Birding the Great Trail in Ontario: Five Under-Celebrated Spots
As billions of birds make their way north each spring, birders flock to hotspots across Canada to see as many species as possible. Visiting well-known locations like Ontario's Point Pelee National Park can be spectacular, but for those who enjoy a less crowded birding experience, there are many other hidden birding gems to explore. Here are five of our favourite under-celebrated birding spots along Great Trail in Ontario:
1. Frontenac Forests, on the Cataraqui Trail
Trail: This 81 km long multi-use gravel rail trail follows the former CN Railway bed from Smiths Falls to just south of Verona through land that is part of the traditional territory of the Algonquin, Anishinabek, Haudenosaunee and Huron-Wendat Peoples.
Description: Located in the Frontenac Arch World Biosphere Reserve, where the boreal forest of the Canadian Shield meets the deciduous forests of the Adirondack and Appalachian Mountains, the rich forested landscape is interspersed with numerous small wetlands, lakes, and rocky outcrops.
Birds: Over 270 bird species have been reported in this Important Bird Area, which supports one of the richest communities of breeding birds in Canada, including the Endangered Cerulean Warbler and the Loggerhead Shrike.
2. Dundas Valley/Cootes Paradise, on the Hamilton to Brantford Rail Trail
Trail: This 29 km multi-use rail trail connects Hamilton to Brantford, and provides exceptionally good birding in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area and at Cootes Paradise near the Hamilton Harbour. This land is part of the traditional territory of the Anishinabek and Haudenosauneega Confederacy People.
Description: The 1,200 hectare Dundas Valley Conservation Area follows the Niagara Escarpment, and includes lush Carolinian forests, natural meadows, rolling hills, cold-water streams, 40 km of recreational trails, and a trail center. Cootes Paradise, which is a 600 hectare marsh located between the Dundas Valley and Hamilton Harbour, is the Royal Botanical Garden's largest natural sanctuary. Visitors can explore it from 18 km of trails, 5 boardwalks, and 10 lookouts.
Birds: This Important Bird Area supports a globally significant community of forest birds, which includes Hooded Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrush, Cerulean Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chats, and Acadian Flycatchers. During spring migration over 227 species of birds were reported in this area.
3. Minesing Wetland, on the North Simcoe Rail Trail
Trail: This 35 km multi-use gravel rail trail runs between County Road 9 near Grenfell and Elmvale in the township of Springwater.This land is the traditional territory of the Anishinabek, Haudenosauneega Confederacy, Huron-Wendat, and Odawa People.
Description: The Minesing Wetland is a 6,000 hectare ramsar boreal wetland that stretches from the periphery of Barrie to Georgian Bay.It includes a unique assemblage of fens, marshes, swamps, and bogs that visitors can explore on foot, snowshoe, cross-country skis, or by kayak or canoe.
Birds: The diverse habitat supports over 221 bird species, as well as 400+ plant, 23 mammal, and 20 fish species.
4. Tiny Marsh Wildlife Area, on the Tiny Trail
Trail: This 19 km multi-use gravel rail trail runs parallel to Highway 6, between Saurin and Penetanguishene, through the traditional territory of the Anishinabek, Haudenosauneega Confederacy, Huron-Wendat, and Odawa People.
Description: The Tiny Marsh Wildlife Area consists of 900 hectares of marsh, forest, and field habitat that is open year-around.The site features an interpretive center, more than 15 km of trails, a boardwalk, and two observation towers.
Birds: Over 250 species of birds have been observed in this Important Bird Area, and it supports breeding populations of Least Bitterns, Black Terns, Osprey, King Rails, Prothonotary Warblers, among others.
5. Saint Mary's River Complex, on the Huron Shores Trail
Trail: This 373 km trail consists mostly of paved and gravel roads, and runs from the outskirts of Sudbury to the edge of Sault Ste. Marie, offering especially great birding opportunities along the Saint Mary's River between Echo Bay and Sault Ste. Marie.Part of this land is within the Garden River Indian Reserve No 14, within the Robinson-Huron and Robinson-Superior Treaties territories, and on land that is the traditional territory of the Anishinabek and Metis People.
Description: The Saint Mary's River connects Lake Superior to Lake Huron, and includes diverse marshes, wet shrublands, wetlands, swamps, and large bays along its shores.The boardwalk at the Loon Dollar Monument in Echo Bay, and Whitefish Island/Sault Locks are two spots on the Great Trail that offer particularly good birding along the Saint Mary's River.
Birds: More than 212 bird species have been reported in this Important Bird Area during spring migration.It also supports globally significant populations of nesting Black Terns, as well as breeding populations of Least Bitterns, Common Terns, and Bald Eagles, and it is an important staging area for migrating waterfowl.
There are many more fantastic yet underappreciated locations to bird during spring migration, both on and off the Great Trail.What are some of your favourites?
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