...it's been a wretched winter as Mother Nature
HATE HER has successfully obliterated any decent winter waterfowl viewing this year. The Great Lakes ice cover is the most we've experienced in decades, so quite frankly I feel deprived and cheated each time I arrive at the waterfront only to observe even more ice extending almost all the way across Lake Ontario to #*%&#* Rochester with the occasional dark speck that no doubt was my target species, grrrr.
Never again will I take for granted close-up views of a lovely Long-tailed Duck, a glamorous Goldeneye, a bouncing Bufflehead, a stately Scaup, or a magnificent Mandarin.
Okfine, so this guy doesn't belong here any time:
Just like this Mandarin Duck, open patches of water are also a rarity, so the annual Pickering Naturalists west lakeshore outing a few weeks ago was potentially problematic but we forged ahead and had a great time. We had glacial views of Lake Ontario ice cover from various look-out points along the shoreline between Bronte and Hamilton. LaSalle Park where numerous Trumpeter Swans overwinter was frozen solid, a shocking sight, as was a deceased Scaup literally frozen solid in the ice at Bronte harbour. Windermere Basin had the highest concentration of waterfowl for both numbers and species, but alas, scope views only.
For me, though, the best stop was at the Burlington Lift Bridge, where there was- wait for it- OPEN WATER. And BIRDS, including a pair of King Eiders, my BOTD, even if I wussed out by choosing to not skate to the end of the ice-covered pier for a photo opportunity, as I was pleased with stellar scope views of the pair.
Compared to other winters, numbers were down for the usual Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers in the channel, but this pretty female Greater Scaup ventured in quite close to us:
Certainly the most congenial BOTD was this White-winged Scoter, best views ever!!
The following day I learned that fellow club member Tim Thorington chose to focus on me in one of my more flattering poses as I had my special moment with the curious Scoter. Photo credit to Tim, thanks, I think??
Curiouser and curiouser as he swam towards me...
...and closer and closer, providing excellent views of the white teardrop below his eye and white wing patch, offset by the striking orange bill:
Bemoaning the absence of waterfowl on the Great Lakes, I decided to head north for a few days with no firm agenda other than an Algonquin visit at some point. Knowing full well I'd be at the mercy of road conditions, I booked two nights away in two different towns but that was about as specific as I got. In the end my spontaneous road trip wasn't overly birdy, but the few surprise encounters I had more than compensated for the lack of birds.
My first decent species for the road trip was an immature Bald Eagle:
I continued north before unexpected snow squalls forced me to turn back but was pleased to at least reach Powassan. I was also grateful for not seeing Moose along Highway 11 during these nasty whiteout conditions as my new snow tires were put to the test, including some back roads ahead of the snow. By some miracle I managed to spot a Ruffed Grouse feeding in a tree:
It continued to feed on buds while I watched:
...tipsy angles as it grasped branches with its feet looking for edible options:
Could it get any better? Yes indeed, as I was now hearing Common Ravens and Bald Eagles screaming at each other to the north, as did the Ruffed Grouse. It paused to listen as well:
What a wonderful way to wrap up Day One, ahead of arriving at Algonquin the next day as as I dodged Purple Finches eating grit off Highway 60. Impressive amounts of snow greeted me at the West Gate:
Western Uplands had layers of snow that resembled puff pastry:
....with minimal open water:
Bleak, stark, but striking views along Opeongo Road.
Algonquin, pure and simple.
The Park was devoid of birders that day other than me so I had to work hard to find Gray Jays, lucking out with only two in the frigid temperatures:
Retreating to the comfort of the Visitor Centre, it wasn't long before I found myself outside again at the feeders (it's all about knowing how to dress!), lured in by the pretty male Purple Finches:
The female Purple Finches outnumbered the males two to one:
But the main attraction, of course, were the Flying Pigs, aka Evening Grosbeaks that monopolized the feeders, sounding like House Sparrows on steroids, as they took turns stuffing their gorgeous faces:
It wasn't until later that I discovered this male was banded!
By now I was once again seriously hunkered down in the snow along a small snowbank watching and listening to these lovelies...
...when out of the corner of my eye I detected some movement behind me on my left, yet heard nothing, absolute silence (other than the Flying Pigs). So very slowly I calmly
Unbelievable, as it comes in closer to the feeders, focused more on its breakfast than me, but still wary:
I'm trying to stay calm and enjoy this insane moment, not knowing how long it will last. I'm now having to slowly move away from it as the Ruffed Grouse is now too close for me to focus, so I'm doing my best to crawl backwards in the snow as I'm at eye level with it:
The detail of the feathers were delightful:
How can a bird that looks so sleek when on the move or reaching up to feed on buds in a tree (as I recalled my sweet views of the other one from the day before) look so porky here when it turns to face me??!!
Perhaps I was hasty when thinking that Ruffed Grouse are drab birds, just look at those feathers!!
And it silently heads off again along its invisible path on the other side of the snowbank, I couldn't believe what had just happened:
My only other close encounter with a Ruffed Grouse was a few winters ago with Master John during the Petroglyphs Christmas Bird Count when we spotted a displaying male who was oblivious to our presence:
He admittedly wasn't as close as this latest encounter in Algonquin, but to date it was my only time seeing a displaying one:
Day Three of my road trip started at a balmy -31º celsius...
...far too cold for much of anything to be out and about, even at the six different dumps I visited over those few days, how annoyed I was to not even see Common Ravens at most of them!
Near Buckhorn a small herd of Deer were grazing in a bog:
A quick inspection of the cottage by snowshoe was my final stop before heading home:
So yes, I dipped on some of my target species, for example, Boreal Chickadee, Spruce Grouse, and any Crossbills, but my crazy Ruffed Grouse close encounters made up for it!