August 26-29, 2010
We decided to do a short and simple canoe trip with the express purpose of checking out Esther Keyser’s cabin on Smoke Lake. Esther was the first female guide in Algonquin back in the 1930s, and she built a small cabin on Smoke Lake which she used, along with her family, until she was in her 90s. She wrote a book about her Algonquin experiences.
There is no camping on Smoke Lake, since it is an access lake directly off Highway 60. Our plan was to portage into Ragged Lake and spend three nights on Parkside Bay.
We paddled south on Smoke Lake and saw an amazing number of Common Loons, at least twenty at one time.
At this time of year, the unpaired adults often do this on large lakes with a large fish population. We saw loons coming and going throughout the trip. They always seem to call when they fly.
It took us about 4 hours to paddle and portage to Parkside Bay. Just before entering the bay proper, we say a mated pair of Common Loons with two small young -in fact the young still had downy feathers. This is a bit unusual for late August, as the young are usually large by this time.
We got a nice campsite in a hemlock grove, on a point, with views of the water on three sides. At first it seemed that there were no birds, but, periodically, bunches of small birds would show up high in the canopy. At first we could not tell what they were, but over the three days, we were able to identify Cape May Warblers and Warbling Vireos. Red-breasted Nuthatches revealed their presence with their yank calls, and we even saw a few Black-capped Chickadees. We heard a woodpecker, but could not locate it.We toured the bay several times to try the fishing. We had no luck with Lake Trout, but did catch three nice Smallmouth Bass, two of which we kept and ate. A Herring Gull became our instant friend when we discarded the fish remains. We also saw a Common Loon catch a very large fish which it had a great deal of difficulty with. One day we went on a hike on an old disused road that we found near our campsite. There was a bit of a feeding frenzy at one point, with Cape May, Yellow and Magnolia Warblers taking part.
On our last morning, at first light, ten Common Mergansers cruised by in front of our site. On the return paddle, we saw many fewer loons, but we did spot a couple of Great Blue Herons and an Osprey. I trolled all the way, and did catch a small trout on Smoke Lake.
After loading the van, we drove to the Spruce Bog Trail. It was late afternoon, and pretty quiet. But we did find one really good spot with a Yellow-throated Vireo, a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler, among others.