Saturday, December 4, 2010


A Gray Jay lands in my hand for a peanut seconds after arriving.

One of the birds that Rob and I have had on our "to see" list has been the Gray Jay, also know as "whiskey jacks". We had heard of their beauty and also of their non-shyness around humans when it gives them a chance to steal food to hide in trees for the winter.

They don't come much further south in Ontario then Algonquin Park, so when our friends Jim and Lynda invited us to take a trip up there early November, after hearing of some sightings, we were very happy to go along.

Waiting and watching for his chance to get some peanuts.

The birds were bigger then I expected, it was so much fun to hand feed them and a thrill to finally see them!

I must admit, after being in the car for four hours, I was getting pretty restless by the time we arrived at our destination within the park, but all that magically disappeared as soon as we parked. We didn't have to go looking for them, it was like they were waiting for us!

It looks like this guy is giving Rob a "thank you" smile.

Following the trail deeper into the woods, it was fun to see some snow for the first time this season.

Such a beautiful bird.

We had a wonderful day with Jim and Lynda, and Rob and I have decided to head back up in January for an overnight at one the B & B's close to the park to celebrate our 7th anniversary.

This was our view while enjoying a picnic lunch.

We also saw a "Black-backed Woodpecker" for the first time on our visit to the park.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


I have to admit, it was pretty exciting meeting the mouse himself, Mickey Mouse, Minnie being there was a bonus.

When I was a kid, Sunday nights at 6PM was my favorite time of the week. That was when "The Wonderful World of Disney" tv show came on. I remember seeing THAT castle and Tinker Bell flying in to wave her magic wand to make that nights show begin. I have so many favorites that I remember; The Apple Dumpling Gang, Herbie and the Love Bug, and Witch Mountain, to name a few. And of course all the lovable cartoon characters; Donald Duck, Goofy, and of course the mouse himself, Mickey Mouse, though, Winne and his friends have always been my favorite.

I always dreamed of one day going there, and this year that dream came true. A year long planned trip with my brother and his family to Disney World in Orlando, Florida was everything I could of hoped for and more.

It really is a magical place, and it's not just for kids, it's for children and adults who have maintained that youthful spirit, I had a blast.

Cinderella's Castle took my breath away, it didn't even look real.

The first thing I noticed on that first visit to "Magic Kingdom" was how very organized it all is, starting in the parking lot. It is a well run machine, designed to make your trip as enjoyable and stress free as possible. You can't help but notice how clean the parks are and they really are a place for celebrating life, it's hard not to get caught up in it.

My first character "meet and greet" at Disney World, Pluto!

We visited all four parks while there; The Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Disney Hollywood Studios and Epcot. I enjoyed all the parks, but I think the Magic Kingdom was my favorite, as that's where Cinderella's castle is and also where I met my favorite Disney character, Winnie the Pooh.

Me and my favorite bear, Winnie the Pooh! It was worth the 41 year wait to meet him.

All the parks put on special shows through out the day; short plays, musicals, parades and fireworks at night. There is so much going on, and to see and do. You most certainly can't do it all in a day.

Goofy waves at the crowds during a parade at Animal Kingdom, as he passed us he shouted, "we sure are having a wing ding of a time!"

I now know why they call this "the most magical place on earth", and I look forward to a return visit in the future.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


My first character meeting of the day, Woody Woodpecker!

I was solo on Saturday, as Pat and Greg went back to their hotel late on Friday night because they were flying out Saturday and my brother and his family weren't flying in until Saturday evening.

I decided to check out Universal Studios Theme Park. The Harry Potter Park was on the Universal Island Adventures Park, and I had such a great time there the past two days, I decided to check out something new.

Revolving globe outside the park entrance.

Entrance to Universal Studios Theme Park.

At first I felt a little funny being by myself, but that didn't last long, and everyone was very friendly and willing to take a picture of me if I needed them too. Like, when I had a chance to pose with the Madagascar Penguins!

They wanted to dance!

As I walked around the park I really had no destination in mind, but wasn't surprised when I ended up in the "Kid Zone".

I caught a couple shows, "Animal Actors" and "Scooby's Monster Mash".

This is dog from the Men in Black movies.

