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BOB’S BLOG: Moose and Gray Jays make our day in Algonquin Park

By Bob Wood
Newswire & Blogs Slideshow
January 09, 2013 - 32 comments

(Photo above: Gray Jay in Algonquin Park; then, a boreal chicadee. (Graham Wood photos)

There was room in the car so I got to go on this year’s trip to Algonquin and learn something.

For the experienced birders who monitor migration for the Long Point Bird Observatory (http://www.bsc-eoc.org/longpoint/index.jsp), this unofficial November trip comes at the end of the migration season before the birders return home to the U.K., B.C. or further afield. It’s an opportunity to see a few species that don’t migrate through southern Ontario.

On the mammal side, moose, of course, aren’t seen in the south either and not always in Algonquin, but we were lucky enough to see a cow and its calf on the Highway 60 corridor that runs through the park’s southerly section. (Graham Wood photo below)

There isn’t much in the way of human traffic this time of year here but this pair attracted a bit of a crowd. Many left their cars to get close to nature, thus imperilling themselves and their vehicles. Most experts tell you to never approach a moose and to stay in your car if observing because they’re big (cows about 400 kg), protective of their young, and can run about as fast as a horse.  Older son Ross got it right when he called these wildlife observers “citidiots.”  (See pdf, If a Moose Charges)

Our main interest, though, was to see boreal bird species like pine grosbeaks, boreal chickadees and crossbills. (Graham Wood photos 2, 3 and 4 below)

Another boreal bird – the Gray Jay (aka Canada Jay, Whiskey Jack, Camp Robber), although not hard to find, will be of interest to the casual as well as avid birder. Algonquin is the extreme southern limit of its range. (Graham Wood photo below)

They’re easily found along Highway 60. And sure enough at our first stop we’re greeted by one individual cadging peanuts who followed us on the entire loop of the Spruce Bog Boardwalk.

These birds are unique as they’re the only ones in the boreal forests that stay on territory for the entire year. Through an amazing ability to store food, the Gray Jay survives the long cold winter by living off thousands of pieces of food hidden in the boreal vegetation.

Remarkably, research shows that they actually remember where they’ve hidden the food.

Another unique feature of the Gray Jay’s life cycle is that the juvenile stays with the parents for three years.  And in the harsh environment of Ontario’s northern boreal forests these birds often live more than 10 years. Compare that to your typical pampered bird at your feeder who’ll do well to make it to four.

For nearly 50 years most Algonquin Gray Jays have been colour-banded, thereby providing an excellent data base on the species. (Check out this site)

Gray Jays occupy a fairly large territory of 150 hectares (.57 square miles). There was a time when they inhabited all the land along Highway 60. Not now.

The cause of that decline is almost certainly climate warming. Warmer temperatures in the park mean that the stored food isn’t lasting like it did in the past.

According to researcher Dan Strickland:

As global temperatures rise, we can expect that insects, berries, pieces of meat or mushrooms stored by Gray Jays will spoil more rapidly. This will occur even in the winter and may be especially serious when repeated freeze-thaw events accelerate the degradation of perishable food. The cumulative effect of such warming may be that early-nesting Gray Jays have less stored food to feed their nestlings than in the past and fewer young jays are produced as a result.

Climate warming.

Not as overt stupidity as that practised by those citidiots bothering the moose but further evidence that we city folk are messing up.

Bob Wood is a housing and poverty advocate and former two-term Burlington City Councillor who is building a bed-and-breakfast with his wife on Lake Erie. 

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