Lev Frid, bird watcher par excellence, recently explored some of our northern parks and wrote the following post for us. If you love songbirds, this is a must read!
For many Ontario birders, it’s all about spring. Great Lakes havens such as Rondeau, MacGregor Point and Presqu’ile provincial parks host bird-watching festivals and attract many visitors eager to see the newly arrived spring migrants.
What you may not know is that there are many opportunities to see these same birds on their boreal forest breeding grounds in some of our northern parks.
The boreal forest
Kettle Lakes Provincial Park
Ontario’s boreal forest is vast, stretching across a large portion of the province, although many people have yet to venture into this bold and impressive ecosystem.
Characterized by vast expanses of forests, lakes, and spruce swamps, the boreal is a beautiful and austere ecosystem.
While many visitors often highlight the number of stinging insects that also inhabit the boreal forest, this is part of the reason why the boreal forest is a veritable “songbird factory,” being the summer home to millions. of warblers, flycatchers, vireos and others. who come here to raise their young. These are the same birds we see during migration in southern Ontario, except they are here to stay for several months.
Some come here from far away. The Olive-sided Flycatcher: Most likely to be heard singing its characteristic “Quick, three beers!” From what we have seen, he is a champion migrant who spends the winter in South America, venturing into the boreal to start a family.
Its cousin, the smaller yellow-bellied flycatcher, only spends about two months here doing the same (a testament to how food-rich the environment is!).
Many colorful warblers, like this Blackburn’s Warbler, pass through southern Ontario in spring, but remain in the boreal forest to breed for several weeks.
Twenty-five species of warblers breed in the boreal forest, including the colorful Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, Cape May and Magnolia warblers that always draw crowds during migration in southern Ontario.
A paradise for bird watching
Although spring migration depends largely on the weather, breeding birds are always present and give themselves away with their song. They have already established territories and are usually reliably seen in the same areas for several weeks.
Cape May warblers breed throughout the boreal forest, especially during budworm outbreaks, and are highly sought after by bird watchers.
This means that while a rare spring bird that shows up may not stick around for more than a few hours, the park’s friendly naturalists will be able to tell you the best places to see local breeding birds.
In addition to the abundance of breeding birds, the boreal forest has an array of resident birds that can only be seen in this distinctive habitat.
Crossbills, like this red crossbill, can be found in varying numbers each year in the boreal forest, depending on the availability of seed crops. Some winters, the forest can be filled with their songs.
Birds like the spruce and sharp-tailed grouse, the black-backed woodpecker and the American three-toed woodpecker, the Canadian jay, and the northern titmice are hardy species that can survive the brutal winters in this part of the world.
Canada jays use their amazing memory to remember where thousands of hidden food stores are located.
We saw this Canada Jay in Missinaibi Provincial Park.
Spruce Grouse can feed on nutrient-poor spruce needles to survive. Woodpeckers and chickadees are experts at finding small foods hidden in the bark.
The capercaillie is a permanent resident of the boreal forest that can be seen at any time of the year.
Northern owls (the great gray, northern hawk, and boreal owl) are the ghosts of the boreal world, and the challenge of finding them and the thrill of seeing them are big draws for birders making the trip.
The lure of finding birds as rare and unique as the great horned owl continues to draw bird watchers to the boreal forest.
An unforgettable and exclusively Canadian experience.
Ready to combine the high quality and quantity of birds with the beautiful landscapes of the north with the very real possibility of seeing a prowling lynx or hearing a pack of wolves howling in the night?
Plan a boreal bird watching getaway to a provincial park like:
We promise: it’s definitely worth the drive.