Loughborough Buckets

Travelling is great, especially when you get a chance to experience the majesty and greatness of a country like Canada.  This was exactly how we felt during our recent trip to Alberta.  Alberta is a beautiful place.  Very different from Ontario.  However, part way through the trip I started feeling like something was missing.  This feeling got progressively worse as the trip neared its end and after a few days I realized what the issue was.  It was early July and I had only been fishing bass once.  My fingers weren’t sore from lipping too many bass.  I wasn’t sporting a racoon tan from endless hours pounding the slop with minimal sunscreen.  It was as if my body was rejecting this cushy non hardcore existence.

Thankfully Im happy to report the withdrawal symptoms are over as I made it out yesterday to the back lakes here in Ontario. Loughborough Lake to be specific.  I even managed to time my inaugural trip back on the water to coincide with the Friday before a long weekend!  Just before things turn into a zoo on the lake.

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Thankfully the bass gods recognized the sorry, bassless state I was in and decided to play ball.  We hooked into a large number of fish, many of which were 3 + lbs with a few pushing 5.  Even managed to hook a decent size smallmouth on the eastern portion of the lake, which If you know the lake, isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence.  Didn’t get a whole lot of pictures, which can attest to the quality of fishing we had, but here is a shot of one of the average sized largies we hauled in.

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It was a great day on the water and my hunger for bass fishing has been sated, at least until this afternoon.

Cheers form the lake,

Albert

The Wilds of…. Alberta?

The primary focus of this blog has always been showcasing the natural beauty of Ontario and its wilderness.  However, at times I have been known to write up posts on my travels to other provinces of Canada. This article happens to be one such post which describes my recent trip to Alberta.

I love Ontario and don’t think I would be as happy living any where else.  But if I had to choose a close second, the Albertan Mountains would definitely make the short list.

Our trip began on the last days of June, 2016, with a flight out of Ottawa.  We landed in Edmonton, spent a few days with my cousin and attended a wedding of a college friend.  Edmonton was interesting in its own right, however, aside from the river valleys, the area is quite flat.  Not to mention the only wildlife to be seen in the area where we were staying was the multitude of magpies which plagued the neighbourhood trash bags.   After a few days we were itching to head west and find some elevation.

The approach to the mountains was gradual.  They started as shadows on the horizon shrouded in the mists of distance, and slowly became clearer.DSC_0838DSC_0850(ii)

The mountains were large, silent giants.  Some appeared sloped and weather beaten while others maintained their aggressive peak and shear faces.  The Rocky Mountains are some of the youngest mountains in the world, and when compared to old ranges like the alps, the difference is obvious.   The mountains were above all impressive, and each seemed dwarf the highest peak in Ontario (the Ishpatina Ridge, located in Temagami, some 693 metres).   These mountains are even more impressive up close, and during our drive down the Icefields Parkway, we often felt like we were at the feet of these giant monuments.  At times it can actually be difficult to drive and sight see at the same time as the mountains are so sheer in places.

Although the mountains were impressive, the rivers were also majestic.  Each river we passed seemed to be swollen with water from the mountains, charged by the hydraulic head.  The colours ranged from milky white to deep emerald green.  Made white from the deposition of silts and minerals from the nearby moutnains and glaciers which turned a deep emerald green once the minerals oxidized.  The latent trout fisherman in me was screaming insults at me and chided me for not bringing a line and lure.

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These rivers often fed into large powerful cascades such as the Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls.

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The park has countless hiking trails, bike trails, picnic areas and lookouts.  Scenic views are in no shortage in the park, especially along the Icefields Parkway.  There are even glaciers that you can walk up to and walk on if you have the cash and are so inclined.

DSC_0092Sadly, global warming is very obvious here as signs indicating the previous extents of the glaciers are placed periodically along the hike to the foot of the glacier.

The scenery was breath taking, but so was the plethora of animals which inhabit this majestic landscape.  Some of the more recognizable species include mammals like elk, white tail and mule deer, moose, caribou, mountain goat, dahl sheep, black and grizzly bears, as well as wolfs and a wide variety of other species.  We were lucky enough to see several on our trip including elk, black bear, white tail and mule deer in full velvet and several cheeky ground squirrels.  We were even lucky enough to have a cow elk and her calf visit our cabin in Jasper!  They stopped, grazed a bit, and then just moseyed in towards the middle of town.

Although amazing to us, I’m told occurrences like this are old hat to residents.

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Much of the wild life we encountered was along the Ice fields parkway.  This stretch of highway between Jasper and Banff is renown across the world as place where wildlife can be seen with ease.  As easy as it is to encounter wildlife it is important to remember they are just that. wild.  So feeding them or trying to interact can be both dangerous for you and the animals.