Monster Mash show in the "Kid Zone".

These two were my favorites as a kid.

Me with Scooby and Shaggy!

On my way out of the park I took the long way around and ended up at another character greeting, Shrek. It was hilarious, Donkey was a moving puppet, but the guy doing his voice sounded just like Eddy Murphy, and he talked to you for a long time. When it was my turn to get a picture and he found out I was alone he said, "Alone?!...You won't be alone for long. You just come on over and stand next to me Princess!" It was pretty funny.

Meeting Shrek, Princess Fiona and the lovable Donkey.

I left the park after spending about four hours there, not bad for not doing any rides. I went back to the hotel and spent a couple hours by the pool before heading out for dinner. They were nice enough to let me use a locker and store my suitcase, as they knew I wasn't meeting my brother til later. That's called good customer service.

I decided to go to Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville for dinner as it wasn't far from the hotel and I had wanted to go there again.

The perfect place to end the day.

I had to have a margarita, I was in Margaritaville!

My yummy margarita!

I had chicken and seafood gumbo at the waitress's suggestion, it was a great choice!

A slice of yummy keylime pie was the perfect ending to the meal.

After dinner I got a taxi over to the resort where I was meeting my brother and his family and part two of this adventure begins......

Monday, October 18, 2010


When I found out the "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" was opening just four months before my year long planned trip to Orlando, Florida with my brother and his family, I knew I had to go. As a Harry fanatic I decided to go down a couple days early to check out the world of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. Lucky for me, one phone call to a girlfriend meant I didn't have to see it alone.

As you pass under the gates into Hogsmeade you feel as you stepped right into the books/movies of Harry Potter. The first thing you see is the Hogwarts Express, the train that takes the young witches and wizards to Hogwarts, the school of witchcraft and wizardry. Walking along the streets of Hogsmeade you see lots of shops you will recognize from the stories. You can buy a chocolate frog or some Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans from Honeydukes. I had a grass and pepper flavoured one! Zonkos has Extendable Ears and lots of fun joke type toys. You can also buy a wand from Ollivanders Wand Shop.

The entrance into the world of Harry Potter.

The Hogwarts Express.

Hogsmeade village.

Bernie Botts Every Flavour Beans inside Honeydukes candy shop.

Our first day there I just kinda took it all in, it was kind of overwhelming. I think Greg and Pat expected me to burst into tears at any moment, and that moment did come, just not on the first day.

We walked around and looked at everything. Everywhere you turn you see something from the story! The book of monsters is kept in a cage in one of the shops, it does growl and move! Hermione's dress from the Christmas Ball hangs in one of the shop windows. There isn't just stuff to see, there is lots to listen to too! Moaning Myrtle haunts both the girls and boys bathrooms, and a baby Mandrake plant screams from a shop window as well.

The Book of Monsters.

We did one ride our first visit, The Flight of the Hippogriff. You pass by Hagrid's hut as you enter and then follow his instructions on how too properly greet a Hippogriff. Just before you board the family friendly, small roller coaster, that still scared me, you bow to Buckbeak.

Hagrid's Hut.

Buckbeak bows before you get on the ride.

After the ride we decided to finally have something we had talked about for weeks leading up to the trip, Butterbeer! You can have it two ways, frozen or cold. As it was an extremely hot day we all had frozen. It was really good. I wish I could say it tasted like this or tasted like that, but it doesn't, it has it's own unique taste.

The much anticipated Butterbeer!

Pat and I enjoying a frozen Butterbeer.

The first thing on our agenda for the second trip there was "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Ride", and we arrived bright and early to do this, as we had heard the line up could be quite long. The wait goes very fast though, as you actually tour the Hogwarts castle as you wait for the ride, and trust me, there is so much to see in this castle, time flies!

You can tour through the castle without going on the ride and we had done that the day before. You see Dumbledore's office, and he comes out and talks to you. The portraits hanging on the castle walls move and talk, just like in the story. You see the four house containers holding their winning gems, Gryffindor was in the lead! You also walk through the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom where Harry, Ron and Hermione come out from under the invisibility cloak and talk to you. Ron made it snow on us! You also see Gryffindor's common room.

Hogwarts Castle.

