Once again we bundled up, packed our gear, and made our way north to explore one of Ontario’s most popular parks – Algonquin Provincial Park. A truly remarkable part of our province, that is home to many species of birds and wildlife that attract visitors from all over the world. This Provincial Park is particularly exciting during the winter months for photographers, birders, and wildlife enthusiasts. If you can brave the frigid temperatures and large amounts of snow…you are in for a treat!
Algonquin Provincial Park – Target Species
Algonquin Park is home to some very special species of both birds and wildlife. Because of its unique landscape and climate, many boreal species have made the park their home. Some of these include; Spruce Grouse, Canada Jay, Boreal Chickadee, and Black-Backed Woodpecker. Because Algonquin Provincial Park is around the southern limit of these birds range, it is always a treat to find and photograph them! The winter is one of the best times to find these birds.
The winter is also a fantastic time to find what most people refer to as – Winter Finches. These include; Evening Grosbeak, Pine Grosbeak, Red-Winged Crossbill, Red Crossbill, Purple Finch, and Pine Siskin. These species can often be found feeding on various cone crops (coniferous trees), or even at public bird feeders. The winter is a popular time to view these birds, as they move further south from their breeding grounds to feed during the colder months.
Lastly, we were on the lookout for mammals like; Moose, American Pine Marten, River Otter, Snowshoe Hare, Red Fox, Algonquin Wolf, and more. These are much tougher to locate, but sometimes you end up in the right place at the right time!
Algonquin Provincial Park – Hot Spots
Algonquin Provincial Park is one giant place. It is about 7600 km². To put that in perspective, it is bigger than the entire province of Prince Edward Island (P.E.I., 5600 km²). Because of its size, it can seem very overwhelming to newcomers. The most accessible spots are along Highway 60, often referred to as the Highway 60 corridor.
Some of our favourite spots along the Highway 60 corridor include; The Logging Museum, Spruce Bog Boardwalk, Opeongo Road, The Old Airfield, Mizzy Lake trail, and the Visitor Centre.
Now the question is, where to start? There are a few tools we use to decide where to look. First, is eBird. Check out the lists from the Nipissing region for the latest sightings. Another spot that we frequently check is the Algonquin Park Birding Report. Conditions change drastically year to year, so it’s best to keep an eye on where certain species are being located around the time you will be visiting the park. For more wildlife (and more) specific information, iNaturalist is another fantastic resource.
Can’t make it to the park? You can always watch the feeders at the Visitor Centre via live stream! Check it out – here.
A big focus of our trip, was finding as many winter finches as possible. Both Evening Grosbeak, and Pine Grosbeak are beautifully bright species that are a joy to photograph! We located both of these Grosbeak’s all across the park – with most interactions coming at the Visitor Centre feeders and at the Cameron Lake Road parking lot, along Opeongo Road. Large groups of these finches were observed feeding, especially during the first few hours of sunlight.
Another highlight of this trip was our interactions with Canada’s National bird – the Canada Jay. These curious birds are incredibly smart and often find you before you find them! They are very comfortable around people, especially when you have their favourite snack – dried cranberries. Canada Jays are part of a research program that is the oldest of its kind. Learn more about this fascinating program – here. We spotted these birds along Opeongo Road, Spruce Bog Boardwalk, and The Logging Museum.
American Pine Martens are a species that are a very popular Algonquin Park sighting, and definitely was a main focus for us. We were lucky enough to have a few great encounters with these adorable little weasels. All four people in our group were able to get some fantastic photographs. We even got to watch one curl up into a ball against a tree to take an afternoon nap in the bright afternoon sun (it was -25c this day).
Lastly, just being outside and spending time in a truly beautiful place was the greatest highlight of them all. Fresh air, breathtaking views, and nothing but forest and complete silence, make for one hell of a weekend!