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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Canada - Ontario, August 16 -30 2002,
Peter Reed, York, United Kingdom
This trip was a family holiday with my wife Susan and children Martin and Louise. We combined birds and general wildlife together with more normal 'tourist' activities. Basically we had two contrasting weeks -one being the 'country' week staying in a log cabin in the forests of Ontario north of Toronto, the second being a 'town' week in Toronto and Niagara Falls, doing the tourist sites and retail therapy. This worked very well as it satisfied all parties and we all found the country and its people very pleasant and helpful. As it was our first visit to North America we did not always know what to expect but had no problems or unpleasant experiences at all and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Being my first visit to a different continent from Europe, with its different avifauna, I wasn't sure what to expect and took more time then others would to identify to species or even to family! I had trouble with the LBJs, or more often the 'Little yellow/green warbler jobs' that never gave enough time or suitable views to get enough details. Having a camcorder helped as even a second's recording was enough to replay or 'freeze frame' back home and sometimes clinch identification, a few birds were humiliatingly reclassified after this process!
Books and other information sources
National Geographic Society 'Field Guide to the Birds of North America' Third Edition, ISBN 0-7922-7451-2 was invaluable for daily use. The common bird names used here are taken from this book. I also borrowed an early edition of Peterson's 'Birds East of the Rockies' to refer to before and after the trip.
The Algonquin Provincial Park visitor centres sold books and leaflets of the trails, the booklet, "Birds of Algonquin Provincial Park" for $2.95 was very good with good colour photographs and useful text.
Also very useful for background reading were Birdtours trip reports, especially those by Peter Vercruijsse and Robert Grimmond which gave useful information on what to expect and generally put things into perspective on what might be seen.
Other useful websites were:
Pembroke Area Field Naturalists at http://www.renc.igs.net/~cmichener/pafn.index.html
Toronto Field Naturalists at http://www.sources.com/tfn/
Ottawa Field Naturalists (Birding Section) at http://home.achilles.net/ofnc/birding.htm
Ontario Birding Home page http://www.web-nat.com/bic/ont/index.html
Ontario Hot Spots at http://www.camacdonald.com/birding/caontario.htm#North
Transport & Accommodation
We flew direct from Glasgow to Toronto by Air Transat, the charter airline used by Globespan the company we booked with. At Toronto we transferred in a provided 'chauffeur limousine' to the hirecar depot in the outskirts of Toronto where we had arranged eight day hire of a 'minivan'. This was an excellent, almost-new, automatic 'Dodge Super caravan', seating seven passengers and good luggage space. Although slightly more money that what we would have needed, it gave much more space and height and best of all, according to the teenagers, it "had a CD player !" The company 'Discount Car Hire' was very efficient and gave no hassle regarding surface marks or petrol on its return, even taking us down to our hotel in Toronto afterwards. The second week had transfers provided by Globespan to Niagara and back to the airport, although afterwards we thought we probably would have had no trouble in driving in Toronto and to Niagara. Return to Glasgow was by the same route and we picked up our car from the hotel that we had used on our departure.
Accommodation during the first week was in a self catering "housekeeping unit" at "Pine Cliff" resort two kilometres north of the village of Combermere (Pop 243), south of Barry's Bay in Renfrew county, Ontario. These excellent wood cabins were situated right next to the River Madawaska, just south of Lake Kamaniskeg. Further details visit www.pinecliff.com or the address at Box 99, Combermere, Ontario, KOJ 1LO. This was all organised by Susan through the Internet and we were very satisfied with the ease of arrangements and the general area.
In the second week we stayed in the Strathcona Hotel in Toronto for four nights and the Brock Plaza in Niagara Falls, two very good hotels organised as part of the overall package.