As we were nearing the beginning of the ride I was starting to get very nervous, as I don't do rides. I get motion sickness, and we passed a lot of signs on the way to the ride, saying that if you do suffer from motion sickness, not to do it. I was torn, I wanted to do it so bad, but I was scared. I was scared if I did it, I would get sick, and I was scared if I didn't do it, I'd regret it for the rest of my life.

As we got really near the beginning, Pat bailed, she get's motion sickness too. This just made my nerves worse. You see a couple things as you near the beginning of the ride that you don't see on the castle tour, the sorting hat, and yes, it talks. Also, the fat ladies portrait guarding the entrance to the Gryffindor common room talks to you as you pass, and the entrance to Dumbledore's office is seen as well.

The next thing I know, I'm sitting on the ride, and I'm scared. Greg asks me if I'm ok, I say "no, I wish I could get off". It's too late for that. And then it happened. I heard Hermione talking in my ear, telling us to count to three and say "observatory", and then "WHOOSH"....we're flying! And then Harry and Ron are there, in front of us, leading the way! We fly over the castle, and Hagrid is telling us to keep a look out for an escaped dragon, who attacks soon after. We fly into the forbidden forest and see Aragog, he spits venom at us! We see the Basilisk snake down in the Chamber of Secrets, and all along the way Harry and Ron are leading us on and talking to us. We enter the Quidditch field and then Drako is there asking Harry if he's showing off for his "Muggle Admirers" while we're trying to get away from the Dementors. Then we're flying over the lake and into the castle, and the whole Gryffindor classroom is there clapping for us, for making it, and then Dumbledore, Hagrid and the rest of the teachers and doing the same. The ride was over, and then, my meltdown moment.....I burst into tears, not because I was scared, though I did close my eyes a couple times, I totally got into this ride, screaming with delight most of the way. It hit me then, where I was, what I was doing, and I lost it. I'm 41 years old, I know I wasn't really flying on a broom with Harry and Ron, but for 4 and a half minutes I felt like it.

Greg wasn't sure why I was crying at first, but it didn't take him long to figure out it was from pure joy. One of the staff members asked me if I needed to sit down, and I told him no, that I was ok, just overwhelmed. When we found Pat I still had tears in my eyes, and when she found out why I was crying I think she regretted not going on.

After the ride we went into The Hog's Head Pub, so we could have a drink and I could get my heart rate to return to normal. A round of cold Butterbeer for all of us!

Enjoying a much needed cold Butterbeer at the Hog's Head Pub.

Pat and Greg enjoying the atmosphere of the Hog's Head, they said it was like being in a real British pub.

We decided to have lunch at the Three Broomsticks after some more shopping in Hogsmeade. No pizza slices or burgers here, it's all authentic British fare and beer. I had Sheppard's Pie and we all tried Pumpkin Juice, which was delicious!

Waiting to enter the "Three Broomsticks" for lunch.

Pumpkin Juice.

While we were eating, one of the park managers came over and talked to us. He told us that they tried 188 different recipes for the pumpkin juice before deciding on the one that we had. He also brought us over a sample of something that isn't even on the menu yet, Harry's favourite ice-cream, strawberry peanut butter. It was ok, they are still working on it. We also found out that they are going to expand the park, it's a bigger attraction then they expected, they start breaking ground in January, so it looks like we'll all be going back!

Before we left the park for the day, Pat asked me if I'd do the Forbidden Journey ride again, and I said yes. Greg was almost bouncing he wanted to go on it again so bad. I told Pat it was up to her, and she nodded, so the three of got to go on the ride together. I didn't close my eyes this time, and I was glad I didn't because I missed a couple things the first time; when you enter the ride to sit down there are floating candles above the seats, like in the Great Hall. Hermione isn't just talking in your ear, she's right in front of you a few times, and when you fly over the lake towards the castle, your flying not only with Harry and Ron, but with a whole flock of owls. Though I didn't burst into tears this time, I enjoyed the ride more, because I got more out of it, and the three of us did it together, it was the perfect way to end the day at the park.

There were a couple things I didn't do this time, the Dueling Dragons Roller Coaster, which I may never do, and Ollivander's Wand Shop experience. I had to save something for my next visit!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


It felt great to be able to sponsor Silo.

