Totally captivated in 2007 by the live camera feed of the Hornby Island nesting Bald Eagles in B.C., I was drawn into birding and have never looked back. Thus begins my account of what I'm fortunate enough to discover each day and perhaps capture with my camera.

Unless otherwise stated, all images were taken by and are the property of Janice Melendez

Species Counts:

2014 Final Year List: 255; 2015 Year List a/o June 5, 2015: 235; Life List: 327

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Back to my Kawarthan Autumn

An early return trip to the cottage on Thursday, October 6th meant a chilly fall morning where Mother Nature was seen sucking the warmth out of our mist-covered lake:

A Great Blue Heron took flight, perhaps to keep warm?? 

I wandered down to the swamp and  saw heard numerous Golden-crowned Kinglets dining on insects as the morning sunshine warmed up the cedars, but a pair of female (!) Pileated Woodpeckers caught my attention in the woods at the end of our point:

I was keen to visit the Altberg Wildlife Sanctuary Nature Reserve (now that's a mouthful!) before cottage season ended, so as  Dan successfully discouraged me from making a solo trip there, I arranged to meet Ginny at noon, so off I went (past an empty Osprey nest, hooray!), stopping to enjoy a bit of scenery along the way:

Altberg Nature Reserve is eleven hundred and sixty-three acres of woodland and wetland in the Kawarthas, and the Kawartha Field Naturalists are the property stewards: 

Ginny greeted me at the gate, wisely wearing red so as not to become the target of any local hunters:

Ginny adeptly guided me through the nature reserve for the next two and a half hours, which admittedly would have been virtually impossible for me to do on my own, thanks again, Ginny! 

The trail map at the entrance made it all look so easy...

...but once inside, the autumn leaves on the ground along the trails made navigation a challenge:

There's no way I could have coped on my own!

On the critter and birding front it was extremely quiet, but admittedly it was the dead zone of the day. Our BOTD was a Red-shouldered Hawk that we heard calling, but were unable to ever get a visual on it. Regardless, I was content to visit this beautiful location so close to the cottage and will definitely make a return trip there (consider yourself forewarned), the Kawartha Field Naturalists have done a fabulous job there, congrats! 

Look closely at the nick marks on this tree. Some are made by Sapsuckers, but most of them are made by BEAR CLAWS! We looked higher up in the tree to make sure that one wasn't looking down at us:


Ginny and I said our farewells back at the parking lot and I made my way home to the cottage via assorted scenic routes to check out the fall colours in my stomping grounds. There was virtually no colour here, with dead trees in the foreground and coniferous trees in the background... why not try a black and white version??

But as Golden Hour approached, I knew exactly where to go to next, on the outskirts of Bobcaygeon:

Yes, folks, I was admittedly out of control, this is what happens now when wildlife is MIA:

I arrived back at a chilly cottage (yup, past an empty Osprey nest, hooray!), just in time to turn on the heaters for the night, it really was not only looking, but now also feeling like autumn in the Kawarthas!

A Milestone for Mom

It was time to introduce my mother to my latest love, Algonquin, especially when she confessed that she had never been there before in her entire eighty-seven years on the planet! The only family connection to Algonquin that mom is aware of was a sad one that dates back to 1909: my grandfather's youngest brother Bryce (who my Vancouver uncle is named after) was presumed drowned during a canoe trip in Algonquin at the young age of nineteen...

Mom's summers as a child were for the most part spent exclusively at the family cottage, a tradition which continued into her adult life. The commute from Toronto to the cottage back then took an entire day, so the thought of travelling further away from the cottage was no doubt quite daunting for the family.

But that was all about to change, she and I arrived at the cottage late in the day on Monday, October 3rd, but not before ensuring that my Osprey nest was now vacated for the season, after all, it was October. To my horror,  one of the babies was still there!

Dad was still around though, too, doing yet another one of his endless food drops:

I followed up with one of my local Osprey experts, and admittedly it was getting rather late for them to still be loitering around. Dad would know when it was time to head south, but as for the baby, we weren't too sure, and I feared that I was about to witness the process of natural selection first-hand. Over the next few days I made frequent visits to the nest and eventually was able to heave a massive sigh of relief when I determined that the nest was indeed empty for this season, phew! 

Mom and I departed for Algonquin at the crack of dawn the next morning (past an empty Osprey nest) and saw first light by the time we reached the Haliburton Highlands:

The autumn colours had progressed since my visit a week earlier:


We arrived at the West Gate to Algonquin at 8:30 a.m., mom's first time ever in The Park!!!

A mandatory stop at Peck Lake for the distressed juvenile Common Loon came up empty yet again, but the colours were spectacular:

We made frequent stops at any lookouts along the highway to take in the colours, even if it was past its peak:

An interesting "time-lapse" colour comparison was evident here. Two and a half weeks prior to this visit with mom, there was no apparent colour change yet....

...but nine days later, there it was!