August 17 Flew to Toronto, drive to Pine Cliff,
August 18 Leisure AM, Golden Lake and return via Cormac and Palmer Rapids
August 19 Algonquin Provincial Park
August 20 Ottawa
August 21 Leisure, local walk
August 22 Leisure, drive to Pembroke, into Quebec, return via Eganville
August 23 Algonquin Provincial Park
August 24 Depart Pine Cliff, drive to Petroglyphs Provincial Park near Peterborough, then to Toronto
August 25 Toronto City centre sightseeing
August 26 Toronto Islands (Centre Island)
August 27 Toronto Zoo
August 28 Transfer to Niagara Falls, sightseeing
August 29 Niagara Falls, Canada and USA side
August 30 Niagara Falls AM, transfer to Toronto airport PM, and return home
Saturday August 17
We arrived at Toronto airport about 11.30am and immediately after touchdown had our first bird - dark, starling-size with darker upperside, 'and red on' my son thought. So probably an American Robin or Red-winged blackbird. After collecting the minivan we had a few American crows, a Buteo spp, starlings and feral pigeons on our way to Combermere and sadly some dead racoons on the road. After arrival and trip to Barry's Bay for supper and supplies, it was time to turn in.
Sunday August 18
Awoke during the night and all was dark, but, drifting through the open window and it's insect mesh, was a distance, eerie wailing sound - of course - a Common Loon - evocative of the northern wilderness and what a start to the list! The next morning, I was awoken by Martin, sitting outside on the veranda, saying he was 'surrounded by woodpeckers'. I scramble outside to see shapes flitting everywhere and got to identify one juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker with its white on the wing and barred back and flanks. Another was a small, black white with hardly any bill - Downy Woodpecker but the others had by now disappeared. Our cabin overlooked the wide Madawaska river about 20 metres away and there was a sandy 'beach' in front, over the river was a marshy area and a tree covered island, the other sides had pines and other trees with other cabins scattered amongst them. On the ground a couple of Blue Jays hopped and a couple of chipmunks scurried around while another feverishly dug a hole. The beach held a adult Ring-billed gull and a female of Mallard and six well grown young. I also saw among the trees a small flycatcher-type bird, with a white throat and plan brown breast and back and no white on the back with a shrill 'pee-wee' call - an Eastern Wood Pee-wee.
After lunch we decided to go for a drive to Golden Lake, a few km away to the east but only a few Ring-billed gulls were present there. Returning around the south-eastern side of Golden Lake through a forest and lake landscape we came to an open bushy farmed area, where lots of birds were flitting about. Three birds with dark heads and backs with white at the end of the tail were definitely Eastern Kingbirds, but some other bunting/sparrow type birds went unidentified. Nearby a wonderful black and yellow male American Goldfinch was a cheerful sight as it sang away on a treetop and in flight. We continued home via Cormac through the continuous forests but by now the evening light was failing and with no recognisable landmarks and few roadsigns, we became lost! However the road was heading into the sun which was the right direction, so we carried on, eventually emerging, via Quadeville and Palmer Springs, at Combermere. So the lesson was learnt - if you go off the main roads: get a good map!
Monday 19 August
Plenty of birds around the cabin this morning as we had bought some bird seed in the local store and had put it out overnight. Over breakfast, 4 Blue Jays, 3 American Crows and the ubiquitous chipmunks were about and 4 Common Grackles were also present and first for the trip. In a tree nearby a brown woodpecker with a marked red throat was a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a juvenile with its white wing patches spent ages pecking in a nearby spruce. We also had brief views of a Northern Flicker and a White-breasted Nuthatch and two Brown Creepers and a Black-capped Chickadee. Best of all, in the morning sunlight three Common Loons slowly floated down the river passed the cabin.
We decided on a trip to Algonquin Provincial Park and on the journey saw a Great Blue Heron and various dark buzzards which we assumed, were Red-tailed Hawks, though I never got close enough to identify properly. At the Eastern Gate we obtained a day permit and then walked the Two Rivers Trail through the beautiful forest. Although not seeing a lot of birds, one gets good views across the park to the north from a lookout point. Travelling on to the Western Gate visitor centre we were lucky to see a wolf wandering in the car park investigating the bins, before it drifted off under the watchful eye of the warden. I got some good camcorder film of children and adults having no fear of walking up to it to take photos despite it being a hungry wolf!
