Pileated Woodpeckers sighted near Oxtongue Lake

Pileated Woodpeckers sighted near Oxtongue Lake

A closeup of the red head of a Pileated Woodpecker near Oxtongue Lake

One winter, Bob and I took advantage of the lovely ski trails at Oxtongue Lake to explore the woods along the west side of Patterson’s Bay.  It is there that we located two pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus), a male and a female, working industriously for their breakfast.  In this closeup, the bright red pointed crest is really conspicuous.

Jean prepares to ski on the Blue Spruce Inn ski trails at Oxtongue Lake - Ontario

The trail system commences on the left side of  Algonquin Outfitters Road, just past the Algonquin Outfitters store.

The main trail sign for the Beetle Lake hiking trail at Oxtongue Lake, Ontario.

A sign has been erected by the Township of Algonquin Highlands detailing the hiking, snowshoeing and ski trails.

The Township of Algonquin Highlands trail sign at Oxtongue Lake - Ontario

The sign at the outset of the trail system outlines the route for a hike on the Beetle Lake Trail.

Beaver pond and heron rookery near Oxtongue Lake -Ontario

Bob and I were on the ski trails by 9 a.m. on that overcast morning, but the temperature was perfect for a dandy ski.  At the beaver pond, a good selection of dead trees has created the perfect nesting spot for Great Blue Herons.  They will be returning to their rookery soon.

A deserted herons nest in a rookery near Oxtongue Lake - Ontario

A heron nest filled with snow near Oxtongue Lake - Ontario

Enormous nests such as this sit atop several of the dead tree trunks.  What a lot of work must go into constructing such safe and solid aeries.

Jean skiing on a beaver pond near Oxtongue Lake - Ontario

Bob and I spent quite a bit of time in the swamp, listening to the dead silence of the forest around us.  Somehow it felt like we were in a prehistoric setting with the gigantic bird nests looming over us.  Suddenly, punctuating the eerie silence, I heard the distinct pecking of a pileated woodpecker at the near edge of the frozen pond.  I recognized the solid, low-pitched tones as the bird’s beak pounded on a tree.

Snowy forest near Oxtongue Lake - Ontario

Bob and I ventured carefully off the designated ski trail to the far corner of the pond, pausing periodically to pinpoint the bird’s location.  Tucked in behind these evergreen trees was a very tall snag that is obviously a favorite of the woodpecker judging by the number of holes already carved into its surface.

Two pileated woodpeckers on a tree near Oxtongue Lake - Ontario

We were very excited when we realized that there was not one, but two pileated woodpeckers working the tree on either side.

A male pileated woodpecker sits on the side of a tree near Oxtongue Lake, Ontario

While the male woodpecker preferred to remain near the top of the dead tree…perhaps keeping an eye on us,

A female pileated woodpecker sits on the side of a tree.

the female pileated woodpecker retreated to the base of the tree where she was partly hidden by the overhanging branches of an adjacent tree.  There was a widespread circle of wood chips covering the fresh snow at the bottom of the snag which suggested that the birds had already been active that morning for a very long time.

Female Pileated Woodpecker pecks at a tree

Despite our presence, and the startling crunch of the snow as we adjusted our position, the female woodpecker worked persistently at uncovering insects and larvae from the dead wood.  The male, on the other hand, had at points flown to alternate trees in the area, but consistently returned to the treetop where we had first spotted them.

Pileated Woodpecker hidden from view on a tree near Oxtongue Lake - Ontario

In this video that Bob filmed you get a good chance to watch the Pileated Woodpecker go about its business.

A female Pileated Woodpecker holds onto the side of a tree near Oxtongue Lake - Ontario

Bob and I had sighted two other pileated woodpeckers on a recent ski in Algonquin Park, but they were quite distant from us, so we were grateful to have this closer look at these impressively-sized woodpeckers.  They are about equal in size to a crow.

Pileated Woodpecker - back of head

From our vantage point, the woodpecker’s head appeared to disappear into the depths of the hole it was carving out.

Bob - skiing on beaver pond - Oxtongue Lake - Ontario

Bob and I spent close to an hour observing the two pileated woodpeckers, and even as we turned to leave, they continued to hollow out cavities in the same tree.

heron rookery in the winter near Oxtongue Lake - Ontario

Before we left the beaver pond, we just had to snap a few more pictures of the winter landscape.  The isolation and absolute silence makes one feel inconsequential as a resident on this planet.

A herons nest covered in snow near Oxtongue Lake - Ontario

By the time the herons return to this neck of the woods, the snow will have melted from their aeries, providing welcome roosts wherein to nurture their eggs.   In the meantime, the woods will echo with the sounds of the pileated woodpeckers as the male hollows out a nest hole in preparation for mating in April, or as they simply go about unearthing tidbits from the layers of wood in the tree.

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