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The sheer size of the mountains did a good job of making me feel insignificant in the presence of their vastness.  Luckily the unique opportunity to see such a variety of animals up close reminded me of how diverse the landscape is and how much these species depend on habitat protection and conservation efforts from humans for their continual survival.  So although we may be insignificant next to a mountain, we make a mountain of a difference to an elk or bear when we protect areas like jasper and Banff.  Coming from Ontario, a place where elk are rare and only present due to restocking efforts, I can appreciate what these parks represent.

So I urge you to take a drive through the Rockies and experience the significance of a place like this.  Admire the animals and diversity from a distance.  See this natural wonder for yourself.  I’d be wiling to bet that seeing these wonders will give you an appreciation for the natural resources we as Canadians can take for granted.

Cheers from the wilds of Alberta,

Albert

Special Thanks to http://icefieldsparkway.com/maps for providing details on where to slop and sight see.

 

Bass Opener Derby 2016

Bass opener is here once again, and so is our annual bass derby.  Unfortunately my regular partner, and former tournament winner, Dave was unable to attend due to some family commitments so my uncle took the opportunity and filled his spot.  We spent the evening before the tournament catching up with the group and loosing money to Jay at cards.  You would think I wouldn’t be happy about this, however I was ecstatic.. Why? historically anyone who wins a cards usually doesn’t win the derby.  A few crumpled 20’s or the big 1K pot?  easy decision!  Finally my uncle and I had enough so we headed to bed to rest up for the following day’s fish.

Daybreak arrived and we made our way to the launch.  Just like clock work we were greeted by the usual early risers from our group who were rearing to go.  We awaited the stroke of 6 am and broke the stillness of the lake with the roar of our engines.  Each blasting off in a hopeful hurry to make it to there spot.

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Little did the other fisherman know I had a secret weapon…. a lucky picture made by my wife and daughter.  I’m certain this had something to do with my success.

 

 

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Fishing was hard right off the get go.  It seemed the big bass hadn’t woke up yet and we fought to get an early morning bag.  Fish came off of shoals that were scattered around the lake and from some weedlines scattered around the shores.  Luckily we found an edge that seemed untouched and we proceeded to pull a nice 3+ lb fish from a pocket.

 

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The morning ended with my bag sitting near the top. it seemed I was on the right track but lots of folks were close behind.  It seemed that I wasn’t the only one  who had managed to scrape together a decent bag.  One of the gents even found a nice 4lb 4oz greenback which had him right near the top.

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We scarfed down lunch in haste anxious to see if we could upgrade our first two fish.  This was tough to do after the lake had seen an onslaught of boats in the early morning.  Thankfully I managed to eak out a gew more ounces on my bag but it wouldn’t b enough to hold the day.  Jay, who previously landed the big 4+ fish had found some other and ended the day wth a solid 7 lb 5 ox bag for two fish.  Sitting in third, my high 5 lb bag didn’t seem like it had much of chance. Regardless, on a small lake like this, all it takes is one big fish or two decent ones to change the game.

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And so the evening came and went and the morning of the Sunday  arrived.  We had from 6 till 12 to add another two fish to our limits.  Frustrated I wasn’t sure where to start.  Typically the first day is always the best and the second day can see the bass shut right down.  I needed two good fish and fast and I had no idea where to begin.

So we did what we did on the first day, we worked our favourite shoal and the adjacent bay in hopes of finding some more fish.  I’m not one to return to a fished spot in the same tourney but I learned something during this tourney.  If your spot is adjacent to big water and has some attractive structure, its likely several groups of fish use the area which means you can return multiple times.  So this si what we did, right up to 15 minutes before the end of the tourney when I caught a decent 3lb 11ozer right fro the spot we first began in.  Now I had 7lbs 5oz to add to my total.

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This would put me at 13lb 3oz for four fish which for such a small lake is pretty damn good. In fact, it turned out to be the largest bag ever recorded on the trophy for 4 fish!  I’m telling you it had something to do with the lucky fish picture my daughter drew for me.  Note to self, have her draw one for  every tournament I do.

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And so the tournament was over and the trophy will stay in Kingston one more year.

Thanks to Gab and Fatima for hosting such a great event.  You guys are great hosts.  Thanks to my uncle for making the trek down to take part in the fun.  Special acknowledgement to Jay for the big fish of the tourney.  I’ve got a feeling that next year could be your year, all you have to do is loose the poker on purpose!  Oh and somehow get my daughter to draw you a fish picture!