Tuesday 20 August
More visitors to the feeding stump as apart from the regular Blue Jays, Grackles and chipmunks a first fall male Rose-breasted Grosbeak gave a close view as it chewed sunflower seed. Also a female Northern Flicker, without the males black moustachial stripe was about: all the flickers we saw were of the "yellow-shafted" form and they and the other woodpeckers were probably my 'bird highlights' of the trip.
Day trip to Ottawa today which took just over two hours, seeing more buzzards, a fox and a mourning dove on the way. We absorbed the atmosphere of the capitol and saw the sights, plus surprisingly black red squirrels and chipmunks in the streets and a wild groundhog and Ring-billed Gulls in the park opposite the Parliament building.
Wednesday 21 August
No food out this morning, so few visitors, except a small bird with a cocked tail in the grass by the riverbank-possibly a wren - and a few chickadees. A beautiful male Northern Flicker bathed in the river and the usual family of Mallards and Ring-billed gull loafed on the 'beach'.
In the afternoon I took a walk to a nearby grassland area with scattered bushes and trees. Because new sounds are unfamiliar when visiting a new country, I started to track down a loud 'chip' sound that was resonating from the bushes and grass, but whenever I got near it stopped and then re-appeared nearby. After a wasted twenty minutes, I humiliatingly saw the cuprit - a chipmunk! After this debacle, anything was an improvement, so I continued until a group of sparrows appeared in a bush, after a note of their grey underparts, long notched tail and some with chestnut crowns, I identified them as a family of Chipping Sparrows. Soon on the top of a tree was a nice Cedar Waxwing and then a large thrush with rusty underparts and a call like 'our' blackbird - an American Robin. Then the birds just kept coming.a yellow warbler with a white eye-stripe and no flank stripes or wing bars was possibly a fall Tennessee Warbler; a couple of Brown Thrashers in a bush and while I was watching them a Ruby-throated Hummingbird flew through my line of vision! The only one of the trip and never to be seen again! Very soon a greenish-brown flycatcher type bird landed nearby, it had two wing bars and a white patch on the wing, but I did not notice a white eye-ring. Probably an "Empidonax" flycatcher but which one?! Finishing the walk was a lovely Downy Woodpecker feeding for ten minutes on the seed head of mullein plant (Varbascum spp). It was being harassed by a brown warbler with streaks on its flanks and a yellow rump -a fall female/young Yellow-rumped "Myrtle" warbler.
Thursday 22 August
It was raining heavily this morning and we had planned to visit Algonquin Park again and combine it with their usual Thursday evening "wolf howl". However after ringing the visitor centre we learned 'the howl' was cancelled due to the adverse weather and absence of a suitable accessible wolf pack. But after lunch the rain eased off so we went for a drive, aiming for Quebec and the Ottawa River. Leaving Pembroke in Ontario on Highway 148, we crossed the Ottawa River to Allumette Island over couple of bridges and stopped at the second one for a scan over the shallow, fast flowing river. A couple of Common Goldeneye and eight Common Mergansers were on the rapids and many Double-crested Cormorants sat on the banks or in the trees. Travelling through what was now Quebec we saw our first 'real' Canada Geese, some more buzzards and abundant American Crows. We crossed back into Ontario at the Chenaux Dam, where a stop provided two close Mourning Doves and a distant Turkey Vulture which we identified later from the camcorder footage my daughter took, me being unable to get onto it before it vanished!
That evening while going into downtown Barry's Bay (Pop 1200) for supper we stopped by Long Lake and saw and filmed a super beaver swimming amongst the water lilies, we learned later these are its favourite food.
Friday 23 August
Early morning walk with my daughter Louise (camcorder operator and better pair of eyes) to a grassland/scrub area and nearby woodland. We soon ran into the Chipping Sparrows and a good male Nashville Warbler that was a good find. And then in the trees a blotchy red and yellow bird accompanied by a another yellow-green bird, both with black wings. These, we decided, were Scarlet Tanagers, the former being a male moulting into winter plumage. Further on were the two Brown Thrashers again, more Chipping Sparrows and a brief view of another Eastern Kingbird. Entering a deciduous wood along a winter skidoo trail we soon heard an Eastern Wood Pewee calling its characteristic 'pwee' call although it wouldn't response to my attempts at mimicry. Various flycatchers flitted against the light in the treetops and Black-capped Chickadees were seen but we didn't have time to trace the other small woodland birds that kept giving us the run-around. Returning to the cabin, we had brief views of two more warblers with yellow-rumps, a Cedar Waxwing, a nice brown immature Flicker and good views of an obliging pair of American Robins with one young.
