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13 August 2009 @ 07:56 am
Algonquin, Part II: The Lookout Trail, the bear and a lifer!  

On Sunday morning we awoke to low, overcast skies, and shortly after we had finished our breakfast it began to rain. I managed to find a pair of Ovenbirds while walking through the campground before the rain started, and the night before we had had a startling visitor - a small Black Bear! When we had checked in on Friday we had been told that there was a "Bear warning" in effect, and that a Black Bear had been seen in the campground the day before. So we were prepared, and took pains to make sure that all our food and toiletries were safely locked in the car when not in use. Still, it was quite a surprise on Saturday evening, just before dusk, to see a bear walk right through our campsite! The four of us were playing Yahtzee in our screened dining shelter when out of the corner of my eye I saw something large and dark walk by, not even six feet away from us. My sister was the first to realize it was a bear, and fortunately for us the bear showed not the least bit of interest or curiosity in us or our campsite. It walked out of the bush, through our campsite, and straight across the road back into the bush. Once it had gone we were about to drive to the campsite office to inform them of the sighting, however, the warden came by in a truck not ten minutes later.

Black Bear

With that experience still buzzing in our minds, my fiancé and I decided to wait out the rain the following morning at the Visitor's Center. We examined the exhibits (including the one of the stuffed Black Bear with her cubs; I was surprised to find that Black Bears really are that small, and not the huge beasts I had imagined) and looked out the back observation deck before eating lunch in the restaurant. While out on the deck we saw a couple of juncos near the bird feeder, and a non-breeding plumaged Chestnut-sided Warbler and a Blue-headed Vireo in the trees below. The view was stunning, especially with the low clouds obscuring the hills.

View from the Visitor's Center

Rain Clouds over the hills

Rain Clouds over Sunday Creek

By the time we finished our lunch the rain had stopped and the sun was shining through the dissipating clouds, so we returned to camp to see if my sister and her fiancé were ready to go hiking on the trails. They were, and so we decided to climb the Lookout Trail. This trail quite short - only 1.9 km - but the trail is mostly vertical and looks out onto a breathtaking vista.

The Lookout Trail

With the sun now shining, the day had warmed up and were quite hot from the arduous climb. We decided to stop for a moment to sit and catch our breath in a rocky, sunny opening (the rocks along the trail were still too wet to sit on), and that's where we found two butterflies. The smaller of the two, likely one of the anglewings, flew off before I could photograph it, but the larger one flew to a tree trunk where it stayed for several moments.

Compton Tortoiseshell

Although this species resembles the anglewings, right down to the silvery comma on the underside, the Compton Tortoiseshell is actually more closely related to the Mourning Cloak. It eventually left the tree trunk and landed on the ground, where it slowly opened and closed its wings.

Compton Tortoiseshell

Not long after we left the small opening we reached the top of the cliff. The view was spectacular and definitely worth the tough climb.

View from the Top

View from the Top

View through the trees

The trail continues along the top of the cliff for a little bit before descending back down through the woods. Although I looked for more butterflies, there were none to be found, and the only birds I saw were a flock of Cedar Waxwings flying overhead.

Trail along the top of the cliff

Rock formation

That was our last hike of the day, although my fiancé and my sister and I walked up to Canisbay Lake after dinner. We saw a few large dragonflies, though none would land anywhere near us, and Doran startled either a rabbit or a hare on a side trail. The lake was very calm and peaceful as a loon swam by. We later saw one fly over our campsite around dusk, followed by a bat heading in the opposite direction shortly after.

The next day it was time to leave. While waiting for everyone to get up, I went for a walk through the campsite and found a small group of warblers foraging among the treetops. Altogether I saw the following species: Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler and Red-eyed Vireo. It was too bad that none of them came down close enough for a photo!

