Saturday, March 26, 2011

Of Easter, ice-out and openings...

March 25: Lakes Scugog and Simcoe are still frozen!
A number of ingredients are combining to spice up the recipe for "ice out frenzy" this season. Start with an unusually early opening of trout season in Algonquin Park: April 23. Add in an equally unusual late Easter Weekend: April 22 - 25. Mix it up with last year's record early ice-out date of April 4 (on Lake Opeongo), then spice with all the eagerness of an early-season angler and you end up with many optimistic people thinking they will paddling merrily up Lake Opeongo on Good Friday, ready to fish the next day.

I hate to be a wet blanket but let's be realistic. The image to right comes from my old friend, the NOAA CoastWatch satellite image of the Great Lakes Region, updated twice daily all year round. The picture you see was taken yesterday, March 25. To locate things geographically, you can see Lake Opeongo in the upper-right, Lake Bernard in the upper left, Lake of Bays just above the centre and Lake Simcoe is very obvious in the lower left. In my experience of anecdotal observing, Algonquin Park lakes open up three to four weeks after Simcoe, depending on the weather. Hmmm. Do the math. Overnight temperatures this week have been in the negative double digits every night this week: the forecast is -18 C tonight. This spring is not going to be like last year (as the saying goes: that was then, this is now). I'm even thinking about changing my prediction on the Canoe Lake Ice-Out Contest but that might be against the rules. It is still early, and anything can happen, but if you are planning a canoe trip for Easter Weekend in Algonquin Park, I would definitely recommend having a backup plan, like hiking in the bug-free forest.

Having said all this, there have been some signs of spring. Snow has disappeared on many south-facing aspects outside the park. Deer are on the move. About a week ago, I saw a robin in my backyard and dutifully reported it on the Journey North site. There I learned that individual robins are seen a week or so before the first "wave" of robins. I haven't seen that robin since and no wave has appeared. I can imagine the modern critter, pecking out a tweet to his buddies on his BirdBerry:

@robinscout: am in Huntsville. Still %&$#)^% cold and snowy here. No worms. Heading back south.

If you are home watching robins or waiting for the ice to go out, check out Journey North. It is a very cool collection of information (all reported by volunteers) related to to animal migration and signs of spring (including ice-out).

Spring skiing in the Muskoka trees on March 25, 2011.
Conditions are ideal for short-legged dogs.
After you do that, turn the computer off, shut down your phone and get out there and enjoy the spring snow conditions in Algonquin, Haliburton and Muskoka. Trails are firm, walking is easy, backcountry ski conditions are awesome, the weather is sunny and the roads are dry. With Daylight Savings Time in effect, it's not getting dark until 8 o'clock or so. I've been skiing after work several days recently. We've had several groups checking in today on their way to the Western Uplands and Highland hiking trails. There is no reason not to come up to Algonquin Park right now! Unless maybe you were thinking about canoeing. That day will come - be patient!

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