 

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Cheers from the lake,

Albert

A Day of Firsts

Pike season has been open in southern Ontario for about two weeks.  Unfortunately due to a busy schedule, I was not able to take part until this past weekend when an opportunity presented itself and I found myself with a free Saturday morning.  As I was planning this first foray into pike for 2016 and I was trying to decide who to put in the passenger seat of my boat, and my thoughts drifted back to a missed opportunity to fish with a fellow volunteer name Rich.  Rich volunteers with me on a local professional association s executive and had shown interest in my stories during our meetings.  He always seemed and in seemed keen to experience the local outdoor scene here in Kingston and when he confessed he had never been fishing I absolutely had to get him out.  Fast forward to a year later and we were packing his newly purchased tackle in my boat and heading off to my favourite local Lake.

I could see a measured excitement was brewing in Rich’s eyes as I talked through some strategy and told some stories of past trips on the way to the lake.  I’m sure he didn’t quite believe my fish tales of 30+ fish in a day.  I’m sure, to him  it seemed like I was embellishing, or just telling “fish tales”.  I mean everyone knows fisherman tell tall tales right?  I could see all that change as I hooked the first pike of the day within in mere minutes of stopping to fish.  After I had gotten a decent pike slim slick going on my hands from boating the first few fish, Rich seemed to be chomping at the bit to get a turn.  As it happens, Rich is a fast learner and soon had his chance.

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Rich’s rod bent over as a pike smacked a spinner bait I had loaned him.  Nothing catches spring pike like a spinner bait! Following a decent battle, with lots of runs, Rich had his first pike.  Ten minutes or less into the trip!  I could attempt to explain the feeling I had watching him beam as he held his first pike.  or I could try to capture the moment in an eloquent paragraph filled with grandiose adjectives, but I’m sure I couldn’t begin to do it justice.  Instead, I’ll let the picture below do the talking.

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OK, so the fish weren’t giants, and yes we could have targeted bigger ones, but I had a different tactic in mind.   Nothing turns people off of fishing more than long days of catching no fish, as can be the case with larger pick.  So as this was Rich’s first trip, I was shooting for quantity.

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We finished the day with about 11 pike, lots of follows, a couple out of season bass (that were promptly released) and a bunch of smaller panfish.  But the real win of the day wasn’t the fish, it was being able to witness Rich catch his very first fish.

It makes me think back to my youth when my uncle used to take me fishing.  I often wondered why he always went ot of his way to put me onto fish. He always set me up with the best equipment, put me in the best spots, let me have the best side of the boat.  He seemed to always have me on the weed edge side while we were trolling, or made up a flimsy excuse about how I had to watch both rods in their holders while we trolled because he had to steer.  Always gave me first crack at any hit.  I always wondered how he could stand to give up catching fish.  Now I think I know.

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Rich, thanks for joining me on such a great day and mostly thanks for letting me be part of your first fishing experience.  Of all the trips and experiences I’ve had on that particular lake (and they are many), this one will definitely rank amongst the most memorable.

Now just in case you actually started thinking I was an honest fisherman, I’ll leave you with this picture.

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I don’t always hold my fish out from my body during pictures to make the seem bigger, but when I do, I do it as a witty way of ending a blog post.

Cheers from the wild.

Albert

Another Bird!

After little to no hunting last week, Jordan, Dave and I snuck out this morning at 4:30 am for a little pre-work turkey action.  This would be the first hunt with all three of us since opener, and we had high hopes for an elusive Tom we had been calling all of last week.

We entered into the woods through an area that was opposite where we had been hunting.  Dave and Jordan set up next to a swamp and a field, while I took to the edge of a young soybean field around the corner and next to the same swamp.  Both spots looked great.

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The morning kicked off to a great start as three different birds in three separate locations started to gobble.  The gobbling continued for some time until two of the gobbles slowly died and was replaced by three distinct birds right behind me.  To make matters even more exciting, the gobbles seemed to be getting closer.  Nothing makes a heart pump like a group of approaching turkeys mid season!

Suddenly, the roar of shotgun blast erupted from behind me and the calling promptly ceased.  After shaking off what I’m sure was a mild heart attack,  I frantically checked my phone and learned that Jordan had bagged a nice Jake. His very first Gobbler.

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Way to go buddy!  Sad to have missed being in the stand next to you for the experience but I’m sure there will be many more!

Your up Dave!

 

First Turkey

For many, the purpose of hunting has always been to source out local, organic, natural meat that explores unique flavours not found in domesticated animals.  Still a good number more are attracted to the potential cost savings on meat if you source it out yourself. I have always stood with a foot in each of these camps.  Forever looking for a deal that’s big in taste, while tryin to achieve it on the cheap with my discount, mass produced firearms and inexpensive army surplus camo.  You can be sure I calculate the $/lb cost of all animals I harvest.

