Monday, September 26, 2011
This past Saturday, Rob and I, along with our friends, Jim and Lynda, visited the "Owl Foundation" in Vineland, Ontario. It was the first time for all of us. I had heard about this organization a couple years ago, but it wasn't until this past spring that I actually took the time to sit down and read about them. What I read blew my mind!! You can read all about this incredible organization here.
The work that they do there is truly amazing, but the one thing that stands out for me and I tell anyone who will listen, is about the "Foster Parent Owls". They actually have wild owls there, that due to injuries cannot be released back to the wild, but can act as foster parents to young injured and orphaned owls!! Let me paint you a picture. A young orphaned owl is brought into the Toronto Wildlife Centre, it is then sent to The Owl Foundation, where after it is checked out, is placed with a foster parent owl of the same species, who teaches the young owl how to eat, hunt, fly, groom, basically be an owl, so in time it can be released back to the wild in the vicinity where it was found!!! Isn't that amazing!!!???
The Owl Foundation isn't open to the public, as it's a rehabilitation centre, not a zoo, and the less interaction with humans, the better. But, every Fall, as it's the least stressful time for owls, sponsors are invited for a tour on a date and time given by the foundation. For my birthday this year I sponsored a male resident Snowy Owl named Chinook. I was very excited about seeing my sponsor owl and visiting the foundation in general.
Before the tour started, a list of resident owls that had passed away from old age or disease recently was read. I was devastated to hear Chinook's name. When your emotions are running high all the time due to the fact that your Mother is slowly dying of a terminal illness, it doesn't take much to set you off. So, there I was, standing with a group of strangers crying over an owl that I never even got to lay eyes on, who had died only 5 days before.
I pulled myself together and the tour started. I was truly impressed with this place, and how the enclosures are arranged. A lot of them are screen covered to keep mosquitoes out, as West Nile is a huge threat to the birds. Some of the larger enclosures even open up through-out giving the birds more fly space and the chance to form bonds and mate with other resident owls of their choosing.
I was happy to hear that my own Chinook had formed a bond with another snowy owl named Winnie, and that they had successfully had young which were able to be released into the wild. Chinook and Winnie were together for 8 years. Winnie passed away on July 16th of this year and Kay believes that Chinook died of a broken heart, just a little over 2 months later. Though it was shown that Chinook died of a blood parasite, being depressed over the death of his mate probably depleted his immune system and it sounds much more romantic.
We got to see many Great Gray Owls, what big beautiful birds they are! We had not seen one before, so it was really thrilling for us.
I love how expressive the Great Gray's face is, so wide-eyed and curious.
The last stop on the tour was "the house", where Kay McKeever lived, and still does, though the house is now property of the foundation, as the foundation is set up and will carry on without Kay. There is a monitoring room in the house where all the birds can be watched on live video screens. They have very little human interaction here to keep them wild. The house is full of owl stuff! Lot's of Robert Bateman paintings adorn the walls, a good friend of Kay's.
The most interesting thing in the house without a doubt is "Big Bird", a Great Gray Owl who lives in the house, not in a cage, but on a perch in the sun-room for the day, while cats snooze nearby in the sunny room. I hear the cats are scared of Big Bird and leave him alone. Big Bird is not an human imprint, but has brain damage and is blind in one eye, so he gets to live out his final years in the comfort of the house. After seeing so many owls in enclosures, it came as a pleasant surprise to see this Owl out in the open like he was, enjoying the sunshine in the brightly lit sun-room.
After much photo taking of Big Bird we were taken to the "monitoring room" where we got to meet the lady herself, Kay McKeever, who still watches the owls on the wall of live monitors and takes notes on their behavior.
Rob stayed behind to talk to Kay, who at 87 is still spry, while I went to purchase a few things, and then went back to talk to Kay a little bit more myself.
I told her that it was my dream to retire, move to the area, and volunteer there and one day we will. But in the mean time, Rob's already signed up as a volunteer driver to transport injured owls.
I encourage you all to learn more about this amazing organization and the lady who dedicated her life to helping the owls.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
We enjoyed our last morning at the B & B watching the many different birds flying around. We were delighted to see a "Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker". It was only the second time we had. And it turned out there were two!
After leaving the B & B we did two short trails in Algonquin before heading home, The Logging Museum Trail, and Whiskey Rapids. You could tell it was the weekend as both trails were busier then we had experienced, but still enjoyable.
We stopped in Huntsville for a late lunch, early dinner. I finally got to go to "3 Guys and a Stove". I had been wanting to go there for a few years.
It was totally worth the wait, I just hope I don't have to wait as long for a return visit.
And so ends "Rob's Grand Birthday Adventure", it was so much fun, you'd think it was MY birthday!