Another visit to Algonquin today, more Buteos and an American Kestrel on the way and also an immature Hooded Merganser in a small pond on the way to Lake Opeongo. At the main visitor centre at Km 43 we had lunch where there is a lookout platform overlooking a beautiful winding river surrounded by open areas and trees. Susan and I left Martin and Louise and went to the 10-minute park information video and while we were away they saw a black bear come out of the forest, cross the river and enter the trees again! And we had missed it all in those few minutes, AND they had camcorder film to prove it !!
After this embarrassment, we went to the Beaver pond trail and although we had a good walk and nice views of a Wood Thrush, chickadees and a turtle, we saw no beavers (or bears!).
Saturday 24 August
We left our comfy cabin at Pinecliff resort today and travelled back to Toronto, stopping on the way at pretty Petroglyphs Provincial Park, north of Peterborough. This is a very attractive area with open coniferous woodland over very thin soil over the large rock outcrops of crystalline marble rubbed smooth by glaciers years ago. The park is known for its rock carvings made on these rocks by Algonkian speaking native people 600-1000 years ago and is a sacred area. There are trails in certain areas and the habitat looked very promising for wildlife; there were notices saying bear, beaver, rose grosbeak, ruffed grouse, flycatchers and vireos occur and we did have brief views of a Spruce Grouse.
Sunday 25 August
Sightseeing in Toronto with the usual Ring-billed Gulls and black Red Squirrels and Grey Squirrels, sparrows and a Peregrine from the top of the CN tower. A sad curiosity was a dead small warbler-type bird by the doors of the main shopping centre, presumably after hitting the glass due to reflection. Blue-grey on its head, back, rump and tail and with black streaks on the yellow flanks and belly it was a real puzzle. After examining a brief video clip back in England the nearest bird it resembled according to the NGS book was a Northern Water Thrush.
Monday 26 August
Over to the islands from Toronto today on a guided boat trip with a stop on Centre Island. Many Ring-billed gulls, Double-crested Cormorants, Mallard and a few Barn Swallows and House Sparrows were found and on the island were 20 Canada Geese, 25 Mute Swans and a Mourning Dove dozing in the shade of a bush on the beach.
Tuesday 27 August
Indulging the children with a trip to Toronto Zoo, all the usual common species but 6 Red-winged Blackbirds in a bushy reed bed were the first definite ones of the trip and two Turkey Vultures flew over.
Wednesday 28 August
Travel to Niagara where the first thing I saw and watched at the Falls was a Cedar Waxwing, much to the amusement of the others. Of course the Falls are spectacular and we needed our two days here to do them justice. Bird-wise, on the river and a rocky outcrop below the falls were numerous Ring-billed Gulls and smaller gulls with black bills, yellow -orange legs and white fore-wing which we decided were Bonaparte's Gulls in autumn/winter plumage and a few still had black heads. A Great Black-backed Gull and a Night Heron flew along the river and a distant hawk swooped around briefly.
