Spring has arrived in Ontario parks!
The sun is out, the birds are singing, and the days of snow and sleet are behind us (hopefully!). As the snow melts, enjoy the sensory pleasures of spring in our provincial parks as we see and hear signs of the warm weather ahead.
You know it’s spring in Ontario parks when…
you see moose
Moose run out of salt at the end of winter. Early spring runoff and salt from winter road maintenance form mineral pools in roadside ditches, where elk love to feed.
One of the best parks to spy moose in early spring is Algonquin Provincial Park along Highway 60. Be sure to drive carefully and don’t stop on the highway to see the moose.
You listen to owls
By mid-March, great horned owls have hatched their young and eastern screech owls are breeding.
The call of the big horns may be familiar to anyone who has camped in Ontario parks: ho hoo hoo-hoo. The eastern screech is different: it looks more like a sharp movement of the R’s with the tip of the tongue.
You see mourning cloak butterflies
Even before the snow melts, large velvety black butterflies with pale yellow wing margins race through the forests of Ontario on sunny days. They are known as mourning cloak butterflies.
Butterflies overwinter as adults inside dead trees. In spring, butterflies emerge on warm days in search of sap to drink.
You detect spring tails
Spring Tails are small insects filled with a natural antifreeze that gives them a strange, sticky belly button and the ability to catapult their bodies away from danger.
In early spring they swarm and look like black dust on patches of snow and fallen wood.
You hear spring peepers
Photo: Joe Crowley
Listen for spring peepers on warmer April nights. These small frogs are the only ones in Ontario that have a darker X-shaped marking on their back.
You see the sap flow
Sugar maples get their name from the sweet sap they produce.
You hear the chickadees sing
Singing is a sure sign that black-capped tits are beginning to establish territories and form pairs for their breeding season in early to mid-April (conditions permitting). This spring call is not the familiar one girl-dee-dee song.
Listen to chickadee songs here.
You see the tundra swans return
Migrating tundra swans make stops at provincial parks along lakes Huron, Erie and Ontario. One of the most impressive sights is Thedford Bog, adjacent to Pinery Provincial Park on Lake Huron.
Every March, 80,000 tundra swans rest here on their way to their breeding grounds in the Arctic.
You see the trees sprout
You can’t help but notice new tree growth on a spring walk. The buds become large and fat before opening and turning into leaves.
Ash buds look like chocolate chips! Yellow birches have beautiful two-tone buds, beech buds are long and elegant, and bitter walnut buds stand out for their distinctive sulfur color.
You see frozen adventurers.
Photo: Algonquin Outfitters
Experienced paddlers on an ice adventure are an early spring tradition in Ontario parks.
While water safety is paramount, especially in spring, higher water levels allow experienced paddlers to explore areas of the park that are not accessible by canoe or kayak in the summer months. Countless outfitters in Ontario add spring ice alerts to their websites so paddlers know when to head out.