Sunday, January 30, 2011

Trip to Amherst Island

A group of us boarded the bus at the ungodly hour of 6:45 am at Rosetta McClain Gardens in Scarborough for the inaugural trip with Authentic Canadian Tours. Come to think of it, shouldn't we have smashed a bottle of champagne against the bus? What a missed opportunity!

We headed east along the 401 with Murray Shields as our friendly tour guide and Jim the bus driver at the wheel, and had our faces pressed against the windows looking for hawks and other types of wildlife. The day was bright so it was perfect for this type of trip, and the lack of wind was exactly what we needed since so much of our time would be spent outdoors.

We saw a number of red-tailed hawks along the highway as well as 2 coyotes as we went past Oshawa. They were on the north side of the 401 in a field and were just beautiful. Soon after we had a pileated woodpecker fly over the bus and we saw a couple of ravens perched in trees. I've only seen ravens once in my life, last year on Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, so seeing them was a nice surprise.

We arrived at the ferry dock outside of Millhaven where we took no hitchhikers or prisoners, and we saw an American Coot in the icy water.

A little while later, the bus was on the ferry, crushing ice as we went to Amherst Island! We saw a coyote on the ice, now what he was doing there I do not know but I didn't see a fishing rod in his paws so maybe he was just cooling off. How much hunting can a coyote do on a big sheet of ice and snow? That is the question.

With some skillful maneuvering by Jim, we drove off the ferry and started the trek. Our first stop was at Topsy Farms, a sheep farm with a nice gift shop where they sell wool, blankets and knitted items. We were greeted by the owners as well as a very nice dog named Diego who not only ran around and barked out of happiness but also boarded the bus and tried to unseat Murray as the tour guide!

Check out the cemetary just beyond the sheep! And notice the cute face of a Great Pyrenees among the herd.

From there we passed a house that Daniel Fowler once lived in.

We saw a number of rough-legged hawks but they were quite skittish so photos of any quality were impossible.

We then saw 2 bald eagles being harrassed by 2 ravens. They, too, were far away and weren't courteous enough to come close but it was still a thrill to see them. Bald eagles are the reason I got into birding in the first place and no matter how many times I see them in person or on webcams, I'm always in awe. The ravens made this sighting all the more special. If you click on the above picture and use a magnifying glass, you should be able to see one eagle on the bottom left and another with a raven on the top right. Yes, they're tiny but they're proof of being eagles. Sort of.

We jumped back on the bus and the next bird we saw was the Northern Hawk Owl. I'd seen one before at the Leslie Street Spit and that time, it was really close. This time, it was in between two houses on a wire across their back yards. We stayed on the road since it was private property and we took pictures from a distance but they didn't turn out well. Thanks to Brad who had a scope, we all took turns seeing it and some people tried to take pictures with point and shoot cameras through the scope but it didn't work out for me.

Another short trip when we had Jim stop the bus so we could see snow buntings! I'd never seen them before so this was a nice sight.

Finally, we chugged along till we hit the road that lead to Owl Woods. We had to leave the bus and walk to the entrance of the woods so we all had a good workout. The weather continued to be amazing and we were treated to a visit with a northern saw-whet owl. Owls have such a magical, mysterious quality to them and when you see one that's as tiny as a saw-whet, throw in the adorable factor! This one was in a cedar about 8 feet off the ground, tucked in next to the trunk. We took a lot of pictures of him and were really happy to see him so close.

We also fed chickadees who were extremely tame.

We saw (and heard!) a couple of woodpeckers. We made the long trek back to the bus and then went back to the northern hawk owl for one last look. He was still on the wire in the backyard of one house so we bid him adieu and made our way towards the ferry. We saw a couple of cars parked so we pulled over and were rewarded with the siting of a snowy owl! It was quite a distance away but thanks to Brad, we all were able to look at it using his scope.

One last boarding of the bus and we returned to the dock. We got back to the mainland and saw 2 coyotes in a field soon after we got on the 401. We were treated to a beautiful sunset as we made the trek back to Toronto. When we got to Colborne we stopped off at The Big Apple, a place that sells huge, expensive apple pies (but no apple cider! What's up with that??) and has a massive, tacky gift shop! The place smells SO good but I didn't buy a pie because they were so pricey and also because I would eat the whole thing! Murray had a group picture taken outside of the bus and then we headed home.

It was a fabulous trip. As a pet sitter, I rarely get time off because I work 7 days a week so this was perfect for me as I was able to do one cat visit in the morning and another after returning home. Murray did a fabulous job on this trip. He scouted out Amherst Island a few weeks ago and plotted the route ahead of time. He also kept an eye on various birding lists so he knew where the birds were hanging out. He had the exact address of the Northern Hawk Owl! The entire trip went smoothly from beginning to end, with plenty of time budgeted for every stop we made so we never felt rushed, and he made sure we respected the property of the people who live on the island. We noticed a couple of paths in the snow that led to the northern hawk owl but since we didn't have permission to go, Murray made sure that we stayed on the edge of the road. I am looking forward to more trips in the future.

Thanks to Brad for bringing his scope. As birders and nature lovers, we know that it's impossible to predict the behaviour of wildlife and we knew that a number of birds had been seen recently, but from a distance. We were able to clearly see the snowy owl and northern hawk owl because he brought his scope.

And thanks to Jim the bus driver! Not only is he a terrific driver but he repeatedly had to put up with:

Stop the bus!
Can you back up a bit?
Slow down, there's something in the tree!
Never mind, it's a mourning dove.

The next scheduled trip is for Algonquin Park in April, but there will be others in between.

Oh and one more thing: I am no longer considered wildlife repellent! Ha!