And a week later with mom, it was past its prime, but still glorious to enjoy:

Mom truly enjoyed her first time at the Visitor Centre:

We learned more specific details about the trees that we were seeing:

The spectacular views from the Centre were breath-taking:

Our final stop for the day was a leisurely drive along Opeongo Road:

The rugged rocky terrain of The Park was still offset by the dwindling autumn colours of the foliage:

And so ended our trip to Algonquin, mom heartily approved of my new love as she thoroughly enjoyed the day. We both suffered culture shock as we left the wilderness of Algonquin to return back home (past an empty Osprey nest) to the city, though, but our shared memories of the day together will stay with us forever!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rediscovering Autumn in Ontario

I have a confession to make: I have embarked on a new love affair with autumn in Algonquin!

I made a solo return trip there on Monday, September 26th, mainly to look for the troubled juvenile Common Loon on Peck Lake as well as any moose, sssssh, not a good thing to do when alone!, but also to take in the fall colours which were almost at their peak:

I have since rejoiced in my rediscovery of autumn, as this was the first time that I'd ever been to the Park at this time of year, and it's now going to be a regular event for me going forward. As I left the Kawarthas in the dark at pre-dawn and drove through the Haliburton Highlands, the colour intensity became strongest in Algonquin, my gasps as I rounded each curve in the road were wearing me out!


My first stop was at Peck Lake to look for this poor Common Loon that Ann and I had seen in distress on September 18th:

I did an insanely quick circuit of the lake and unfortunately could not find any sign of the Loon, and at this point in time I wasn't even sure if that was a good or a bad sign.

The fall colours along the shoreline of Peck Lake were spectacular, though:

Common Mergansers breed in the Park, and one of my resource booklets tells me that the females become single moms almost immediately after mating season, I saw four that day. There's also a standing war between them and loons, so they tend to stick close to the shoreline:

 The distant call of a Common Loon caught my attention at one point, but it was well north of the lake, so I continued along the hiking trail:

My next stop was at Wolf Howl Pond, where I spent ninety minutes of sheer joy taking in the fresh air and beautiful colours of the landscape:

Reflections of autumn in the pond:

Painted Turtles basked in the sunshine:

I encountered a tiny, newly-hatched Snapping Turtle on the trail:

Ironically, a few of its siblings had already been crushed to death by the university research vehicle that made daily visits to monitor turtle eggs, this was a missed area that was lacking wire protection. This little fellow's eyes weren't even open yet:

The colours continued to take my breath away (instead of moose for a change!) :

An inquisitive Palm Warbler checked me out, one of several that I saw along the trail:

A shy White-throated Sparrow really wanted to pay me a visit but was unable to find the courage to come out into the open:


An adult male Yellow-rumped Warbler was more adventuresome:

I left the pond and continued along the main highway... Rock Lake Road...

...and arrived at Coon Lake, a brand new lookout spot for me with a phenomenal colour palette of brilliant reds, greens, rusts, oranges, and golds... 

...accentuated by the white bark of the trees, I was in heaven:

But it was back to the harsh reality of crowds and tour buses (even on a weekday!) when I arrived at the Visitor Centre, so I took a quick peek at the fall colours from the lookout deck and then hit the road again:

Another lovely view of the Park from the highway...

...was where I also spotted this huge adult Snapping Turtle meandering into the muddy waters of the pond:

More autumn colours along the highway distracted me:

My final panoramic vista before leaving the Park... this burly, yet still somehow handsome Common Raven escorted me back to the West Gate:

My return trip back to the cottage was beautiful, with the progression of fall colours being less advanced the further south I got, as expected. On a whim I stopped off at the Dorset Scenic Lookout Tower for a comparison:

But here's the deal on this tower: the location originally had a lookout tower for forest fires between 1922 and 1961, but this existing structure was opened just east of the original tower in 1967. That's all well and good, but unfortunately for me, the daunting thought of climbing up to the top, a whopping one hundred feet in the air with absolutely nothing between me and those gorgeous autumn colours just made me want to barf. There, I've said it, I suffer from vertigo, although flying isn't a problem for me, thank goodness. Past trips to the Grand Canyon and the Pacific Coast Highway near Pebble Beach had me hiding under the dashboard of the rental car. But I had come this far, and since there were no crowds to see me wailing, flailing, weeping, or puking, I attempted an ascent to the top and survived! It was definitely worth it in the end, despite my hyperactive gag reflex that gave new meaning to the expression "camera shake":

I forced myself to take this photo of a Turkey Vulture from above!

From the observation deck one can see over three hundred and ten square miles, which of course assumes that one's hands aren't covering the face!

The observation deck is four hundred and sixty-five feet over Lake of Bays I'm sure glad that I didn't read these specs until now! :

I made landfall fifteen minutes later, removing my bib and then cleaning myself  up before hitting the road again to continue home to the cottage, and saw this lone adult Osprey at the bridge near my nest, I wondered if this was possibly Dad taking a breather from the kids??

At the nest only one forlorn-looking baby quietly sat still:

So what an amazing road trip I had experienced that day, even if no Moose were seen in the Park. The autumn colours just dazzled me, and I was thrilled to have rediscovered autumn in Ontario. I knew I'd be back to Algonquin again very soon!