Thursday 29 August
After doing the Maid of the Mist trip, we decided we had to cross the bridge to the USA as it was only 100 metres from our hotel. Also we had to get "quits" with our daughter who had just come back from Florida the week before, whereas we had never been to the USA before! So after each paying our $6 visa fee we entered the very interesting Niagara Falls State Park that surrounds the America Falls side. It is a grassy area with scattered trees and more wooded areas by the Niagara River and on Goat Island that divides the American and Canadian Falls. We had good close views of a male Downy Woodpecker and many Hirundines twittered in a tree. There were also 4 Common Grackles, various yellowish warblers and a bright red Northern Cardinal. Further round, a walk along the ravine leads to three smaller islands where you can cross to over small bridges over the rapids upstream of the Canadian Falls. Many Ring-billed gulls rested on rocks here and a Spotted Sandpiper bounced up and down on the stones. Red-winged Blackbirds were everywhere in the trees and we saw possible Song Sparrow and another Downy Woodpecker. I was intrigued by the hundreds of Hirundines flying low over the falls and upstream rapids, sometimes only a couple of feet above the lip of the edge of the water. With their dark wings and back I assumed they were Bank Swallows, but I could never properly see them to confirm this. However examining the video at home I could see no breast band, but long wings, blue upperparts and white underparts meaning they were Tree Swallows. Another bird here was a good view of the red Northern Cardinal while we counted our coins to get enough turnstile money which we erroneously thought we needed to get back into Canada ! Our final surprise from the animal world was that night while observing the Falls lit up by coloured lights - down on the ledge a few feet below us were two masked faces of a pair of racoons! We followed them in the dim light but eventually had to stop in case they were spooked and fell off the ledge into the gorge!
Friday 30 August
Return to Toronto airport today, with a few Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Mergansers and 1 Turkey Vulture from the coach.
Note : the sequence is as in the National Geographic Society "Field Guide"
1. Common Loon (Gavia immer) at Combermere
2. Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) at Allumette Lake, Niagara Falls, Toronto Islands
3. Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) at Niagara Falls
4. Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) at Combermere, Algonquin PP, Chenaux Damn Quebec
5. Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) at Toronto Islands
6. Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) at Allumette Lake, Toronto Islands, Niagara Falls (USA side)
7. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) at Combermere
8. Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) at Allumette Lake
9. Common Merganser (Mergus merganser) at Allumette Lake, nr Toronto
10. Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) at Algonquin PP
11. Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) at Chenaux Damn Quebec, Toronto Zoo, nr Toronto
12. Probably Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo sp) nr Toronto, Algonquin PP, nr Ottawa, Allumette Lake
13. Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) at Toronto CN Tower, Niagara Falls
14. American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) at Algonquin PP
15. Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis) at Petroglyphs PP
16. Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia) at Niagara Falls (USA side)
17. Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) Frequent
18. Bonaparte's Gull (Larus philadelphia) at Niagara Falls, Niagara Falls (USA side)
19. Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus) at Toronto Islands, Niagara Falls
20. Feral Pigeon (Columba livia) at Toronto, Ottawa
21. Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) at Ottawa, Chenaux Damn Quebec,
22. Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) at Combermere
23. Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) at Combermere
24. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) at Combermere
25. Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) at Combermere, Niagara Falls (USA side)
26. Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens) at Combermere
27. Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) at Golden lake, Combermere
28. Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) at Combermere
29. American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchus) Frequent
30. Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) at Niagara Falls (USA side)
31. Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) at Toronto Islands, Toronto Zoo
32. Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapilla) at Combermere, Algonquin PP, Niagara Falls (USA side)
33. Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) at Combermere
34. White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) at Combermere
35. Wood Thrush (Hylocicha mustelina) at Algonquin PP,
36. American Robin (Turdus migratorius) at Combermere,
37. Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) at Combermere
38. European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) at Toronto Islands, Toronto Zoo
39. Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) at Combermere, Niagara Falls
40. Tennessee Warbler (Vermivora peregrina) at Combermere
41. Nashville Warbler (Vernivora ruficapilla) at Combermere
42. Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata) at Combermere, Algonquin PP
43. Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea) at Combermere
44. Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) at Combermere
45. Rose-breasted Grosbeak ((Pheucticus ludovicianus) at Combermere
46. Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) at Niagara Falls (USA side)
47. Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) at Toronto Zoo, Niagara Falls (USA side), nr Toronto
48. Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) at Combermere, Niagara Falls (USA side)
49. American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) at Golden Lake
50. House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) at Toronto Islands, Toronto Zoo
Chipmunks at Combermere, Ottawa
1 Wolf at Algonquin PP at West Gate Visitor Centre
1 Black Bear from Km 43 Main Visitor centre viewing platform
1 Beaver at Long Lake, nr Combermere
1 Fox nr Eganville
2 Groundhog at Ottawa park in front of Parliament building
Few Red and Grey Squirrels at Combermere, Ottawa, Toronto parks, Niagara Falls
2 Racoons at Niagara Falls