BY LINDA MONDOUX
Every Sunday at 1 p.m., visitors of all ages gather at the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre
in the southern Georgian Bay region to watch a master falconer put birds of prey through their paces. The thrill of seeing falcons and hawks and snowy owls up close, and the rare opportunity to capture their images on film, is attracting visitors from as far as The Netherlands to Tay Township.
“Word of mouth is what is bringing them here,” says Catherine Lewis, who works in visitor services at the wildlife centre, a 3,000-acre preserve of wetlands, fen and forest near Midland. “They’ve booked their vacations and we’re on the itinerary.”
Once known mainly as the home of the trumpeter swan, the secret is now out that there is much more to the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre. Along with an amphibian and reptile display hall, there are hiking and biking trails, canoeing and kayaking routes, an observation tower and boardwalks, the birds of prey display and workshops on topics as diverse as photography and cattail weaving. There’s even a gift shop.
While the birds of prey presentation is the most popular program — it’s held every Sunday in July and August and every second Sunday the rest of the year — the eco tours aren’t far behind, says Lewis. Participants can choose from a three-hour guided tour of the marsh in a canoe or kayak, either at sunrise or sunset. You’ll get to explore a side of the marsh that can’t be seen from the boardwalk or walking trails, all from a close-to-the water perspective.
“This is such a beautiful place,” Lewis tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com. Lewis, who has worked at the wildlife centre for about 10 years, comes in early for work so she can take a 90-minute walk and add more stunning photography to her portfolio of Wye Marsh treasures. “There’s usually something new to see every day.”
First opened in 1969 as a nature reserve operated by Environment Canada, the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre has been operated by the Friends of the Wye Marsh since 1985, with proceeds from the various programs on offer helping to fund the day-to-day operations. The not-for-profit wildlife centre is devoted to conservation and education, with protection of the wetlands and the 595 plant and animal species that live there its reason for being. The marsh has been designated as an Important Bird Area.
The Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre is located in the Wye Valley, an environmentally rich area of wetlands and woodlands whose ownership is split between the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Canada.
Full Moon Celebration
If you’re interested in exploring the marsh on a guided canoe or kayak excursion, the eco tours must be booked in advance. They’re held on Saturdays and Sundays until Thanksgiving weekend.
Shorter kayak and canoe tours are also on offer, with one-hour guided excursions available daily until Sept 5.
If you want to combine walking and getting out on the water, the Full Moon Celebration might be just what you’re looking for. The monthly outings start off with a twilight hike along the floating boardwalk and forested trails, and continue with a sunset paddle through the channels of the marsh. While Lewis admits the excursion should be more accurately titled “an evening program,” it is held to coincide with the full moon.
The next outing will be held on Aug. 13 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
“On our last excursion, we had 29 people come out,” says Lewis. “It was a beautiful night. Great for photography and just being in nature.”
Bullfrogs, bats and beavers are just some of the creatures you can expect to encounter on your walk and paddle. Pre-registration is recommended since space is limited.
Prefer to get close to nature on dry land? There are guided walks every day during July and August — on weekends only after that — so bring your camera! If you’re lucky, you’ll spot one of the handful of trumpeter swans with feet planted on the ground at Wye at this time of year, when most of the birds have flown off in search of mates. Wye provides nesting habitat for the trumpeter swan as well as to some uncommon species such as the least bittern and black tern. Winter is when you’ll find as many as 60 swans gathered at the Wye Marsh’s feeding area.
If you love birds of prey, sign up for a one-day falconry workshop. You’ll learn how to handle and fly a raptor through the trails at Wye Marsh, and master falconer Matt Lieberknecht will teach you the proper use of falconry equipment and basic management. At the end of the day, you’ll know how to identify the different traits, habitats and hunting styles of hawks, falcons and owls, and have helped to feed them.
Popular with area schools, Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre is definitely something the whole family can enjoy. Why not make Wye Marsh part of your summer holiday?
While you’re in the area, explore the communities that make up Tay Township — Port McNicoll, Victoria Harbour and Waubaushene — by walking or biking the scenic 18.5-kilometre Tay Shore Trail along Georgian Bay. Then drop in to visit Martyrs’ Shrine Church and the nearby Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, a nationally significant historic site that was the 17th-century fortress and headquarters for the French Jesuit mission to the Huron natives, on your way to Midland for some shopping and a bite to eat.
MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — July 2011