin may get flocks of wondering Bohemian Waxwings, a colourful, boisterous bird from the north.
It is also in these fall months that we begin to notice the birds that may go over looked in the rush of spring migration, and the feeding frenzy that is summer. Resident species like the Hairy, Downy and Pileated Woodpecker, both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglet, as well as Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches are all worth some time of observation. One might also get lucky enough to have the always adorable Black-capped Chickadee feeding from their hand. As December come we get back to the months of winter finches and a new year begins with more birds to see.
Regardless of what time of year you visit Algonquin Provincial Park, there is no bad time to take in some avifauna with Dale, on the Algonquin Adventure Tours 3 hour guided birding hike. Whether its the winter finches or the songbirds of spring, Algonquin Provincial Park has something for birdwatchers to see at any time of the year.
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Stuart L. Letovsky, the Algonquin Adventure Tours founder, has been professionally guiding Algonquin Provincial Park since 1996.