I returned back to the campsite feeling elated. We quickly broke down the site and began packing everything away. That's when we heard someone down the road shouting, "There's a bear in our campsite!" I grabbed my camera and ran, hoping to get a few photos from a safe distance. Fortunately, the bear was standing in the bush on the opposite side from the road, so I was able to take some photos.

Black Bear

It seemed hesitant, probably unsure of the crowd that was growing, but it was determined and went up to the picnic table. It took a package of tomatoes off the table and carried them away from the campsite where it attempted to eat them.

Black Bear

Like many animals, Black Bears will not attack unless cornered, threatened, or wounded. Unlike grizzly bears, they typically flee for cover upon encountering a human. This one seemed quite nervous with the crowd looking on, but determined to eat.

People are rarely killed by black bears, however, most deaths by black bear tend to be predatory rather than defensive (i.e. the bear deliberately stalks and attacks a human, rather than attacking because it is cornered or surprised and feels threatened). The opposite is true of grizzly bear attacks, which, as a result, are more numerous than black bear fatalities. This makes "playing dead" when a black bear attacks ineffective.

I found this amusing information on Wikipedia regarding protection from bears: Campers are often told to wear bright colored red ribbons and bells, and carry whistles to ward off bears. They are told to look for grizzly scat in camping areas, and be careful to carry the bells and whistles in those areas. Grizzly scat is easy to differentiate from black bear scat. Black bear scat is full of fruit and pine cones; grizzly scat is full of red ribbons and little bells and whistles.

Black Bear

The bear eventually ran off, leaving the tomatoes behind. Perhaps the people honking their car horn scared it off. The warden came along a few minutes later and I talked to him for a minute. They knew which bear it was (it has a tag on its ear and a collar) and said that it was only two or three years old. He also told me that they had already caught and relocated it once to the northern part of the park. However, five days later it had returned. If it does this three times, then they have no choice but to put the animal down; its brother had already been put down for similar reasons. The warden also said that a different camper nearby had left food out the previous night, and had been charged as a result. It sickens me that the stupidity of people can cost the animal its life...this bear warning had been in effect for several days now, and leaving food out is incredibly stupid.

The warden left in search of the bear, and we returned to finish packing up our campsite. We said goodbye to my sister and her fiancé and went our separate ways. However, we decided to visit one more trail on the way out, and where else should we go but the Spruce Bog trail?

Spruce Bog Boardwalk

Near the visitor's log book I heard the high-pitched calls of several birds close by. They were not close to the trail, but a deer trail led deeper into the woods to where these birds were foraging. As I walked along this small path to get a look at the birds, which turned out to be Golden-crowned Kinglets, another bird flew up out of the vegetation practically right at my feet and landed in a spruce tree. I was thrilled when I looked through my binoculars and realized it was my nemesis, a male Spruce Grouse!

Spruce Grouse

This bird was a lifer for me. I have visited Algonquin Park four times in the past two years, and each time I walked the Spruce Bog trail at least twice looking for the Spruce Grouse. Today I finally found not one, but two, for a second bird also flew up from the ground and disappeared in the trees further away. The male, however, stayed close by and began nibbling on the spruce needles. He appeared to be aware of us and one other couple taking pictures of it, and kept his back turned to us for the most part. I was able to get very few photos of it facing us.

Spruce Grouse

Further along the trail, in the woods on the other side of the boardwalk, we came across a nice group of songbirds foraging. These included chickadees (I only saw Black-capped chickadees but didn't get a good look at all of them), Brown Creepers and a Black-and-white Warbler! The Cedar Waxwings were still in the same spot by the second large boardwalk, and a juvenile Robin was also nearby. No wonder this trail is considered one of the better ones for viewing wildlife!

Spruce Bog Trail

After we finished the trail we returned to the car and drove back to Ottawa. The highlights of the trip were definitely the Black Bear, the Spruce Grouse, the Compton Tortoiseshell, hearing the loons calling, all the warblers, and only half a day of rain!

  • Lifer #252 Spruce Grouse