So when I did the math on wild turkies I was left scratching my head. A $30 tag gets you 9 – 15 lbs of dressed meat.  That’s a far cry from 100-200 lbs for a 50$ deer tag, and a fair bit more than a butterball.   Based on this math, wild turkeys weren’t even on the menu.

Regardless, I am interested in experiencing all that our local outdoors has to offer, which eventually led me complete the specialized turkey course required for Ontario turkey hunters.  For many years my attentions were on bigger game and the license went unused.  But after a unseasonable warm and disappointing ice fishing season, I was getting stir crazy and needed a reason to get out.  So when a member of my deer group started talking turkey, visions of smoked wild gobblers began dancing in my head, and I started listening.

So here we are, a week into my first legit season of turkey hunting and I can honestly say am a changed man.

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Scouting

After much discussion, and an agreement to commit as much time to the hunt as was needed to harvest a bird, we arrived on the Sunday before opener.  Our plan was to scout the woods in areas where turkeys had been seen before to hopefully locate a group of birds.  According to my friend and most articles I’ve read, finding birds before setting up is crucial.  You can set up the nicest decoys and be the best caller in the world, but that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if there are no birds in your woods.

So the scouting continued.  I’ll admit I was still pretty hapless at this point, with no real clue as to what to even look for on our scouting trip.  Thankfully, my fellow deer hunter Jordan had grown up around turkey hunting his whole life and right away took us to some spots where the birds usually roosted.  Signs of scratched earth abounded and like many other species, water, food and shelter were key components to these areas.

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We started before daybreak and walked towards our chosen blinds. Unfortunately on our way to our blinds, we walked right under a group of birds that were roosted in the trees, not seeing hem until it was too late.  For those non turkey hunters, this is one of the surest ways to get “busted”.  The turkeys spot you, sometimes before you spot them,  and there is no chance in hell you’ll be able to call them in.  Lesson learned:  Use a locator call to find where they are roosting before you go stumbling through the woods.  Jordan reassured me that the first day was often a bust, but there was valuable intel to be gained, as every bust brought you one step closer to dialing in on the birds.

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Day 2: we took a break.

Day 3: We approached the same area in hopes that the birds had roosted in the same place. unfortunately they hadn’t.  Fortunately for us they had roosted about 100 yards in another direction!  We crept through some scrubby apple trees and crawled up to the edge of a ridge.  Immediately we heard a male gobble, so we set up our decoys 20-30 yards away, sat back to back at the base of a cedar tree, and commenced a series of Kee Kee calls on the Quaker boy box call.  Lesson learned, if you spot them in one place, there is a good chance they wont go too far away, even after being bumped.

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I wasn’t really prepared for things to escalate as quickly as they did.  Within minutes of sitting down the birds had descended from the trees and were making their way to us.  We could tell by the volume of the gobbler the turkeys were getting closer, driven mad by the expert calling skills of my buddy Jordan.  We got a visual on the tom with two hens within 15 minutes of calling.  I can honestly say this led to one of the fastest pulse of my life.  If that wasn’t enough, we heard what all turkey hunters dream of, a competing gobble from another tom that was approaching from another direction.  Things were red hot and my eyes kept darting from the birds we had spotted to the hidden gobbler.  I stilled my heart, slowly raised my Remington 870 while the birds were out of sight, and waited for them to reappear.

The first hen popped out from behind a shrub, followed by a second, followed by a respectable adult male bird. I kept waiting waited for the other Tom who was fast approaching to see if he would appear for a possible double header.  The bird strutted to the clearing towards our hen decoys.

Then the first bird saw me. Then I fired. And then, the second tom headed for the hills.

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Just like that, we had a text book turkey hunt that took no more than 30 minutes.  I. Was. Ecstatic.

Contributors to my success? a damn good caller as a partner, and not moving a bloody muscle.

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My first bird turned out to be a young adult male weighing in at 19lbs fresh and 12lbs fully cleaned. He had a 3″ beard (which isn’t very big) and smaller spurs. Regardless, the bird was my first and my family will feast.

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Day 4, We set up in another location to give the hot spot a rest and almost immediately had a gobbler and a hen answer our calls.  Unfortunately the gobbler didn’t seem to be able to make it to us and we never laid eyes on him.  Lesson learned: locate your birds and choose a setup location that doesn’t have too many obstructions that can’t be navigated by a riled up tom (like a big swamp or well built fences.