It really has been the "year of the owl" for us. We saw our first wild owls while birding earlier this year. First a Snowy Owl in February at Sam Smith park, and then a couple months later a Great Horned Owl at Thickson Woods. Seeing these majestic creatures for the first time in the wild was thrilling for us.

We recently did the new "Raptor Encounter" at Mountsberg Conservation Area, where we got to get up close with a couple Eastern Screech Owls and a Barred Owl, and also get a behind the scenes look at the Raptor Centre. We thoroughly enjoyed this and plan on doing it again. There is no explaining the feeling of holding an owl on your hand.

For Rob's birthday on September 15th we decided to take a trip up to Gravenhurst and visit the "Muskoka Wildlife Centre". After reading all about the centre online, we also decided to "sponsor" one of the animals there, and of course we chose an owl.

It's really important to us to help in any way we can these wonderful organizations who do so much for the animals. We have memberships to our favourite parks, spread the word about these places, and of course sponsoring Silo was our biggest contribution to date, but it felt great to be able to do it. We're also thinking of volunteering at the Toronto Wildlife Centre in the new year.

If you haven't visited the Muskoka Wildlife Centre I highly recommend you do, they have so many animals who will live out their life there due to injuries or human imprinting. It's a great way to get up close with and learn about our wildlife and what you can do to help.

Silo, a female Barn Owl, who's had 14 chicks who are used as teaching owls at other centres all over Canada, including Jazz who lives at Mountsberg Conservation Area!

Becky brought out lots of animals to show us, including Clover the groundhog who has been part of their out-reach program for many years and as you can see is very comfortable with humans.

Luna, a full grown Saw-Whet Owl. Isn't she precious?

I couldn't take my eyes of off Luna!

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Holding "Teddy", a female Barred Owl was a magical experience. She's leaning into me because at that moment I'm her "tree!"

Rob and I have been going to Mountsberg Conservation Area a few times a year for over six years now. We spent our first New Years Day there back in 2005, and I still remember him telling me it was the best New Years Day he's ever had. This is one of our favourite parks to visit and is special to us.

We enjoy the many walking trails where we can see various song birds at different times of the year. Mountsberg is a year round place to visit and there is always something new to see or do depending on the season.

One of the things that makes Mountsberg special is their Raptor Centre, which is home to native birds of prey that due to injuries or human imprinting cannot be released back into the wild. We always walk the "Wildlife Walkway" on our trips there, where you can see many of these birds, including Bald Eagles and various types of Owls, Hawks, etc.

On weekends and holidays there is also a birds of prey show twice daily and today we decided to watch the show for the first time. We saw and learned about three different birds staying at the facility, all of which had their own interesting story and fascinating characteristics.

Pawgwa is a juvenile female Bald Eagle.

Jazz is a female Barn Owl.

Jazz was waiting for lunch.

She sure enjoyed her meal!

Ellie is a Turkey Vulture who was enjoying the warmth of the sun.

It's been interesting to us to watch the many improvements they've done to the facilities over the years and there always seems to be something new going on when we visit. On this visit we found out about a new program they started over the summer called the "Raptor Encounter" where you get a chance to go "behind the scenes" at the facility.

For a fee you can learn more about the birds there and get a chance to get up close to some of them. You can do this privately or as part of a group.

Rob and I did this privately and it was an amazing experience for both of us. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would get to hold an owl, and today I got to hold two!

Amy, the handler who gave us our tour, told us lots of interesting facts and stories about many of the birds there, but I have to admit, as soon as I was holding Echo, an Eastern Screech Owl, I kind of went off into "La La Land" because I couldn't believe I was holding such a majestic creature. Then when I got to hold Teddy, a beautiful Barred Owl, it was almost over whelming. I'm still surprised I didn't burst into tears, it meant that much to me.

Otis and Echo are Eastern Screech Owls.

A better look at Echo.

Echo and I getting to know one another.

Me with Echo & Rob with Otis, what a special moment for us!

Rob's turn to hold Teddy, a Barred Owl.

We had an amazing and memorable afternoon and are already planning our next visit, which will definitely include another "Raptor Encounter".

To learn more about the birds at the centre click here.