Friday, August 1, 2008

East Coast Trip June 2008: Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Part 1

One of the most scenic drives in Canada, the Cabot Trail, runs along the outer edges of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The trails don't venture too far from the outer rim of the park either, leaving most of the park to its wild inhabitats.

We are onto our second week now of our two week vacation as we paid our fee at the gates of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The highlands are an extension of the Appalachian mountain chain with rolling hills, valleys and canyons that is part of the Acadian Forest region. The birds that inhabit this region are similar to the speices that live in the Boreal forest region in Ontario. A few of these "Algonquin Birds" I like to call them still have eluded me in my past trips to Algonquin. These included Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadee and Black-backed Woodpecker. Hawk-Owl was another possibility, but this species lives deep within the park which is pretty inexsessible. I ruled out Three-toed Woodpecker altogether.

Then there was THE BIRD, the number one species that many birders want to see on their trip to Cape Breton. A dull brown bird, but, like many in its family, had a beautiful song. This was the Bicknel's Thrush. This was the Bicknel's Thrush territory of fir trees and Mountains. This was the ONLY TIME OF YEAR (mid June) that the rare Bicknel's Thrush sings for only a few hours in the morning.......This was going to be tough.

We hit the first location that I read was an exceptional spot for searching, a trail called Benjies Lake Trail. Here it was all coniferous forest. Common Ravens called to each other, we heard the rising song of Swainson's Thrushes, and saw a few warbler species as well. Continueing along the trail we flushed up a woodpecker, a beautiful female Black-backed Woodpecker. She scolded us while playing peek-a-boo behind a fallen tree and then flew off. That was our only Black-back for the trip, though I did hear another one on this same trail later on.

Female Black-backed Woodpecker. Photo by Aaron Balkwill

Red Squirrels, warblers, juncos, ravens, and tons of moose droppings, but in the end we didn't see let alone hear a Bicknel's Thrush. Maybe it was too early in the morning? We did start this trail around 10:00 am....

One bird that I did hear right when I was closeing the car door was the lazy "chick-a daayy daayyy" of a Boreal Chickadee. I jumped out of the car and walked slowly to the location, but then the song stopped. Rats.

Tommorrow we would try again for our thrush and chickadee in the morning, followed by a pelagic birding trip to the Bird Islands in the afternoon for our next target species, Atlantic Puffin!

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