Day 5, we decided to try the hot spot again and set up in the same place.  Once again, we immediately had a gobble from the same spot where the first tom had come from.  The call backs went on for a good 1.5 hours.  At times it seemed the Tom was headed in our direction, and then he would head away, and back, and away… repeat for 1.5 hours.  We managed to call in a hen and what looked like a small Jake but no shots were taken.  Still that’s a lot of action for one morning.

So here we are in the second week the night before the first hunt of the week and Im mulling over why ive changed my mind on turkey hunting.  Here’s what I have come up with:

  • For starters, turkey hunting can be some of the most intense action packed and engaging hunting possible In Ontario.
  • Next, the birds are fabulous table fare
  • Each hunt takes a lot less time than sitting in a blind for deer.  Heck my hunts were completed each morning before work and I wasn’t even late!
  • They are sharp birds with a keen sense of hearing and excellent eyesight making them difficult prey.  I do love a challenge.
  • They are a part of our provinces history having been extirpated by unregulated market hunting and habitat loss, and reintroduced to very successful levels.
  • They offer an opportunity to take part in one of the most sustainable hunts in our province and to contribute financially to preserving the provinces natural heritage.  Every dollar you spend on a tag goes to support the MNR and their management of while turkeys and other conservation initiatives.

The whole experience has taught me that life isn’t always about dollars and cents, and pounds per dollar.  Sometimes spending a bit more for something you enjoy is worth it.  Especially wen those extra dollars get you a month long season full of adrenaline packed days, delicious meat, and most importantly, a contribution to preserving the natural beauty and health of our province’s flora and fauna.

The real question here should be why the heck aren’t you hunting turkey?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amherst Island – A Beacon of Biodiversity

Kingston and the surrounding area is full of amazing places to see, things to do and animals to encounter.  We are bordered by Lake Ontario to the southwest, The St. Lawrence to the Southeast, broad shield forests to the north, and lots of unique wetlands in between.  Each with its own diverse, and unique ecosystem home to a huge number of interesting creatures.  One such place that deserves specific mention is Amherst Island.  Located just a short ferry ride to the southwest of Kingston, Amherst Island is sandwiched between its bigger brother Wolfe Island and Prince Edward County.  The island is famous as stop for numerous birds on their migration routes.  Not to mention a large number of resident species from all corners of the animal kingdom.   I recently had an opportunity to this unique place for work and was reminded of just how amazing the Island is.

The day started with an encounter with a groundhog in our office driveway.  Not a resident of Amherst, and not a particularly unique species, but worth a mention due to the specimens especially vibrant red fur.

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I loaded my work gear while the curious rodent silently looked on and made my way to the Ferry Dock where another photo op waited.  While waiting for the ferry I had the chance to get my lense on a number of diving ducks that had gathered near the dock and along the4 shore.  Lots of interesting diving ducks frequent the waters in our area during the spring and late fall.  A couple examples I encountered on this trip were several groups of Golden Eyes, Buffleheads, Long Tailed Ducks and Common Mergansers.  The odd Mallard and flock of Canadian Geese were also spotted but I missed pictures of them.

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There also seemed to be several loons and cormorants poking about in the straight between Amherst and the mainland.

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Once I made it to the island I completed my work and took a brief drive along Front Road which follows the North shore of the island. Once again the Island offered up more impressive photo ops of various species including a Kestrel, Flicker, and an injured Garter snake (possibly a Redsided garter).  These of course were in additional to numerous flocks of diving ducks and common bird species like bluejays, mourning doves and the like that were encountered.

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I was pleased with the plethora of animals to be seen on and around the Island.  This visit only added to the number of species I usually see during my semi annual visits which typically include including deer, fox, coyotes and numerous song birds and birds of prey.

With a peaked interest, I decided to ask a local land owner, who I was meeting with that day, about his wildlife experiences on the Island.  Specifically about various topics like predator levels and predation on his farm, deer populations (which i’m told are booming) and interesting species he has encountered.  Strangely enough, he noted that a flock of Turkeys had made their way to his farm in the winter for food.  According to him,  this is the first time he has seen these birds on the island (and he had been living there since before 1979).

We talked a bit more about his farm and other areas to visit on the island and he suggested visiting the famous Owl woods, located near the eastern edge of the island.  Sadly, my time on the island ran out and I begrudgingly returned to the ferry with a , sad to be leaving such a beautifully rich place.

More information on the Island can be found at http://www.amherstisland.on.ca/

A fairly in depth look at birding opportunities on the Island can be found at http://kingstonfieldnaturalists.org/birding/amherst_island.pdf