After a bit of birding around our B & B we set off for a full day in Algonquin Park. The first trail we did was "Beaver Pond."
The scenery on this trail was stunning and I look forward to hiking it again.
After "Beaver Pond Trail" we visited the Visitor Centre" again where we became "Friends of Algonquin Park" and checked out the sightings board. Then we were off to "Peck Lake Trail".
By the end of this trail I was famished, so we headed off to the "Portage Store" by Canoe Lake to have our picnic lunch. It was here that we saw and heard our first Loon of the trip.
After lunch we went to the back area of "Mizzy Lake Trail" where we had all sorts of surprises. First, we got to hand feed some Gray Jays!!
The second surprise was running into our friend and fellow birder, Ann and her friend Janice on the trail. They showed us our first and only lifer of the weekend, "Boreal Chickadees".
After all the fun of chasing the Boreal Chickadees around we walked further down the trail to where Ann and Janice had saw a couple young bull moose the day before. No moose, but Rob and I continued further along the trail after saying goodbye to Ann and Janice and saw what we were informed is a rare sighting, a Spruce Grouse. This was the second time we had seen one in the park.
After walking back and stopping to feed the Gray Jays again we headed to Arowhon Pines where we had dinner reservations. Arowhon Pines is a "rustic resort" situated right in Algonquin Park.
The "heritage lodge" where breakfast, lunch and dinner is served to the guests is open to the public if room allows. The six sided cathedral ceiling log cabin over-looks a lake and features a huge fire place in the middle of the room.
Dinner consisted of a wide variety of appetizers, and desserts set up on big buffet tables. You picked from four hot entrees, which change nightly, and soup of the night. It was a lot of food, but at $70 per person, plus tax, added on 15% gratuity AND bring your own wine, there should be.
Dinner was good, and I was glad we went, but I don't know if I'd go back. I'd rather it be a little less pricey, with a little less choice. But, it was nice to have our dinner in such a beautiful building watching the Loons swim by in the lake.
After dinner we headed back to the B & B where the owner and his wife invited us to sit outside with them by a fire under a star filled sky. It was a lovely way to finish an amazing day before we fell into bed exhausted from out outing hoping to hear the howling wolves, which we did.
And the story continues for one more day.
Monday, September 19, 2011
After leaving the wildlife centre a little after noon we went up the road a bit to a rest stop and had our picnic lunch and headed on our way again, stopping at Tim Horton's in Huntsville before entering Algonquin Park.
The first stop in Algonquin Park was the "Visitor Centre", where I ended up doing quite a bit of shopping; 2 T-shirts, a hoodie, postcards, Christmas cards and some bookmarks.
After leaving the visitor center we did one trail, "Spruce Bog". It's not a long trail and it's where we first saw and hand fed Gray Jays. Alas, no Gray Jays this time. The trail was pretty quiet, but it was still a nice walk.
After doing the Spruce Bog trail we decided to go find our B & B for the night, "Forest Lodge B & B", and then go get some dinner.
We found the B & B easily and after getting settled, went back into the town of Whitney to a local restaurant for dinner. The Mad Musher may not look like much, but the food was really good.
After dinner we went back to the B & B and enjoyed a drink in front of the fireplace and bit of conservation with Dave, the B & B owner and fellow birder, before turning in for a much needed good nights rest.
To Be Continued....
Sunday, September 18, 2011
For Rob's birthday this year I planned a two night get away to the Muskoka region and Algonquin Park.
We were up bright and early to hit the road by 7am. We stopped for breakfast along the way.
We wanted to be at the Muskoka Wildlife Centre for when they opened at 10am, and we were. We were there to re-sponsor "Silo" for the second year, one of the Barn Owls who resides there, and also to pick up our sponsor package for "Luna", the Saw-whet Owl who we started sponsoring in July.
Silo wasn't out for public viewing but they brought her up for us to visit.
I also had a huge birthday surprise for Rob while at the Muskoka Wildlife Centre, I had pre-arranged a private one hour photography session for him. He was thrilled. I wish I had of captured a picture of his face when he was told, he was so surprised.
We talked with Dale about what animals he would photograph and about being in the enclosures with them. I want to stress that even though we were able to get close with some of these animals, they are wild. They reside at the centre for various reasons, most of them heart breaking, but they would never survive in the wild on their own. I tip my hat to organizations like this, and the dedicated people who run, work and volunteer there. We are thrilled to help in any way we can.
Now, off to the photo shoot. I picked my favorite shot of each animal that Rob captured to post in my blog.
We had a fabulous morning at the Muskoka Wildlife Centre, it was hard to leave!
Rob's birthday got off to a fabulous start, and the adventure continues.....